The technical areas at Ullevaal stadium in Oslo could hardly have presented a greater contrast. Leading the Spanish team was Jorge Vilda, a 'veteran' of 33 who has built an enviable track record of successes since joining the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) in 2008; initiating his coaching adventure in women's development teams in conjunction with his father, Ángel, he led Spain's Under-17s to the European title in 2010 and 2011. In December 2013 he had led the U17s to another final in England. Months later he took the squad to the FIFA U-17 World Cup final in Costa Rica. And the final in Oslo was therefore his third in eight months. By contrast, everything was new to André Koolhof.
On the Dutch bench, he was making a debut. A playing career at amateur level led him into a coaching career on the same rungs of the footballing ladder. Although he joined the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) in 2004, he had been one of the their regional technical directors, involved in the coaching of boys' and girls' teams in the U10 to U15 age groups. It wasn't until the 2012/13 season that he became assistant coach of the Dutch women's U17 team and it wasn't until August 2013 that he took the U19 baton from Aart Korenhoff. The final in Oslo represented the successful culmination to a debut season which he had experienced to the full. Interestingly, the Dutch victory was the second in succession for a 'debutant', France's Gilles Eyquem having also taken the 2013 title in his debut campaign.
In qualifying for the final tournament, Koolhof's team took 16 points from six games, conceding only one goal in the process. Once in Norway, he stressed the importance, in terms of developing players for the Dutch senior team, of nurturing a winning, results-orientated mentality. His satisfaction, after the Ullevaal final, was that his team had lifted the trophy even though Spain had been marginally the better team.
He was not alone among the coaches at the final tournament to have had qualms about the physical preparation of his squad during an awkward time of the year. A series of short, sharp training camps had brought his players up to speed – but he insisted that fitness levels would not be enough to guarantee success. Once in Norway, he placed the emphasis on the development of tactical maturity, based on guided discovery and a readiness to learn from mistakes. He adopted an approach of individual development by working on each player's specific qualities. The basis for doing this was dialogue. He spared no efforts in terms of dedicating hour after hour to discussion with individual squad members – with special attention to the full squad rather than his regular starters. In terms of psychology and mental strength, he was able to exploit the second half performance against Scotland, when his team had rested on the laurels of a 3-0 half-time lead and was happy to hang on to a 3-2 final result.
At the same time, he acknowledged the importance of managing his back-up team which, in Norway, was extensive. Mealtimes were an obvious opportunity to assemble his staff – and he also respected the Dutch tradition of sitting with the team-behind-the-team once the players had headed for bed. As a rookie head coach, the final tournament represented as important a part of a learning curve as it did for his players. Afterwards, he admitted: "
Reaching the final generated pressure and stress for the staff as well as the players and we all had to focus on being able to cope with it." They did.