It’s been exactly three weeks since Patrick Van Leeuwen (46) was officially announced as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Performance Director. As he continues to adjust to the new position, the Yellow & Blue were drawn to face one of his former club’s, Kairat Almaty in the second round of Europa League qualifying.
Just prior to the the first leg between the two sides, Van Leeuwen conducted his first interview with the Official Website where he discussed his view on football, the plans he has for Maccabi, his connection with Jordi Cruyff and his initial impressions at Kiryat Shalom.
“WE WILL CONTINUE TO BUILD ON THE FOUNDATION OF EVERYTHING THAT HAD BEEN DONE BEFORE TO BRING MACCABI TO THE NEXT LEVEL”
In his new offices at the Kiryat Shalom Training Facility, Patrick Van Leeuwen is getting used to life in Israel and his new role at Maccabi as the Performance Director. While it’s a recognized job in Europe the same can not be said in these parts: “Jordi Cruyff and Martin Bain offered me more than just the academy as they wanted me to be more involved in the scouting as well as the analytical and analysis department on the football side of the club. They wanted me to design a proper facility, a professional training facility for the club. It’s not only being the academy director but also the scouting director. So we combined everything into the Performance Director role because we are also trying to improve the performance of scouts, the performance of players and the performance of coaches and hopefully in the end the performance of football at Maccabi and in Israel in general.”
For Israelis, the Performance Director may be something new, however, Van Leeuwen has proven himself in other clubs after having worked at the Feyenoord youth department along with leading the revolution at the academy level and youth departments at both Shakhtar Donetsk and Kairat Almaty.
But it’s not just the youth department where his role ends: “It’s not only that I like to work with youth departments but I also like to assist clubs in developing football. My previous jobs have been with academies but also with first teams. Not only developing the structure of the academy but working with everyone that is involved. That means developing the coaches and developing the players through the coaches. In the beginning of my career, I did a lot of field work and was a coach myself. I assisted other coaches and then as soon as one becomes a manager of an academy or of a club it becomes more organizational work as well. This is the part I like a lot and what I’ll be doing to assist Maccabi now and help bring the club to the next level. We will continue to build on the foundation of everything that had been done before to bring Maccabi to that next level.”
What is your football philosophy and in developing players?
“My philosophy was formed in Holland, where Holland like Israel, is a small country. But in Holland it was clear to everybody that you have to go in the same direction to be successful in any field of work. My business is football and football in Holland is very structured when you talk about clubs and academies as well as the coaches education. Everything has a certain direction coming from 1974, Total Football, which initiated Holland’s football style.”
As Van Leeuwen explains, the education that was gained at the Dutch Football Federation also influenced his work at Feyenoord along with the Ukraine and Kazakstan and helps him to this day, guiding him in his work: “I think that only with a plan that is supported by everybody and by every coach in the same direction will be successful. If I have 18 coaches and everyone has their own ideas and cultures we won’t be able to go anywheres because we will fight with each other instead of working together. This has always been my intention from the beginning for every club with which I have worked and with every coach that I worked with and were under me or with me and I always try to push them in the same direction. So it’s not only my philosophy but also the club’s philosophy. Then I’m 100% sure that Maccabi will be able to make another step in the development of players and coaches. My intention is to bring in a philosophy that is supported and executed by every coach in the Maccabi structure. It’s about the professional side of the academy, the football schools that are working together with Maccabi Tel Aviv and spreading the philosophy to everybody that is connected with us.”
How do you manage to keep true to your path when you have to deal with many cultures between the countries you have worked in?
“In each and every place you have a different culture, atmosphere or approach. In Holland there is saying, that it’s the “sauce on the dish”. It’s the culture in each place that is very important in what you want to achieve and it’s something I look at very carefully when combining that with my football thoughts.”
It seems you enjoy taking on challenging projects. Do you agree?
“It’s an interesting challenge, if I know that I will be successful. If I know the club has no intention of making changes then it will be very difficult. If my ambition and plans are coming together with the plans and intentions of the club then it can only mean success.”
