After a mostly successful start to his coaching career with Ajax and a dismal cameo at Inter, Frank de Boer has made the move to England to take charge of Crystal Palace.
Signing a three-year deal with the Premier League side, the Dutchman will look to improve on their brush with relegation last season while implementing the playing style ingrained into him at Ajax.
As a former Ajax, Barcelona and Netherlands star, De Boer was an esteemed figure before he took to the dugout and his four Eredivisie titles since in Amsterdam show he has quality as a coach.
However, his time in the Dutch capital ended poorly and the step to Italy only damaged his reputation further.
After some time out of the game, he returns with big ambitions in the English top flight and it will likely be a pivotal spell in his career.
WHAT IS FRANK DE BOER'S PHILOSOPHY?
De Boer is an emblem of Ajax’s philosophy. So much so that he said it was in his DNA when unveiled as Palace boss.
“I want a team where the fans are excited to come to our games, to see a team that wants to win and wants to fight for every minute,” he said.
“That’s always the starting point for me. At Ajax, it’s also in our DNA to try and play technical football and dominate. When you do that and do that well it’s a plus, it’s attractive and it looks nice.”
He joined the youth system at the age of 14 and made his first-team debut at 18, kickstarting an 11-year spell which included success in the Champions League, Club World Cup, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup as well as five Eredivisie titles.
After he ended his career, he returned to Ajax as a youth coach while assisting Bert van Marwijk at the national team as they reached the 2010 World Cup.
The club formed his career as a player and a coach and is evident in everything he does: in his playing style, belief in youth, and the huge demands he puts on his players.
De Boer immediately instilled his philosophy when he replaced Martin Jol at the helm of the first-team in December 2010. Intent on playing the game in the opponent’s half and dominating possession, his style is heavy in passing and width, with players swapping positions when necessary to fill gaps and maintain the tempo. Off the ball, he demands that they press from the front and retrieve it as quickly as possible.
He made use of Ajax’s massive queue of promising talents to replace stars like Luis Suarez, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Daley Blind.
The results were immediate and impressive: he ended a seven-year title drought at the first time of asking and went on to become the first coach in the club’s history to win it four times in a row.
WHAT ARE DE BOER’S STRENGTHS?
His high pressing and desire to hold the ball made his Ajax team difficult to beat and will be crucial at Palace.
As they are not used to dominating possession, their work off the ball will be pivotal and so their pressing must be intelligent.
De Boer seems to realise this, though: “We are not naive. I want to play dominant when we can be dominant. But we want to dominate with and without the ball. You can be dominant without the ball by trying to move the opposition where you want them to go.”
Attacking is his first thought, though, and he will try to make Crystal Palace an exciting team, so should make good use of Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend’s pace and direct threat.
What impressed during his title-winning years with Ajax were his intuitive tactical tweaks. He moved striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson to the wing to play a midfielder as a false No.9, made Blind a central midfielder and put Lasse Schone on the right-wing and then just about every other position, and they proved effective at times.
He sets high standards but can get a lot out of his players. As well as guiding Ajax to four consecutive Eredivisie titles, his side also beat Manchester City, Barcelona and Manchester United in Europe.
The former Netherlands captain’s confidence in youth saw the likes of Blind, De Jong, Davy Klaassen, Joel Veltman and Donny van de Beek develop in Amsterdam and helped recover from the downgrading of his team.
WHAT ARE DE BOER’S WEAKNESSES?
His flaws have been heavily exposed in the last few years. Due to poor signings and a lack of variation from De Boer, Ajax turned stale and the final two seasons under him ended in embarrassment.
They became one-dimensional – constantly going wide and building up too slowly, making it easy for teams to cut out. The attack became completely disconnected and De Boer tried to fall back onto the tactical tweaks that had worked early on, but it was all too predictable.
PSV rose to test Ajax in 2014-15 and capitalised on Ajax’s stagnation, winning the league by 17 points. Things did not improve the next season and although they came close to retaking the crown, sitting top of the table heading into the final game, it ended in embarrassment. Ajax took the lead against second-bottom De Graafschap, but they were struck by an equaliser early in the second half and drew 1-1, while PSV won to leapfrog them.
That the Sons of the Gods remained laboured up front against a team that had been bottom for most of the season and had nothing to play for summed up how far they had fallen.
His performances in Europe were sub-standard, too. The main reason he stayed at Ajax for so long was to take them into the deep stages of the Champions League, but never got beyond the group stage and it took a lot of changes to the squad and playing style for his successor Peter Bosz to propel them to the Europa League final.
He can be forgiven for a lot for the short-lived catastrophe at Inter, given he was rushed into a chaotic environment, but De Boer’s stubbornness was evident again as he stuck to his philosophy. The team did not catch on, though, and he fell out with some of his players. He left after just 14 games, with Mauro Icardi saying it had become “unbearable” in the end.
SHOULD PALACE FANS BE HAPPY?
After a great deal of promise, De Boer must recapture some of the spark that saw him labelled a future Barcelona coach and persuaded Liverpool and Tottenham to look at him.
His promise is not as great as it once was, but what he has learned in the months after leaving Inter will be key to his success in England.
He will look to form a team that attacks and defends as a unit, making them hard to beat but with an attacking nature.
As the Selhurst Park side look for more stable ground in the Premier League, De Boer is a good fit and a big name, but a real test of his coaching ability awaits.