I took a short break from blogging. The usual reasons, Covid related busy-ness and pressure at work, and finding time inbetween all these matches to catch up.
But I have to get back into it now, as we have seemed to be going on a slippery slide! We really felt Dutch football was on the up and up after missing two major tournaments. Koeman reinstated pride, Memphis, Virgil and Frenkie became house hold (first) names and Ajax dazzled in the Champions League.
We saw De Ligt move to Juve, Frenkie to Barca, and with Wijnaldum and Virgil steady at Anfield, it seemed we were clawing our way back to the world top.
Fast forward to now, and we see a Dutch NT performing quite inconsistently (albeit with great promise still, under Frank de Boer), we see Koeman and Frenkie struggling in Spain, Virgil is sidelined for a while and the development of youngsters such as Ihattaren, Boadu and Stengs seems stifled for a bit.
At club level, things do look more dire, indeed. Ajax failed to perform in their CL group. Granted: not an easy group, but when you are on par twice with Liverpool but you lose both games, hmmm…well, something is off. When you also lead 0-2 in Bergamo but give the lead away, that is… ouch. And if you can only create two opportunities (Brobbey header and Klaassen miss) vs Atalanta at home and you end up losing, well, that means you are simply not good enough!
And the same can be said of Feyenoord. Yes, they were unlucky vs Wolversberger at home (3 fluke penalties against and a clear penalty for Feyenoord overlooked) , but the overall performances were poor and Feyenoord is out of Europe.
As is AZ, which had a dreadful season start. They did win vs Napoli in the EL and it seemed they were in the drivers seat but too many red cards, too many missed opportunities and on top of that: drama re: coach Arne Slot and AZ’s European campaign ended in tears as well (and some pushing, shoving and alpha male behaviour).
Lets talk Arne Slot for a bit. The so-called crown prince amongst Dutch coaches. He is clear, communicates well, is apparently a tactical wizard and very well liked by all and sundry: players speak highly of him and most people believe he was the main man, even as assistant to Van de Brom.
Slot decided not to extend his deal with AZ. He informed management a number of weeks ago. The board accepted and went on a first informal search for a replacement. Slot also said “several clubs have contacted my agent”. The AZ management ( general manager Robert Eenhoorn (once of the New York Yankees) himself flirted with a move to Feyenoord last season!) was ok with that.
But when they heard Slot was in talks with Feyenoord, the AZ managers Huiberts and Eenhoorn decided to fire Slot on the spot.
For starters: AZ mirrors themselves with Feyenoord. Not Ajax, yet. Too rich, too big. But Feyenoord. Why not. From top 4, AZ wants to climb to Top 3, and Feyenoord was to be their first scalp.
With Slot moving to Feyenoord, AZ feared that all the company secrets (contract info, scouting reports, innovative plans etc) would be potentially shared with Feyenoord. So there was no way they would allow this to happen and allow Slot to coach AZ till the end of the season.
Max Huiberts was asked: “What if Bayern Munich wanted Slot?” And his answer was: “Yeah, we probably would have responded differently”.
Another key “Why” question, is: Why would Slot leave AZ and go to Feyenoord?? Feyenoord is not rich, their squad lacks the talents AZ has (Wijndal, Stengs, Boadu, Karlsson, and more) and there is a LOT of work to do in Rotterdam (particularly in the Academy) to even get Feyenoord to the level of AZ!
Well, the answers to this are intriguing. For starters, Slot’s agent is one Mino Raiola. Of Pogba, De Ligt and Zlatan fame. And guess who else have him as their agent?? Boadu, Stengs and Wijndal. Ok.
Secondly, Feyenoord already swooped up a youth Academy coach from AZ earlier in the season and it appears that Feyenoord is on the verge of signing an investment deal, for 130 million euros. Purely to rebuild their Academy and invest in a top team! This money is not meant for the stadium, but purely for the football department.
It’s quite likely that this message pushed Slot to put his signature to paper. It must be any coach’ wet dream to get a people’s club like Feyenoord, with that appeal and stadium AND 130 million euros :-).
Slot also made it clear that he didn’t feel supported at AZ. When he needed to fix some issues in his squad (when he lost midfielder Guus Til and defender Wuytinck) it took management too long (in his eyes) to come up with the replacements. He also let on that the next generation of talents is not that great and he wasn’t too keen on having to renovate the first team. It’s also common knowledge that Boadu, Wijndal and Stengs probably leave AZ at the end of the season (hint hint agent Mino Raiola).
Rumour has it that if Dick Advocaat keeps on dropping points, playing mediocre games and moaning in the media about lack of quality, it might well mean exit for Dick and early entry for Arne…
PSV is the other way around. Last season, it kicked Van Bommel out, and brought Roger Schmidt in for this season. A Dutchman out for a German. That is always a biggie. Then a guy who wants to implement a totally new and sacred system and on top of that pushes super talent Mo Ihattaren to the bench / stands, which infuriated many Dutch fans and pundits!
He even put him down, it seems, saying: “Yes, he is a talent but he’s also only 18 years old and too heavy. I need to get him match fit!”
Today however, Schmidt turned PSV around and finished top in their EL group, with Ihattaren playing from the start. Players like Dumfries, Rosario, Malen, Ihattaren and particularly Gakpo do really well for PSV. The presence of Gotze and Max also make PSV a highly watchable team!
Is it all bad news then?
No, there are some good developments too!
De Ligt is back and he’s back with a vengeance! What a player.
Wijnaldum is on fire for Liverpool.
Ake is back and important for Man City.
Bergwijn plays all the tough matches for Spurs, as wing back.
Ryan Gravenberch is amazing.
Carel Eiting is nominated as player of the month in the Championship.
Mitchell Bakker is making more and more minutes in PSG.
Sinkgraven is on Cloud 9 with Leverkusen, who are performing really well.
Rick Karsdorp played 7 matches in a row for AS Roma and was named Man of the Match vs Sassuolo.
Our World Cup qualifying group also looks doable. Norway and Turkey being the two threats in the group (Norway has that man Haaland and Odegaard as well, Turkey is always tough for us…) but we should finish first I think.
Exciting times ahead. I hope we can shake the blues soon and get all teams back to their usual level.
Below Ten Hag talking about his Ajax team as children…!