Created on 24-10-2007 at 00:00 AM
Midway through the second half of last Saturday’s match in Bochum, Mark van Bommel was booked for a tactical foul on the half-way line. Remarkably, in the tenth match of the campaign, it was the Dutchman’s first yellow card of the season. By contrast, Mark collected no fewer than ten bookings in 29 Bundesliga appearances last term.
Something has clearly changed, as the man once admiringly styled “our aggressive leader” by coach Ottmar Hitzfeld operates in a more defensive role these days, both tactically and physically. “I’m not committing as many stupid fouls as last season,” the 30-year-old acknowledged on Tuesday, pointing to a higher quota of fifty-fifty tackles he felt obliged to take on last term.
Nowadays, Van Bommel is rarely forced into that kind of situation, and has even gone entire matches without committing a foul. The main reason for the welcome development is the greater quality in the current squad. The man who arrived in summer 2006 from Barcelona shouldered the ball-winning responsibility almost single-handedly last year, but with Zé Roberto alongside him and the likes of Franck Ribery, Hamit Altintop and Bastian Schweinsteiger in forward roles, Van Bommel is left free to focus on defensive organisation.
The player is perfectly happy with his new status away from the media spotlight. “I’m playing with more composure. It means I’m more important for the team, even if I don’t stand out. Sometimes, you’d think I wasn’t even on the field,” he explained. The current system at the club calls on Mark to fill a vital role, sealing cracks in the defensive shield and distributing possession to his team-mates further up the field of play. The action in and around opposing penalty areas falls to other stars.
Hitzfeld a Van Bommel admirer
The play described himself as “extremely happy“ in the role, sensing he has become truly valuable to the club for the first time. “I have a feeling I’m playing better than I was last year,” he revealed, after starting 12 of Bayern’s 13 competitive games so far. Van Bommel is guaranteed an appearance in Thursday’s UEFA Cup group stage opener away to Red Star Belgrade – and in the light of the many big-name absentees, coach Hitzfeld will delighted and relieved to call on the control and discipline of the ‘new’ Mark van Bommel.