Oops, I should have posted this already in January… It’s one of those things. The Oranje Year 2016 in review. Well, always nice to have an Oranje debate (broader than just Memphis, Daley and St Juste). I’ll add my own 2cents and after this I have some amazing posts coming up… Good interview with Peter Bosz, Ronald Koeman, Rafael van der Vaart, Stefan de Vrij and much much more….
I: Vincent Janssen, Oranje’s striker for the next decade?
‘So cool, really amazing, I’m going nutso on the inside!”. Janssen can’t really fathom what’s happening when NT manager Danny Blind takes Janssen up in the prelim selection for Oranje. When the AZ striker hears that he made it to the final squad, he “was definitely on Cloud #9 for an hour!”. He doesn’t even dream of his actual debut, but a month later, Janssen is allowed to make his first appearance in the friendly against France (2-3) which is mainly played in the memory of Johan Cruyff, who passed on before the game. A couple of days later, Janssen is a starter vs England at Wembley. And he impresses. He’s fierce in the challenges, works and hussles, keeping the English defenders busy. And when the ref gives Oranje a spot kick in the 50st minutes, it’s Janssen who collects the ball. Janssen, becoming the Dutch topscorer for AZ that season, scores a beauty. Half an hour later, the striker has the assist for the winning goal by Luciano Narsingh and the whole of the nation is sold. This man went from Almere City to Wembley within 12 months. Oranje has a new goal scoring hero.
Note Jan: As of a couple of months, Vince is struggling at Spurs while Dost and Van Persie seem in great form. I think Janssen will struggle in the NT to keep his spot. Between you and me: Wout Weghorst is NOT a candidate for the NT. Yes, he scores goals, but that is in the Eredivisie against weaker teams. I don’t see it in him.
II: The End of a Golden Generation?
The rise of Vincent Janssen in Oranje has had an impact on the Oranje career of Klaas Jan Huntelaar. The Schalke striker was convinced that when Robin van Persie would be thanked for his services, he finally would get his chance as leader of the line. But Blind wants to test younger players: Luuk de Jong against France and Janssen vs England. When Huntelaar refuses to come onto the pitch at Wembley, a row is born. The striker: “It’s not exactly like that. I didn’t say I wouldn’t come off the bench. I’m happy to start on the bench and come on to make a difference. But not in the last two minutes!”
The friendly vs England is remarkable, as it is for the first time since August 2010 that The Fab Four are missing. Sneijder and Robben are injured, Van Persie and Van der Vaart not needed. The absence of the Fener striker causes a national discussion. Blind makes a clear statement that “a fit and in form Van Persie will have a place in the squad” but at this stage, it’s a little bit “too hot and too cold” with the former Feyenoord man. Throughout 2016, Huntelaar and Van Persie are not in the picture.
Van Persie is awarded the rare Golden Shield for 100 caps for Oranje. The KNVB does not want to honour him in a full stadium “as to not give the impression that we are organising a farewell for him”… Instead, the European post collects the shield and cap and medal in Zeist and transports it impersonally to Istanbul.
Note Jan: The NT is over for Van der Vaart. But Sneijder, Robben and potentially Van Persie are still valuable. The latter is making a difference for Fener and seems fit. Huntelaar is still struggling with fitness. At this stage, I don’t see the Hunter making a return.
III: Oranje impresses as sparring partner
In May, Blind states that in his view the NT has not given the farewell to Van Persie and Huntelaar. But a Robben and Sneijder need to let the end of season trip pass, Oranje will go to Lagos for their trainings camp without the big guns. Dick Advocaat, moonlighting a bit with Feyenoord, is added to the technical staff of Oranje, at the request of Danny Blind. Like with Feyenoord, there is an Advocaat effect with Oranje. As sparring partner for three Euro nations, the NT shows an ascending form. A draw vs Ireland results in biting criticism, but winning vs Poland and Austria results in the question what Oranje might have been able to do at the Euros if only… Kevin Strootman: “I can see a good trend developing. We can see a team forming and a winning mentality.” Virgil van Dijk: “We might not be world class but if we are prepared to work our socks off, we can make it hard for any opponent.”
And to the surprise of most, Danny Blind selects benchwarmer Steven Berghuis for the friendlies. He’s on a holiday in New York when he receives the call from Blind. On the pitch, he creates the Janssen goal for Oranje vs Poland.
