As he arrives in Germany to start his new job as Borussia Dortmund coach, Peter Bosz will take charge of his fourth team in two years and biggest of his career.
It has been a rapid rise for the 53-year-old, who went from mid-table Vitesse in 2015 to Maccabi Tel Aviv and then to Ajax a few months later to lead a vibrant young side to the Europa League final.
Although it ended without a trophy and in a dismal display against Manchester United in Stockholm, his single year in Amsterdam has given his reputation a huge boost. Still, it is a surprise to see Dortmund appoint him as Thomas Tuchel's successor at the cost of €5 million and Bosz will have to win over sceptics in taking on a club with Bundesliga and Champions League ambitions.
He has been in that situation before, though. Bosz was not an immediate hit in Amsterdam when he replaced legendary player and four-time Eredivisie-winning coach Frank de Boer. His time at Feyenoord as a player, and then technical director, made him a toxic choice for some fans and his lack of history with Ajax, which the post usually demands, did not help.
However, his adherence to the Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff philosophy that saw Ajax and Netherlands revolutionise the game made him the perfect candidate. Dutch football has failed to build on the innovations of Cruyff, but has followed up a meticulous study of the late icon by also adapting to modern trends set by Pep Guardiola and generated his own ideas.
Inspired by the ex-Barcelona coach, Bosz has his own five-second rule during which his team must retrieve the ball if dispossessed. His sides press from the front and attack with pace, targeting dangerous areas in the box.
“I read the book Pep Confidential. He says: every opponent always has one or two players free when you lose the ball. At all times. The point is to find the first two, then take action,” he told NRC.
“Before reading that book, I wasn’t thinking so consciously about the opponents and that you should pay such close attention to such indirect threats. He goes deep.”
It’s no surprise Bosz wants to try his hand at the Bundesliga and Dortmund’s pressing nature and quick, electrifying pace suggest he is heading to a team that suits him.
A tough defensive midfielder in an unremarkable playing career, as a coach Bosz is all about attacking, pressing high, keeping the field compact and attacking through the middle. Even at Heracles with a defence that appeared at times a mere hologram, he set his side out to dominate and thrill. After a rough start, they did just that and reached the Europa League playoffs in his first season.
Bosz impressed further at Vitesse upon joining in 2013, bringing a more adventurous and focused style to Arnhem. He was loosely linked to Chelsea following Jose Mourinho’s sacking, but it was Maccabi Tel Aviv who lured him away in January 2016, where he teamed up with technical director Jordi Cruyff, the son of his hero. It also gave him some alone time with Johan, who visited regularly.
“He had his own idea about how football should be played,” Bosz said after Cruyff’s death. “In my playing career, I learned a lot from Johan and later as a coach it was a privilege to meet him and to be able to spend a week with him. Every day we talked about football.”
The former Barcelona star’s influence has been a constant, but that did little to win over Ajax fans, however, when he returned to Netherlands after a successful half-season with Maccabi.
A start of one win in three league games and elimination from the Champions League play-offs by Rostov made things worse and even provoked media speculation his time was almost up in late August.
Ajax were clearly shaking off the staleness that had grown over the previous two years, but the huge changes Bosz made over the next few months propelled them to a first European final in 21 years.
“Trust in Peter Bosz was big from the beginning,” Marc Overmars told Voetbal International recently. “We saw the development in the squad and the fans were quickly convinced. Peter has been just fantastic.”
The rapid development came from Bosz’s swift changes. Of the team that started his first Eredivisie game, only three lined up for the Europa League final nine months later. The players who did not suit his style were cleared out quickly, while Jasper Cillessen joined Barcelona. Ajax bought well, too, as Hakim Ziyech provided much-needed creativity, Davinson Sanchez excelled at centre-back and David Neres became a useful option after joining from Sao Paulo in January.
A crucial aspect was the revitalisation of 31-year-old Lasse Schone at the base of midfield instead of highly-rated Jairo Riedewald. Instead of a destroyer, Bosz prefers a player with technique and an attacking mind.
“I look for a real football player to play there, I believe in control through possession,” he told NRC. “I don’t want a defensive midfielder.”
He preferred central defender Joel Veltman at right-back and put attacking midfielder Daley Sinkgraven on the left of defence to make Ajax a more imposing team with better attacks.
His belief in youth is huge too, as he brought Justin Kluivert and Matthijs De Ligt into the team at 17 with great results and fielded the youngest squad in Eredivisie history in their final league game.
Bosz's changes ensured the title race went to the final day of the season, yet it was in the Europa League that Ajax truly dazzled, particularly with strong home displays against Schalke and Lyon. The away legs were nervy, however, and Bosz’s flaws were further exposed by Mourinho in the final. The Dutchman has often been described as arrogant and he showed that by not adapting to United’s style and then complaining about it in his post-match interviews.
In the Bundesliga, he will be faced with greater tactical challenges than he is used to in the Eredivisie and will need to find that flexibility, but his desire for personal improvement and adaptability will help.
Ajax fans will regret the loss of a coach they barely got to enjoy. It is a shame that he abandons the promising project he built in Amsterdam, and reports of a feud between him and key figures at the club suggest there was a chance to hold on to him, but few can hold it against the ambitious Apeldoorn native for being eager to show he belongs among the best.