March 2016: Oranje built on quicksand
This was supposed to be the year of Oranje’s renovation. France was the first opponent. The media was devastating after the 3-2 loss in the friendly against the Euro’s hosts: “In the first half, team manager Blind opted for the 5-3-2 and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Whenever Oranje lost possession the spaces between the lines were so huge that pressure on the ball was failing all the time. In the turn around, Oranje was constantly second best, while in possession Oranje seemed clueless. In the break, Blind returned to 4-3-3 and got Oranje some honour back and we even created a couple of decent attacks.”
This inconsistency in tactics resulted in the conclusion that Oranje was devoid of ideas even after 6 international games under Danny Blind. “This international week was supposed to be the symbol of a new phase of hope and opportunity, but this game versus France demonstrated our weaknesses to the max. The framework is gone, mediocrity rules and we will be confronted with this for weeks if not months to come.”
Typical shot from the France friendly
The final conclusion was that Oranje hadn’t learned a thing from the friendly vs France. And the media asked questions. “In the recent months, the 5-3-2 system was declared holy for the future. Is that still the case if the players aren’t able to execute it? Are we playing with 4 or 5 at the back? No player can answer it and clearly the team manager doesn’t know either. Cruyff’s motto – stick to what you know and improve on your own identity – offers some handles for the future. If not, than using terms as building is a courageous and ambitious thing, but know you are building on quicksand.”
On the day the media presented this analysis, Blind decided to forget the 5-3-2. In a 4-3-3 Oranje got a strong victory over England on Wembley, which gave new hope. Striker Vincent Janssen became the new symbol. As Van Persie was still absent, the AZ striker became the new leader of the line.
May 2016: ‘I will never say no to Oranje’
At the end of the season, Oranje continues the new look with three friendlies against Euro participants. A draw away against Ireland (1-1), a win in Poland (1-2) and a win in Austria (0-2) are the result and Klaas Jan Huntelaar watches the game from his sofa in the living room. The 33 year old Schalke striker gives an interview. One of the topics: his refusal to come on as a sub against England. “I always want to play and I don’t mind coming on as a sub, but I couldn’t do it for two minutes. I was sitting on the bench all the time and hadn’t had a warm up. Other lads were doing their warm up. Danny needed a player to help out in the last minutes and disturb England’s flow. The risk was simply too big for me to come on cold. I’m 33 years old now, I’m not 21 anymore. I couldn’t take the risk for myself and for Schalke. So I said: “Use one of them. It’s fun for them, so they can add a cap to their name.”
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar training on Wembley. He won’t play that night. At his own request.
People feared Huntelaar had enough of his cameo role and might even close the door on Oranje. “Ha! People who say this don’t know me. I will never close the door. Sure, I had my tough time in Orange but I’d never walk away. I am not bigger than the National Team. No player is. It’s always a joy to be there. The feel, the national anthem, the fans, that is what drives me. My sharpness is a result of this. I am really touched, every time I play for Oranje.”
But those three friendlies in May/June were too much for Huntelaar. “We are now sparring partner for nations that did make it to the Euros. No player enjoys those games. You are not the focal point. You are not playing for anything. That is tough. It’s an open wound for me, not qualifying. I’ll watch some of it, sure, but I’ll be happy when the Euros are over.”
July 2016: Dick Advocaat supports Danny Blind
Oranje’s good results in May and June coincide with Dick Advocaat’s role as new assistant. The veteran coach will take the role of Ruud van Nistelrooy for the WC campaign. “Danny called me and it didn’t take a lot for me to say yes!”.
Advocaat speaks highly of Blind: “His approach, his tactical talks, the way he informs the players about the opponent, that is truly professional. He’s strong verbally and has a natural dominance of the team. As an assistant, you always hear what players think or feel about the coach or the vibe in the team and the players didn’t complain or had anything negative to say. It’s a motivated group, ready for a new start. I played with Blind (at Sparta) but never experienced him as a coach. Some people are really negative about him… I don’t get that at all.”