Blind: “We had Steven in our group earlier and he impressed with his vision and delivery. I know he hasn’t played a lot at Watford, but whenever he came on as a sub, he created something. A through ball, a distance shot, a cross. He has a rare talent and we lack good wingers, so the options are few and far between.”
Note Jan: It’s all about team. Not the individuals. Messi never won a big trophy with Argentina. And even C Ronaldo was not present in the finals of the Euro vs France. It’s the team. If the mentality and tactics work, and we can add the special qualities of Sneijder and/or Robben, we can play a role at any stage.
IV: chaos at the Dutch football Federation
Advocaat’s return to the KNVB has a good effect. We see it more often: a seasoned assistant supporting an inexperienced coach (Spijkerman > De Boer; Brood > Cocu; Wouters > Van Bronckhorst). But suddenly, in August the serial club hopper says goodbye to the NT. The “challenge” (paycheck?) in Istanbul can’t be ignored. Blind and the new TD Hans van Breukelen are dumbfounded and unpleasantly surprised when Advocaat books a ticket to Turkey.
What develops in Zeist in the weeks after seems to be written by the Monty Python team. New director Van Breukelen fights a public bitch fight with Ruud Gullit, who doesn’t want to work with Van Breukelen as he is “untrustworthy”. General Manager Van Oostveen also takes a hike and the chaos is complete. Popular team manager Hans Jorritsma is forced to retire, without the consent of Danny Blind. When Marco van Basten is lured away by FIFA, the chaos is complete. To Van Basten’s credit: he stays with Blind until he has found a new assistant in former Ajax goalie Fred Grim.
Blind adds Van der Hoek to the staff as well, two assistants who will remain loyal, Blind expects. The criticism that he now has two ex goalies as assistants and an ex goalie as his boss is laughed off by the legendary Ajax skipper: “at least we won’t be conceding too many goals!”
Note Jan: Since this debacle, the consultancy team brought in by Hans van Breukelen has been exposed as a bunch of frauds and the KNVB chair has acted on that by cancelling all their contributions to the Dutch Federation. The very media focused Van Breukelen has been quiet and the next discussion centered around the football development approach, with Van Breukelen’s “mental angle” directly opposing Wim Jansen’s (and others) “skill angle”.
V: Pressure on position Danny Blind
At the press conference prior to the Greece friendly and the key WC qualification game vs Sweden, Blind has to respond profusely on the KNVB chaos. The exit of Van Oostveen, he calls “bad timing” and he hopes the run to the exit doors of his staff will end soon. He also tells the media he received a lucrative offer from Asia. The only man who is loyal to Oranje feels the noose around his neck when a sloppy Oranje loses the friendly vs Greece. If Oranje loses vs Sweden, Blind will be out, the media claim.
The results aren’t too good and after Blind took over from Hiddink it also doesn’t seem that the football is improving. After a failed experiment with 5-3-2 vs France, Blind falls back on the traditional 4-3-3 but dictating a match is not on the cards. Eyebrows are frowned also when he picks a young talent from the Eredivisie over a big name abroad or when he decides to fall back on a benchwarmer. Blind refuses to resign should Oranje lose vs Sweden.
Note Jan: Blind is still being criticised by the consensus in Holland is, that with the material we currently have for the NT, any coach would be in trouble. Yes Blind is inexperienced, and yes he may have made mistakes, but is there a guarantee someone else would have done better?
VI: No Justice in Sweden
Oranje returns home from Sweden, chin up and chest out. It played a decent game, got a draw and should have had the three points. In the second half, Oranje played it’s best half of 2016. Sneijder corrected a rare mistake by Strootman but Klaassen and Dost fail to bring Oranje the full loot. Blind: “We should have won 1-3 or 1-4. We created enough but lacked the sharpness.” And when Dost does find the net late in the game, it’s the referee who spoils the fun, believing Dost fouled his opponent.
Oranje feels aggrieved with this decision but has luck that France draws 0-0 vs Belarus. But Blind isn’t sure what it means for his future. “What will this mean for me? I have no clue”, he quips. The team manager has reasons to complain about his lack of fortune. He inherited a team lacking confidence, and lacking results. He also had to deal with a continuous flow of injuries amongst key players.
Bas Dost scores the winner as the pinchhitter vs Sweden, but the ref claims he pushed Lindelof in the process. Blind: “Here it was the referee stopping us from scoring. This was a bad mistake.”
VII: Arjen Robben, eternal problem child
Of all the injured absentees, Arjen Robben is missed most. Every time Blind announces his squad, prelim or otherwise, Robben is the topic for the media. And when he returns to the fold in Munich, in October, Robben even becomes a hot topic. The team manager puts his trust in Bayern coach Ancelotti (“A good guy, he’ll do the right thing”) but he only sees his skipper return a month later, vs Luxembourg. The world class player scores immediately but leaves the pitch after one half.
There is no criticism on the KNVB coming from Munich anymore. This was different in the past, when Robben forced himself for Oranje, but Bayern had to deal with an injured winger. In 2016, it’s Roma that is aggrieved. AS Roma coach Spalletti claims that Strootman was butchered by the NT. A day later, Blind hits back. “We are conscientious with our conduct. We are responsible people.” Spalletti confirms later, grudgingly, that Blind is correct.
Note Jan: Robben, when fit, will play for Bayern as Ancelotti adores the winger. And he’s still super good.
VIII: new stars shine
Blind is correct more often. In the run up to the Belarus and France qualifiers, the NT manager has to explain again why he keeps on selecting Quincy Promes, who seems to be struggling in Oranje. The coach: “I see him play every week for the full 90 minutes and he is one of the key players every week. Clearly you don’t watch him. The lad is really good.” Days later, Promes repays the trust by scoring two international goals vs Belarus.
It’s the new generation that pull their weight in 2016 in Oranje. Van Dijk is a rock at the back. Janssen is important with four goals in 10 games and is Rick Karsdorp with his strong performances vs Belarus and France the best candidate for the right back position. Blind allows eight debutants to wear the orange and when he recalls Memphis in November as a result of more injuries, it is the former PSV winger who decides the Luxembourg game.
Quiny Promes is the man when Oranje plays in De Kuip . In his 15th international game, the Spartak Moscow forward finally scores twice. The first victory for Oranje on the road to Russia.
Note Jan: Promes is returning to full fitness. De Vrij is returning to full fitness. Berghuis is playing better and better, Wijnaldum is improving, Ake is back at Chelsea… With a more 3-4-3 approach (with Karsdorp on the right and Willems/Van Aanholt on the left), we might be able to utilise the special qualities of Robben/Promes/Memphis up front, Chelsea style…
IX: Goal keeper musical chairs
One spot in the team which symbolises the changes in Oranje 2016: the goalie. Cillesen starts the year as the regular starter but after his transfer to Barcelona, he currently is third choice. He loses his place in September vs Greece to Jeroen Zoet, who also was between the sticks vs England and Austria. Blind: “This doesn’t mean that Zoet is my first choice for the WC campaign.”
And so it is. A month later vs Belarus is Maarten Stekelenburg the number one in goal. The 34 year old Everton goalie “makes a better impression”. But Blind also confirms it was a tough choice to make. Naturally, Blind cops criticism for this choice. What if Stekelenburg screws up? And that is exactly what happens. The experienced goalie misjudges a stoppable attempt from Paul Pogba, from distance. “Maarten should stop that shot, and he knows it,” says Blind. Who also says he doesn’t regret making the choice.
Stekelenburg defeated by Pogba. Oranje wouldn’t be able to turn it around, although Memphis does try late in the game with an audacious turn in the box.
Note JR: Cillesen is not making a big impression, Stekelenburg is back on the bench, Krul just started playing, Vermeer is not 100% match fit…as it stands now, Jeroen Zoet is the only logical candidate for Oranje.
X: Arena cursed for Oranje
Stekelenburg’s mistake causes Oranje’s defeat vs France. The mighty French are the fifth to win in the Arena on the trot. The stadium seems cursed for Oranje. A month later, Belgium is the guest in a friendly and could make the series six in a row. The Red Devils are better than Holland and get close to a win, after Klaassen’s opening goal and Carrasco’s late equalizer.The debate re: Oranje’s safe haven and home is further fueled when Oranje for the first time in 860 days plays in Rotterdam. The atmospheric football temple is the ground where Oranje has an emphatic win over Belarus. The first home win in 1,5 years. This says as much about Oranje as it does about the Arena. In 2017, Oranje starts as the number 22 on the FIFA ranking, just behind Iceland (!) and just in front of Ireland (!). There is much more going on than a mere stadium curse and the WC is definitely not in reach yet.
Note JR: Like all the international players and football experts, I believe the vibe in a venue and the quality of the pitch should be leading. If the players feel most at home in De Kuip, play there. Screw the sponsors.