By Jeroen van Barneveld
Jul 20, 2023 at 10:24 Update: 24 minutes ago
Andries Jonker does not have a good word for FIFA in the soap around the training field of the Dutch football players in Tauranga. The national coach says that promises have been broken and thinks the farce prior to the World Cup is “top shelf amateurism”.
The players discovered on Wednesday during the first practice session at the Bay Oval in Tauranga that a large slab of clay was lying under the grass near the center line. It comes from cricket. The field at the Bay Oval is usually a cricket pitch.
According to Jonker, team manager Sonja van Geerenstein was promised in October and February that the plate would be removed from the field in time. The Orange would then have a “perfect field” upon arrival. Tauranga is the permanent base of Orange during the group stage of the World Cup.
That promise turned out not to have been fulfilled. The team manager therefore complained to FIFA on Thursday morning (local time). The day before, assistants Arvid Smit and Janneke Bijl and exercise physiologist Niels de Vries had already searched for other training locations in Tauranga, without results.
“A gentleman from FIFA then came by and told us with a bicycle pump in hand how hard the field was and what we could do to improve the field,” said Jonker. “I then said, ‘Sir, are you ready? Listen, I’m from Western Europe, the Netherlands, Amsterdam and I’m going to be very clear with you now. If it’s too clear for you, say so. Is that okay? ? Yes?'”
The Orange squad was still on the infamous field in Tauranga on Thursday evening. Photo: Getty Images
Jonker to official: ‘We are very angry’
After the evening training, Jonker repeated to the five reporters exactly what he had said to the FIFA official earlier in the day. “‘We have been here in October and February and we have been promised a good field. We are very disappointed and very angry that this is not the case. There is nothing you can do about it personally, you are in good spirits to do better but we are not satisfied.'”
“We want to play a good first game, we want to have a top preparation and run a top tournament. We think we are a top team and this does not fit. This is amateurism from the top shelf.” I apologized again, I didn’t want to argue with that man.”
According to Jonker, his message was clearly communicated to the relevant official. “FIFA is a very large organization, but this has arrived there. Jan Dirk van der Zee (director of the KNVB, ed.) is at the opening match in Auckland (New Zealand-Norway, ed.) and has also contributed to the bell is rung. I am hampered in my preparation.”
Jonker emphasized that his monologue towards the departed FIFA official was not personal. “He tried to solve it and make the problem smaller. But that is of no use to me. This is a mega problem for us.”
The players trained around the hard part of the field for the time being. Photo: ANP
‘I thought: what is this?’
At a digital press meeting, Jonker was still mild about the situation on Wednesday, because, according to him, firm one-liners would only distract from the preparation. But a day later, the national coach spoke without brakes about ‘plankjesgate’.
Like about his first reaction when he saw and heard that the plank was still there. “I thought: what is this? And I immediately said: ‘I’m not going to train on this, that’s dangerous.’ That picture is harder than artificial grass.”
After the conversation, Jonker took the present reporters onto the field in the pouring rain to clarify what the problem is. The NU.nl reporter already noticed that there is a big difference between the ‘ordinary’ field and the part of the mat where the record is located. That last piece, about 35 by 20 meters in size, felt much harder.
Jonker: “If someone falls on it with their knee, you have at least bruised your knee. If you fall on your shoulder, you have a problem, because not everyone has been to judo. And they have to go from grass to that plate, that is not good for muscles and tendons that are under tension in this phase. I said: ‘We are not going to play football on this.'”
But on Thursday, the Orange was back on the infamous field, because there was no good alternative in Tauranga. The Netherlands will therefore probably train in Hamilton on Friday, an hour and a half from Tauranga. This way, the Orange can train in a match-oriented way towards Sunday’s first World Cup match against Portugal. A decision will be made on that on Thursday.
Groundsmen were already drilling holes in the field
In the search for a solution, the local groundskeepers in Tauranga drilled holes in the plank on Thursday morning. They poured water into it so that the plank would feel softer. It didn’t help much.
“It’s true, he has become a little softer. But not in some places,” says national coach Andries Jonker. “On Wednesday it was one hard record and now here and there. Where it is softer, it is still hard.”
“The groundsmen here are top guests. They do their best. The grass is also really great. If it had only been grass, I would have been a king. Those men are of course also concerned.”