Now that Ron Jans has been officially unveiled as the next FC Cincinnati head coach, all but the most dedicated longtime Eredivisie fans on our side of the Atlantic are likely asking, "Umm, who is Ron Jans?"
Wonder no further, friends, as we're here to better acquaint you with the new boss at Nippert Stadium.
Checking the CV
The new FC Cincy boss began in soccer with a 15-year pro career that saw him bag 60 Eredivisie goals as a striker for hometown club PEC Zwolle (where he remains the club's fifth all-time leading scorer), FC Groningen, Roda JC and Veendam, as well as one on a brief foray with Japanese club Mazda Sport.
After his 1991 retirement, Jans immediately transitioned into coaching, starting with successful stints at a few amateur clubs. He finally got his big shot in 2002, when started a restorative eight-year reign in charge of Groningen during which he turned them from relegation fodder into consistent winners. In 2010, he made a controversial switch to manage their arch enemies Heerenveen.
On the heels of a strong second season with the Frisians, Jans made the leap to coach Belgian giants Standard Liege. After a middling 12-game start to the season, Les Rouches let him go, but he'd eventually be hired as new Zwolle boss the following summer. In four years at the helm, the local boy achieved the club's first ever KNVB Cup triumph (by defeating current Atlanta United coach Frank de Boer's Ajax side 5-1 in the final) in 2013, a return to the cup final and runners-up finish the following year, plus their best ever top flight finish (sixth) in 2015 and the resulting first-ever European berth.
Though he never was able to take home the prize, Jans was nominated six times as a finalist for the Rinus Michels Award, which honors the top Eredivisie manager each season. He temporarily left the sideline game during the summer of 2017 to take up Groningen's director of football role for two years.
The 60-year-old arrives already holding a few MLS connections. He formerly had new FC Cincinnati defender Maikel van der Werff in his squad at Zwolle, where he also managed recent Columbus pick-up Youness Mokhtar. To boot, Jans once coached ex-LA Galaxy man Mika Vayrynen and was in charge of soccer operations when San Jose negotiated the full transfer of striker Danny Hoesen from Groningen.
It will surely come as no surprise that the Dutchman generally favors a 4-3-3 set with all its familiar tactical trappings: attacking play driven by a conjunctive midfield triangle, aggressive flank play and quick and stifling pressure all over the field.
That said, Jans is not so married to the Total Football ideal that he won't throw in wrinkles or switch to an entirely different formation with an entirely different modus operandi when warranted by the opposition's specific challenge or his own selection woes. He has often peeled back the 4-3-3 wingers to take a more defensive, counter-attacking posture, and occasionally turns to 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 diamond sets at times.
Setting the chalkboard aside, Jans is well known as an honest, hands-on players' coach. "On the field, in the dressing room, in the tunnel, during lunch, it doesn't matter where," former Zwolle player Bram van Polen once told Dutch magazine ELF Voetbal. "He wants to know what is going on in the minds of his players. He makes a real difference on a social level."
That often means positive reinforcement, but Jans can certainly read an effective riot act to the squad when necessary. Recalled Van Polem, a defender on his KNVB Cup winning side and veteran of over 300 Eredivisie matches, "He practically never does it, but one time at [Feyenoord stadium] De Kuip he was a real devil. Ron slammed the clubhouse door shut and immediately said 'You, you and you, shower!' and then called on subs peacefully. He was annoyed by our cowardly way of playing. Such an act is not theater, he never plays on stage."
Jans is also quite the forthright, entertaining character when speaking to the media. He doesn't take himself too seriously, which helps make him a rather popular figure both inside and outside of the locker room. In fact, he twice captured the Groninger of the Year award, a civic honor voted on by both a special panel and citizens of the province.
Given FC Cincinnati's current standing at the bottom of the overall league table, it should come in handy that Jans has gained a fair reputation for turning around nose-diving organizations and for getting his teams to punch above their weight. He tends to get the most out of dark horse rosters, often achieving "more than the sum of parts" results. In his 14 Eredivisie seasons in charge, he engineered eight top-half-of-the-table finishes and booked four UEFA Cup/Europa League invites.
Even when his teams play well enough to get some darlings' publicity, Jans prefers to continue fostering an underdog mentality for maximum fight. During his first season at Zwolle, the unheralded roster charged straight to the top of the table by winning their first four games by a combined 12-3 count. The manager was not interested in the group suddenly thinking like favorites, telling the club website, "We should not let ourselves be driven by all the attention. Most things grow or thrive best in the sun, such as the pitch, but I think we can grow best in the shade."
He's also an excellent teaching coach that has a track record for providing longer term benefits in the way of player development. Jans has played a significant role in raising the games of a long list of players (several of whom were eventually sold for handsome profits), including Leandro Bacuna, Bas Dost, Andreas Granqvist, Daryl Janmaat, Tim Matavz, Luciano Narsingh and, most notably, Luis Suarez. The Barcelona superstar publicly credited his former Groningen boss for dramatically altering his diet, training habits and emotional focus.