They no longer play Boerenbridge at Feyenoord to while away the long, idle hours on the day of an important late-night game. The player changes last summer turned out to be a good sport, but they had consequences for the card game. Boerenbridge players such as Nick Marsman and Mark Diemers are moving, newcomers such as Guus Til and Cyriel Dessers were not aware of it. ‘You need four. So it won’t work anymore,’ says attacker Bryan Linssen, avid card player.
Towards the most important game of their career, the Conference League final against AS Roma, the Feyenoord players have to get through twelve hours today. At half past eight in the morning they wake up, at nine o’clock in the evening the match starts. How do you get through that half day without actually being allowed to do anything? ‘Sleep, sleep a lot’, says Linssen, one of the oldest Feyenoord players.
But you have to prevent that, says Bas van Noortwijk, who was team manager for fourteen years and left last summer. He was jointly responsible for the program, although the head coach is ultimately responsible. ‘Every trainer interprets that differently. But basically you try to break up the day into blocks.’
Breakfast at ten o’clock
Breakfast is usually at ten o’clock. Afterwards there is a short activation program by the fitness coach. Van Noortwijk: ‘It should absolutely not be burdensome. It’s more to make sure those guys don’t go back to bed right away. Real rest should actually happen between lunch and dinner.’
This was usually followed by a walk through the city or in the surrounding area. ‘But that won’t work with all those fans in Tirana,’ Van Noortwijk suspects. “Everyone wants to ask them something, take a picture.”
Now they will go to their room. Lunch will be around two o’clock, the evening meal will be ready at six o’clock. Van Noortwijk: ‘Stamping carbohydrates. There is a private cook with you. Every player knows what and how much to take to feel good.’
Then the final discussion follows. Meanwhile, the Feyenoord players can already dream the game variants of Roma. Last week during a training camp in Portugal, coach Slot had already paid attention to it. Linssen: ‘This run-up is completely different from any I’ve ever experienced. The tension is built up every day, with training, with discussions, with a special media day. It is very cool to experience.’
Quiz for relaxation
Sometimes Van Noortwijk organized a quiz to get some relaxation and atmosphere in it. Linssen and Jens Toornstra are the pacesetters at the current Feyenoord. Lito (Li van Linssen, To van Toornstra) BV is their self-invented nickname. During the conversation with Linssen last week via video bubbles, the attacker suddenly bursts out laughing. ‘Jens shows his ass. Oh, and now he’s throwing a bottle at me.’
When he is laughed at: ‘Together with Guus Til, we do everything we can to make it as light-hearted as possible. It’s only about one thing, that’s the finale. It is important that we also have fun in between training sessions and discussions, talk about other things than the final. Otherwise you will automatically become nervous.’
Due to a lack of card sizes, Linssen usually watches a film or series in his room on match day, drinks coffee with Toornstra or plays with others on the PlayStation. Shutting down from the final is impossible. “Everywhere you look on the internet it’s about this match. The Rotterdam boys in the selection in particular are continuously sent videos from acquaintances and they then share them.’
During the evening meal, Van Noortwijk saw ‘the heads slowly change’. “One gets quieter, the other busier.”
Image bubbles with mental coach
There is no special mental coach to Tirana. But it cannot be ruled out that players speak to their own mental coach in their room via video bubbles, as a number of internationals did during the European Championship. Linssen talks a lot with his older brother Edwin, who is a former professional and now assistant trainer and has provided him with advice throughout his career.
Around seven o’clock the players report for the bus trip to the stadium. The closer to the stadium, the more fans they will encounter, those of Feyenoord will cheer them on, those of Roma will scold them. Marseille fans even threw a brick at it.
The changing rooms in the Air Albania stadium have been restyled as in the Kuip. Each player has two red colored seats with a black and white photo of themselves as the background.
Change clothes, onto the field, and then the lock can finally be removed. Linssen: ‘Exercising, playing football, that’s what you like to do the most.’
‘If Bijlow is fit, he will play’, according to trainer Slot
The madness surrounding Feyenoord must be experienced by its players as something positive, said Feyenoord coach Arne Slot in Tirana at the last press conference before the final against AS Roma. ‘They managed to do that themselves and they should see it as an enormous encouragement and not necessarily as pressure. Fortunately, they don’t show any different behavior than the rest of the year. We have to do what we’ve been doing all year, even if Roma will try to prevent that.’ A windfall is that Justin Bijlow, who had long suffered a foot injury, is fit enough to face Roma under the bar. Slot: ‘Bijlow is our first keeper. If he’s fit, he’ll play.’