OROn Tuesday night in October 2013, Harry van den Ham embarked on a scouting mission. He was trying to get Dordrecht, an old-fashioned club 10 miles from Rotterdam, up, but felt his team needed something more in midfield to keep warm. The game pitted Vitesse Arnhem’s reserve team, Jong Vitesse, against Jong Top Oss and the missing piece quickly became apparent. “I saw him play and he had so much drive, commitment, he gave everything in every game,” he says about his first meeting with Robin Gosens. “I learned that he was German – he was a typical German player, and that’s what I needed on my team.”
Gosens was 20 years old and could hardly have imagined that, seven and a half years later, he would be one of the star attractions in a team from Germany preparing to face England at Wembley. It had been an unusual trip to Vitesse, who picked him up from little VfL Rhede after seeing him during a game where he shone despite feeling the effects of a night out, but had yet to make the move to senior football when Van den Ham got to his feet.
Vitesse was reluctant to let Gosens go. But Van den Ham got an admission from his then-coach, Peter Bosz, that Gosens wouldn’t get much playing time for the next six months and then made his pitch. “I told Peter, ‘This year I want to be champion, and I love him very much,'” he says. “So we made a deal and I got Robin.”
It became a transformative half season for Gosens and a historic one for Dordrecht, although the adjustment was not immediate. Van den Ham inherited a talent that needed to be persuaded. “His style was always: duel, catch the ball, pass the ball to another player,” he says. “Not enough initiative, a bit shy. We talked a lot about this issue because I knew he was a better player than Vitesse in midfield at the time, but he wasn’t dominant. You have to back yourself up and he missed that. “
Van den Ham knew that Gosens had the attributes that have since become apparent to a global audience through his work as a left back for Atalanta and, spectacularly, on the German side of Euro 2020. Gosens ripped Portugal apart in the tournament phase. groups, scoring one goal and placing two; Containing it will be nearing the top of Gareth Southgate’s to-do list and he’s performing with an abandon that, once unlocked, was too good for second tier Dutch.
“He was always willing to talk, receive information and work with her, and he asked a lot,” says Van den Ham. “He had an incredible shot and an incredible cross, so you had to put him on the other side of the opponent and go into the area. Once he did that, he probably became our best player, in the end. And as he got better and better, his voice in the locker room also became important.
“I want to play football with my front foot and apply a lot of pressure; I always tell players that 99% is not enough and that it is not enough is nothing. That is why it is very important that you have people on your team who can transmit your philosophy. Robin was one of them, he gave not only 100% but 110%. The team developed and so did he ”.
Dordrecht rose through the play-offs and reached the Eredivisie for the first time in 19 years. Gosens started 15 of 20 games for Van den Ham, including the two knockout games against Sparta Rotterdam that sealed his promotion, and the celebrations could begin.
“I didn’t have to say anything to the players before the tiebreaker because they came to me, including Robin, and said, ‘Coach, we want a promotion,'” says Van den Ham. “It was a miracle in Dutch football, but also for the city of Dordrecht, because a good year for us was usually 15th or 16th place. There were 20,000 people cheering for us after we went up and it was incredible, a fantastic moment for a small club. ”.
Gosens signed for another year at Dordrecht, establishing himself as a regular in the top flight even though he couldn’t prevent them from going down. He would stay in the Eredivisie with a permanent transfer to the Heracles Almelo before joining the Atalanta and ultimately reaching for the stars. Van den Ham was poached by Utrecht after Dordrecht’s stellar campaign, but has stayed in touch with the player who helped make it happen.
“When he was first selected for Germany, I sent him a message saying, ‘Congratulations, when you believe in yourself, you can do it,’” he recalls. “Ten minutes later I received a message: ‘Thank you coach, I will be eternally grateful and it is fantastic that you are still following me.’ That was typical of Robin, he’s a decent boy. “
Van den Ham believes that a fierce work ethic is central to Gosens’ advancement and that shirking a traditional academic education has contributed to his style. “It is very important when you go abroad to have a good mindset, believe in yourself, be smart and have drive,” he says. “There is only one thing for him: ‘I want to win and be a better player.’
“Because I missed the education of young people, it is unorthodox, but it has evolved. He is a modern player. The way we play the game now, the wings are like wingers; he has a lot of adventure and can work his entire flank.
Van den Ham will proudly watch as Gosens seeks to make his mark in one of the fiercest rivalries in international football. “I think that year in Dordrecht he got the confidence to develop for years to come,” he says. “He is a player that every coach would like to have on his team.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism