FEATURE: ‘The Dutchman that took our hearts’

In October 2012, Edgar Davids shocked the footballing world joining English League Two side Barnet FC as player-manager, here’s Bees fan Josh Ilan’s account of the Dutch legend’s impression he has left on the club.

Under the tutelage of Mark Robson, we were absolutely dire. Twelve games into the season, and we were bottom of the table, having only garnered three points – and no wins. The football we played was dire, and our chances of survival almost non-existent. It was like we started on a points deduction, and paid faith to the adage men against boys.

There was a feeling of negativity and doom amongst the club. And then Edgar Davids joined.

It had been mooted previously, but this was cast-off as a ridiculous rumour. His arrival saw the club gain notoriety from all over the world. We were incredulous at how a former Holland captain – a man who had represent clubs at the highest levels of the game – would now be gracing the famous Underhill slope.

Davids’ reasons for joining the club were to help his local team, and to gain invaluable experience as a coach. His first official game in charge resulted in our first win of the season: this was the 4-0 win over Northampton Town, in which we played absolutely phenomenally.

We improved dramatically upon his arrival. Wins and draws went from once in a blue moon to a regular occasion. The defence tightened, the midfield became more coherent and the strike force more deadly. Feelings of excitement and cautious optimism became present, with Davids doing the impossible in turning us from relegation certainties to candidates; a scenario we could have only hoped for at the start of the season.

While we could not achieve the ‘Great Escape’, Davids’ reputation remains as strongly. A poll on the Barnet Forum saw 97% of people say how they wanted him to stay at the club, despite our relegation. If it was not for him, we would have been relegated months before, potentially as the worst ever League Two side.

And his decision to stay at the club means we have a bright future, and cause for optimism ahead of next season.

Under Davids, our style of play became more expansive. His style revolves around the cultures of the different countries he has played in. It can be seen as slightly defensive, with it being based around possession and playing out from the back. This is a style and philosophy to be admired.

He is also having an impact on the younger players, with him bringing academy players into the side to great effect. Elliott Johnson has become a regular under him, while Luke Gambin burst into the side towards the end of the season. In fact, the latter has been surprisingly linked with a move to Ajax, Davids’ stomping ground.

His managerial style sees him want to get the best out of his player. Davids may be strict, but this makes the players want to perform, both for themselves and their manager.

And this is a style which saw us improve so quickly. In fact, in the 36 games Davids was in charge, we picked up 48 points. This would have seen us finish 9th, had the season started upon his arrival. We would have been far closer to the play-offs than the relegation zone we ended up in.

Any other season and we would have survived. Our points tally of 51 was the highest from any side in League Two history to be relegated on. We were not relegated by a matter of points, but five goals.

As with any young manager learning his trade, Davids did make a few tactical errors before the end of the season. We became slightly more defensive, with a fear of losing becoming prevalent.

At times, we lacked a Plan B when our pretty passing style failed. This is something we will need to work on for the more physical and long-ball systems employed in the Conference.

He also played himself at times on the wing, to the detriment of the team. I feel that he was not good enough for League Two, a far cry of the player he once was, and that his best place would be managing the team from the side. However, he does add a sense of leadership on the pitch, which gives us renewed vigour – which does justify his selection in the team at centre-midfield.

One of the things I commend Davids for most is the way he has embraced the club, and its culture. He does not see himself as any better to the rest of the players, and respects us fans.

Davids made the news after he rescued 38 Barnet fans – including myself – after our coach collapsed when going home from a 3-2 loss to Accrington Stanley. At the service station we met him at, he was approachable, friendly and very down-to-earth.

After we lost 2-0 to Northampton Town, he issued a quote which could become an epithet for the season to come: “If you have to go to the Conference, you go to the Conference.” This indicates his humble nature, and how he is not fazed about the level he is playing at – with his love for the club being genuine.

I was lucky enough to be in one of his press conferences this season. The aura he gives off his extraordinary. His passion and vision for the club represents that of the fans and our chairman. He wants the best for us, and he is not using us for personal motives.

In an age where football is dominated by money, there are the odd exception who play for love – and not money. One is Edgar Davids.

As our chairman Tony Kleanthous said: “Once a Bee. Always a Bee!”


Click on Josh’s name above to follow him on Twitter.

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