My piece for the Boot Room on the Netherlands(Title on the Website Isn’t Correct)
The Netherlands will want this international break to be over sooner than most. High-profile friendlies against France and England serve as a stark reminder that the Oranje failed miserably to qualify for Euro 2016. The recent passing of arguably the country’s greatest sporting export, Johan Cruyff, was an added hammer blow for the Oranje and football as a whole.
The Netherlands have already lost to France 3-2, and that scoreline flattered the Oranje considerably. Danny Blind’s side was second-best to one of the favourites for the upcoming tournament. While there’s no shame in that, it showed just how far behind the Netherlands are in footballing terms. There’s no mistaking that this is a Dutch team in transition.
The team Blind put out was low on experience and, it must be said, real star quality. The very un-Dutchlike 5-3-2 didn’t help matters either. The home side may have had some decent spells in possession but they were generally outplayed by a more energetic, powerful and skillful French side. Blind’s men were down 2-0 inside the first 14 minutes, with Olivier Giroud’s goal on the 13-minute mark providing a prelude to a beautiful and emotional tribute to the legendary Cruyff. One could argue that the men wearing orange on the night were caught up in the emotions of the recent news, thus the poor performance. As the boss, Blind, mentioned per ESPN FC, his team should have approached the game professionally once the whistle was blown.
The end result aside, it was a disappointing way to honor Cruyff’s legacy on the field. The match against an English side full of confidence after beating Germany doesn’t bode well. Many will ask how the nation that brought us “Total Football” got to this point.
The Netherlands’ recently ended run of consecutive tournament appearances goes back to Euro 2004 in Portugal. Having failed to make the 2002 World Cup, the Netherlands were looking to make their mark on the international stage again. That team featured a mixture of classy experienced campaigners like Jaap Stam, players in their prime like Clarence Seedorf and talented youngsters like Wesley Sneijder. The competition for the Dutch ended at the semi-final stage at the hands of the hosts, Portugal. The Netherlands were okay in that tournament but, as always, fell below expectations. It hasn’t gotten better since then.
Results were similar in the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 before the surprise of the 2010 World Cup. Bert Van Marjwik led that group of players to the final with what was an distinctly un-Dutch style. The horrific Euro 2012 campaign followed with virtually the same group of players failing to win a single game. Then came the 2014 World Cup performance with Louis Van Gaal at the helm.
Fans of the Netherlands, both native and non-native, were glad to see the Dutch perform well again. The 2014 World Cup may have rekindled the interest of some, including this writer, despite the Dutch still not being very Dutch. Just as the 2010 World Cup proved to be, the 2014 World Cup was a false dawn for the Netherlands. The failure to qualify for an expanded European Championship highlights that.
With reality now staring the Dutch in the face, it’s possible for this great footballing nation to find itself again.
The 2010 and 2014 World Cups were one-offs made possible by a drastic change in philosophy. The performances in 2014 in particular masked glaring weaknesses in the nations footballing makeup. The poor Euro 2016 qualification campaign, highlighted by losses in must-win games against Iceland, Turkey and the Czech Republic, showed that the old Dutch philosophy may not be particularly efficient either.
Just as Spain is finding itself having to evolve from the so-called “tiki-taka” play that brought their recent success, the Dutch will now have go through a period of major self-analysis. That task won’t be a problem for a nation known for its thoughtful approach.
One constant in previous Dutch teams was the mixture of talented youth, experience veterans and players in, or near, their prime. The progression of this current groups elder statesmen, meaning the likes of Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder, is evidence of that. They have fit into every category at some stage. This current crop lacks players in their prime with significant quality for the international stage.
That lost generation includes the likes of Ryan Babel, Ibrahim Afellay, Eljero Elia and Royston Drenthe. The lack of defensive names isn’t an oversight as there have been hardly any to consider since the days of Jaap Stam and Frank De Boer. Add to that the fact that the young stars aren’t as effective as their predecessors, with the same going for the veterans, and you have a group that’s woefully short of the overall quality necessary.
Whether or not a complete overhaul is necessary is one question for the Dutch FA to consider.
It starts, of course, with who to appoint as manager if Danny Blind is relieved of his duties. That may seem harsh, as he was in a difficult position after the team’s poor start, but the lack of fight or quality shown during his stint in charge is worrisome. It’s not just the senior team that needs an adjustment.
The Oranje have failed to make any impact whatsoever at U-21, U-19 and U-17 level in recent years. A failure to qualify for the U-21 Euros since back-to-back wins in 2006 and 2007 stands out, as does zero U-20 World Cup appearances since 2005. Those results are quite poor for a nation with Holland’s history and do suggest the answer to a complete overhaul is yes.
This doesn’t mean that the Dutch is somehow failing to produce talent. The likes of Memphis Depay, Georginio Wijnaldum and Riechedly Bazoer are evidence of that. It doesn’t seem as if this talent is at the same high level as before, though. The successful performances by the Vans, sirs Marwijk and Gaal, surely led to an identity crisis from the top down. They have produced the best tournament performances for the Netherlands in some time, Van Marwijk has a case for the worst one too if you have a preference for the Cruyffian style of play, but it could be argued both were short-term in their goals.
In this respect, rivals Germany provide an example of just what can occur with long-term planning.The 2014 World Cup was the goal for German FA after a period of underachievement and it started from the youth sides all the way to the senior group. Its still interesting to consider that Germany still made virtually every tournament possible and came close to trophies a few times before achieving their success.
It’s hard to see the Oranje following a similar route. Looking at the current group, the Netherlands may have to do without a tournament appearance or two before real results are seen. The fact that France and Sweden are in their World Cup group means missing the 2018 World Cup is a very real possibility.
The England game will mean more tributes to Cruyff and, hopefully, a better performance. More friendlies follow in May and June before World Cup qualification begins. The Dutch won’t have much time to find a way back to the top of the game. The passing of a national treasure such as Cruyff, and the thought that the world’s game may be passing them by, means now is the time to start rebuilding the Oranje.