Quite some time ago my ongoing frustration with England’s performances in major tournaments led me to call upon the fact that I spent four years of my childhood living in the Netherlands, and I started following the Dutch national team as much as I did England. One of the lads that I play five-a-side with, Erik, is Dutch and he and I spend a large part of our weekly hour-long journey discussing all things football with a particular focus on the Eredivisie and the Oranje. After the baffling failure by the Dutch to qualify for Euro 2016, a significant proportion of our recent discussion has been focused on what has gone wrong with the national team and whether they will come good again?
We discovered an excellent article in Four Four Two magazine that set out the issues facing the Dutch national team and how they are setting about addressing these:
That’s very depressing if it’s true. But I don’t think it’s simply a lack of good players in this transitional period, though it does acknowledge that there is a generation of young players waiting to break through. It doesn’t mention the fact that, especially in the 2014 World Cup, Holland got very far without playing brilliant football (except against Spain and perhaps Chile) and in my opinion the effect of that was that the players thought they were better than they actually are.
In addition, Van Gaal’s style was only tolerated for the duration of the World Cup. Hiddink was tasked with getting them to play in the ‘Dutch Way’ again. But the players weren’t used to that. Couple that with the decline of Sneijder and Van Persie (and Hiddink) and the constant injuries to Robben and you have the answer to the question why Holland didn’t qualify for the Euros. So it’s not necessarily down to having bad players, though the current crop is clearly not as good as the last one.
The transitional period also affects our managers. Koeman should have had the job as the most experienced of them all, but instead it went to Hiddink, who unexpectedly failed, after which Blind got it by default. Blind, of all the coaches breaking through has the least experience, and therefore I think he can’t get them to play. The players need experience, intelligence and leadership. And they need to have respect for the coach. I’m not sure Blind has that.
So all in all, I’m more optimistic about the future than the writer of this article. We have both young players and young coaches coming through and it’s clear the problems are being addressed by the KNVB. It may take some time, like it did with Germany, but I’m hopeful we will be back; maybe not in 2018, but certainly in 2020 or 2022.
I have to say that I share Erik’s hope/ feeling that this is a transitional phase for the Dutch team and that once the promising crop of youngsters mentioned in the article starts to mature we should see a return to the normal order of things.
The excellent ‘Das Reboot’ by Raphael Honigstein highlights three key developmental pillars upon which the transformation of German football was brought about from the disastrous showing at Euro 2000 to being crowned World Champions fourteen years later, namely: investment in effective youth development, the lack of financial resources forcing German clubs to rely on homegrown players and thereby affording these young players vital first team experience, and the radical overhaul of the coaching approach at national team level.
The prodigious Dutch production line of young talented players has never been in question, the World Cup squad in 2014 contained some very exciting young players including Stefan De Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Daley Blind, Daryl Janmaat, Jordy Clasie, Leroy Fer, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay; however as the article suggests there is feeling that too many of these young players go abroad too early, denying themselves the first team experience to help them mature, that would be afforded in the less affluent Eredivisie.
The article also suggests that on a tactical level other countries, most notably France, Belgium, Spain and Germany, have learnt and caught up and the Dutch have lost their technical and tactical advantage; and that the rigid adherence to a possession-focused 4-3-3 has become outdated. Indeed, Holland’s success in the last two World Cups, under first Bert Van Maarwijk and then Louis Van Gaal, was built upon a more reactive, counter-attacking approach, even if this drew criticism most notably from Cruyff, who regarded the football as boring. A change of approach tactically, to embrace the way that football is evolving, would seem to be the only alternative if the Dutch are to regain their place among the elite of international football. However a key question seems to hang over the man to lead the revolution as national team coach? Frank de Boer and Phillip Cocu are as yet unproven abroad, although how de Boer fares at Inter will be interesting; and as Erik suggests it feels very much like the right man may have been overlooked when Van Gaal left for Manchester United and that maybe Ronald Koeman will prove to be the man to lead the Orange Revolution.