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Thursday 21 August 2014

Dokter who? FAI's performance director Ruud Dokter

Mysteriously media-shy new high performance director thrust centre-stage in hunt for Trapattoni's successor

Daniel McDonnell

Published 07/10/2013 | 05:00

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Ruud Dokter, high performance director with the FAI
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Colin O'Brien

WITH the most pun-friendly name in football, it was a heaven-sent opportunity for headline writers when the FAI sent for Ruud Dokter in a crisis.

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The announcement that the Dutchman would assist Noel King in preparations for this week's trip to Germany added to the intrigue surrounding the association's new high performance director.

He started work on August 1, four months after his appointment sent those with an interest off to Google. The press release announcing his arrival clearly stated that the 57-year-old "will oversee the non-senior international men's programme."

That brief has changed. A fortnight ago, at the first post-Trapattoni board meeting, it was decided that Dokter would join Ray Houghton in assessing the market and making recommendations on a replacement, in addition to providing assistance to caretaker King for the conclusion of the failed World Cup attempt.

The elevated position prompts further questions about Irish football's mystery man, who did not have an introductory press conference and is therefore yet to properly expand on his vision for the road ahead.

He certainly isn't a familiar face. Recently, photos were circulated of the Dutchman attending the Kennedy Cup, until it became apparent that the snaps were of a well-known scout. It was an understandable error; Dokter could easily do a nixer on an ID parade without being clocked.

His drafting into the manager hunt has raised eyebrows; Brian Kerr was not impressed. "He has hardly been in the country a couple of months and hasn't any background in Irish football," said the former Ireland boss, "So you'd wonder how he's going to provide help.

Strange

"Maybe it makes sense if he knows potential managers around Europe but I hope we don't end up with another one who had no idea about Irish football before he came here. To me, it's strange because he hasn't had any involvement with Irish football yet or the people, the personalities."

They were strong words.

Certainly, within the relatively small Irish football community, there are a lot of people still cracking the 'Dokter Who' gag. All they know about the man is his CV, a background in teaching and playing with GRC Groningen before moving full-time into the coaching sphere with the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) where he has spent most of his working life.

He managed their senior women's team between 1995 and 2001 and then, after a brief stint with Qatar, concentrated on the male underage set-up, where he was involved with the various age groups from U-15 to U-21. Prior to landing the Irish job, he had a dual role managing the U-16 team and also serving as an instructor in the area of coach education.

Footballers are savvy enough when it comes to getting the background on a new guy, but if Dokter does end up around the senior Irish dressing-room this week, the audience will not know what to expect. King may have no profile in England but he will at least be familiar to the younger players who came through the U-21 scene.

What kind of character is Dokter? Unfortunately, we still don't have first- hand experience to draw upon. He was listed for media duty at the recent Galway Cup but that fell through, a move that was interpreted as the FAI silencing their recruit.

It is an allegation they strongly contest, but it's understood that Dokter had informally agreed to speak before that plan suddenly changed – much to the bemusement of organisers.

Last week, as John Devine's launch for a new plan in the South Dublin Football League attracted headline attention, Dokter appeared in a choreographed two-minute video on the FAI website talking broadly about his role.

He answered prepared questions, rather than facing any kind of proper grilling on the specifics.

It is understood that he will chair a new technical advisory committee which will recommend changes up to U-12 level.

The proposed changes will put him firmly in the spotlight.

Association sources have admitted that they aren't entirely keen on their new man fielding queries when he is only coming to terms with his changed environment in case a mis-spoken word causes strife.

Given that the schoolboy scene is in civil war at the moment, it's a safety-first approach. Dokter is apparently not shy about offering opinions and it would have been a challenge to choose words carefully about a situation which is unique and puzzling for an outsider.

"My question would be: do we co-operate in a good way and are we all on the same page?" he said in the FAI production, hinting at the bigger picture. "That is important, to have the same common philosophy of what we do with our players."

He has also done some work in America and in 2012 he gave an interview to a US website about the strengths of the Dutch football model. "From the age of 12 the best players play with each other and against each other," he stressed.

The ongoing furore over the radius rule, which complicates the movement of players from the regions to the major Dublin clubs, would be anathema to that vision.

Dokter backed the FAI's move to extend the radius that a player can travel from home to a club (from 50km to 80km) but that row continues to rumble on and the compromise solution is still a long way away from his ideal world scenario.

"In principle, the best players should play with the best players," he added in his FAI piece to camera. "That gives young players, regardless of where they live, opportunities to develop their qualities. I've been looking at the current structures and have some ideas about that."

To an extent, he has kept his distance from the main parties in that dispute, but he has been getting around the country, attending a range of underage internationals and youth tournaments and conducting interviews for the U-15 manager's position – former Cork City player Colin O'Brien was appointed on Thursday.

He has also appeared at 'A' and 'B' Licence courses, where he was an observer as opposed to demonstrating his own skills on the training ground.

Although he filled the role vacated by his predecessor Wim Koevermans, the job description was altered slightly to put a strong emphasis on coach education.

Dokter was present at a recent seminar for coaches on the FAI's 'Emerging Talent' scheme and won admirers with a 90-minute presentation outlining his philosophy and initial findings.

"He was a realist, he understands where we are," explained one member of the audience at the Emerging Talent presentation.

"He has a plan about what he wants to do, which is very much along the lines of the Dutch model, and he gave a definition of what we need to do to make players technically better and his definition of an elite player.

"He's got strong views on the game and if he does get an input into selecting the next manager, I wouldn't be surprised if he looked outside the box, beyond Martin O'Neill.

"At the same time, he's learning about the system in Ireland, and getting a handle on how far he can take things. He knows what he's up against, with the schoolboy structure. As he said to us 'I'm starting to figure out how the land lies.'

Relish

Dokter has made a good first impression and is regarded as quite personable, a good listener who makes the effort to remember the names of new acquaintances.

The feeling is that he's thrown himself into a tough challenge with relish, but it's early days and the reality is that others have arrived with similar enthusiasm only for it to be drained away.

"If he gets to do what he wants to do, then Irish football will benefit," says one association insider.

"He has plenty to say but being successful in his job in the long term is more important than having a profile."

In that context, it is strange that this supposed quiet revolutionary is now front and centre in the Trapattoni succession race, thus bringing inevitable scrutiny.

Perhaps that just illustrates the dearth of ex-internationals and their football knowledge at the top tier of the FAI, a point that Robbie Keane recently alluded to. Indeed, in a roundabout way, it is one of the issues that Dokter has to address.

For the next 10 days, though, he must balance his ongoing acclimatisation with sourcing a senior manager and helping Keane and Co prepare for a pair of World Cup qualifiers.

It wasn't what the guru was brought here to do but then, as he is quickly finding out, Irish football tends to present a surprise around the next corner.

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