SOME label it the world’s biggest sporting event. Others, just `the Cup’.
John van’t Schip happily calls it ‘the circus’.
The Dutchman should know, having been part of the carnival as both a player and coach.
For the 2010 tournament, van’t Schip will brave the early morning chill to watch proceedings from his new home in Melbourne, Australia.
Down under after accepting the managerial position at A-League debutant Melbourne Heart, van’t Schip is still in a better position than most to shed light on what it is to be involved in a World Cup.
A name deeply etched in Holland’s football history, van’t Schip was a skilful winger who patrolled the touchlines for Ajax and his country.
He was a member of the Oranje’s European Championship-winning squad in 1988, as well as Holland’s ill-fated Italy 1990 World Cup campaign.
A roommate of close friend Marco van Basten at major tournaments, the duo again combined as van’t Schip returned to the big show as assistant to the legendary striker in Germany in 2006.
Understandably, talking about his time as a player finds him more at ease.
Like today, players were squirreled away from the media’s glare back then, emerging on game day to the full brunt of World Cup fever.
Holland’s squad set up camp in a hotel just outside Palermo in 1990.
It hardly prepared the players for the scenes that would greet them when they made their way on buses into the city centres.
“You’re very isolated, so instead of (being) in the circus you’re taken out of it to be protected and in the surrounds of a quiet hotel,’’ van’t Schip said.
“On game days, you’d come into the city and see all the orange supporters.”
“You’re there doing your job, but you get the messages and you do see some TV or images.
“That’s the thing that makes it special. That’s what makes the adrenaline grow… what you need.’’
Boasting superstars Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and with the side’s triumph in the 1998 European Championships still fresh in the mind, Holland could only scrape through the group stage as one of the best third-placed finishers.
The Dutch were bundled out by West Germany 2-1 in the Round of 16, in a game made infamous by red cards to Rudi Voeller and Frank Rijkaard.
van’t Schip, in his 41st appearance for Holland, was his country’s best in the defeat. It was to prove his last, as injuries and the emergence of a new generation of Dutch players meant he was never to play again in an orange shirt.
“Marco had a very good season with Milan but then at the World Cup he had a drop (in form). Gullit with his (injured) knee… The flow that was in the team in ’88 wasn’t there in ’90,’’ van’t Schip said.
“We always said that the players who carried the water, they were very good in ’88. But they thought they were big stars in ’90 and they didn’t do the job they did in ’88. So there were all different things. We were not the team we were.’’
van’t Schip believes expectations on the Dutch were “a lot higher” in Italy after the European Championship win two years before.
It’s an issue he believes the Socceroos must also deal with in South Africa.
“They had, of course, a very good world cup in 2006,’’ van’t Schip said of Guus Hiddink’s men.
“A lot of those players have at that moment a good age. You see that now most of the players (are) over 30 and the backing has not been as good as everybody had wanted
“There has not been very (much) new blood into the team, I think.
“It could be an advantage that they already have the experience now, but it can also be that they are missing the freshness that they had four years ago.’’
van’t Schip believes the Socceroos have been hurt by an inability to find a clear successor to striker Mark Viduka.
Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer, Jason Culina and Luke Wilkshire were singled out by as important for Australia’s fortunes.
He believes none, however, are more crucial than Tim Cahill.
“If I had to choose one, I think I would love to have a player like him in the team,’’ van’t Schip said.
“He's always going 100 per cent. He's there battling, he's scoring goals. He's really the face of the team.”
Australia’s pre-Cup form has been less-than impressive, and Group D opponents Germany and Ghana have been quick to write off the Socceroos’ chances.
van’t Schip is not as hasty.
"The tournament is different,’’ he said.
It’s a simple statement, and perhaps devoid of great meaning on face value.
But, accompanied with a wry grin, it sums up the Dutchman’s own ring-side experiences at the circus.
"Like the Italians in '82,’’ he continued.
"Everybody knows that they played three times 0-0 and they were playing awful, and they became the world champions.
"In the tournament, it can change like that.’’