“AFTER MANY OF YEARS OF TALKING ABOUT COMING TOGETHER, IT FINALLY HAPPENED AND NOW WE CAN BRING MACCABI FURTHER TOGETHER.”
The first encounter between Jordi Cruyff and Van Leeuwen surprisingly took place in the Ukraine when the Yellow & Blue’s Sports Director was playing with Metalurh Donetsk. “He played in the same town as Shakhtar Donetsk as there was a second club in the same city. As two Dutch people we connected and formed a friendship and always looking at trying to combine our football thoughts in one club. He started asking me if I was interested in Tel Aviv and at that time I made a difference choice to continue my career in Eastern Europe. But we were always in touch about the football development in Tel Aviv, what he was doing and what I was doing. We also asked each other advice on players as he was building the first team in Israel and I was building the same in Kazakhstan along with the academy, so there was always a certain amount of interest from Jordi to obtain knowledge and expertise. After many of years of talking about coming together, it finally happened and now we can bring Maccabi further together.”
How will the roles be divided between the two of you?
“Jordi and I agree on a lot things football wise, but there are also things that I approach differently than he does. This is what is interesting for us; he gets some comments about his ideas and I get comments about my ideas. This will also be part of the role in cooperating with Jordi. To share my opinion and thoughts with him and in the end to make sure that we make the best decisions for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
We want the success that Jordi has had with the first team to be in all areas of the club; the youth department and also facility wise. That’s one of the reasons that I agreed to come here.”
“FOR A CLUB THAT IS UNDERGOING FOOTBALL DEVELOPMENT, IT’S IMPORTANT TO CONNECT WITH CLUBS IN SPAIN, HOLLAND OR ENGLAND TO SHARE AND OBTAIN KNOWLEDGE.”
One of Van Leeuwen’s biggest projects was establishing the training facilities for the Kazakhstan club. After three years with Kairat Almaty, the Dutchman managed to build a youth academy up until the Under-19 level that included a proper training facility, a hall of residence as well as building facilities for the first team: “You don’t expect these facilities in Kazakhstan and for a team that is still in the development. It can match all of the facilities of English Premier League Clubs and Western Europe. These facilities will give all of the children and professional players a head start in their development.”
While working for other clubs you always placed a certain amount of importance on international relationships with other clubs. Why is this so significant?
“When you look at Feyenoord there was an interest to expand their contacts as there were cooperations in Poland and Hungary as well as Ghana and South Africa. There was also connections with Japan as there was a Japanese player in the first team. In Kairat is was about obtaining knowledge and it was part of the coach’s development to make connections with some top clubs, first teams and at the academy levels. To be able to give that as an experience to the coaches.
How do you see this in reference to Maccabi Tel Aviv?
“In the case of Maccabi, Jewish people are all over the world and I think that it’s the perfect community to make those connections both within Israel and also outside of the country. There are certain clubs in Europe where there is already a connection, but you can make it even stronger with clear agreements and you can assist each other in player and coach development by sending players to tournaments and so forth. It’s important for a club that is still undergoing football development, its important to connect with clubs in Spain, Holland or England to share and obtain knowledge.”
What have been your first steps in your new role with the youth department?
“Since I arrived I’ve obtained information from doing interviews with coaches, scouts and people within the organization to help me see how things were organized, what was in place and from where I can start. I think that I have a good overview of what is possible and in which direction I want to go in. At my first coaches meeting, I explained the football philosophy and how I want the matches to be organized and how I would like them to be coached by the coaches. In general, I want one philosophy for all the teams, and it doesn’t mean that we can’t have the same philosophy for the commercial schools and their coaches as well.
What have been your first impressions?
“My impression is that in every place there are people who are eager to suck up all of the information, people who want to see where things are heading and then there are people who are against it because they think they know it all. This combination of opinions will be everywhere and my job is to convince them that this is the direction where Maccabi wants to be. I’m not here to tell them what I like, but what the club wants it to be.”