Assistant coach Advocaat the most animated. Friendly vs Ireland
But the alert reader knew this might not be for the long haul. “I do have a clause in my contract. I want to help Oranje, but if a dream club comes I want to be able to go. If a club wants to sign me, I can go just like that. There’s always offers from Russia, Belgium could be an option.”
In September, Dick got a call and decided on the spot. Fenerbahce called and he packed his bags. Additional mayhem for Oranje, as Marco van Basten left for a cushion job at FIFA.
July 2016: ‘One of our best is ridiculed as a clown”
The continuing troubles re: Oranje’s technical staff results in a lot of criticism for the new technical director Hans van Breukelen. Former PSV and Oranje goalie Ronald Waterreus gets more and more agitated and supports De Breuk in an article: “I read that Advocaat has a clause in his contract, allowing him to jump a passing train, should this happen. That is something Hans would never do. He commets, with passion, and wants to do his job. And I am convinced he will.”
Waterreus is angry about a column by satire writer Dijkshoorn, who ridiculed Van Breukelen. “Criticism is fine, but focus on someone’s plans or actions or results. But no, Dijkshoorn tries to make a fool of one our greatest goalies ever. Without any foundation. Turning him into some clown. Dijkshoorn probably never even met Hans. He usually speaks in his columns about scared deers, but I think he is one himself. He is able to be really funny and critical sitting behind his typewriter (sic), but whenever he is on TV in the studio, he is always showering people with compliments. I have 1000 times more respect for Van Breukelen. If he doesn’t let the people around him get under his skin, Hans will lead us to the World Cup.”
September 2016: ‘Oranje is your annoying friend’
The Dutch team starts the new season with a friendly against Greece. Another nation that didn’t make it to the Euros. And loses at home 1-2. The media: “I think we all had a friend like this. One who would tell you that they hadn’t even start studying yet, the day before the exams. Or who would tell you after the exam that they failed miserable, only to have scored straight As. And you actually didn’t do well at all, because you actually started studying too late. That is exactly what Oranje is doing now. I feel it. It has to be. Holland is the annoying friend. Because how else can a nation who finished third of the world in 2014 suddenly be number 26?? We don’t make it to the Euros and then we lose against Fucking Greece!! It has to be this.”
Greece celebrates, Holland in despair
“So, at the start of this WC campaign, we are the Loser Nation of the Football World. And that is the plan, the whole set up. Sweden and France already book tickets for Russia and relax. And they will pay for it.”
But the flying WC campaign start doesn’t happen. Holland is stuck on a draw (1-1) in Sweden. We do win 4-1 versus Belarus but France is again too strong in Amsterdam (0-1). These results mean we’ll have to focus on becoming second in the group.
November 2016: ‘I would have gone crazy’
The year of re-emergence of Dutch football ended with a 1-1 draw vs Belgium and a 3-1 win over Luxembourg. This last win was not a really smooth one. Pierre van Hooijdonk: “It was quite clear what kind of circumstances we’d face, but somehow Danny Blind took the toughest road to victory.”
The way Bas Dost, the Oranje striker, was used annoyed Van Hooijdonk to the hilt. “Dost has had one decent ball to his head. One! From Bruma, in the second half. As a striker, I would explode with anger. With this tactic, Blind could have put Ramselaar in the striker role or any other player who can pass and move.”
Bas Dost vs Luxembourg, never a decent cross
The conclusion of the former Uefa Cup winner was that Oranje is still getting used to this new reality. “The 1-1 in Sweden was unnecessary. Unlucky. But upfront, a draw would have been logical. And to lose against France, based on the differences of quality was also not a surprise. I have gotten used to the fact we are currently not world class. The number of top players is getting lower and lower but also the quality depth is going down fast. Despite that, we’re still in it. We’re second in the goup after a period of injuries (Robben, Strootman, Vlaar, Van Persie, De Vrij) and changes in the staff. If they are able to remain second in the group, it would actually be a top result.”