Another attempt to make sense of where we are and what we can expect moving forward and how we got into this mess…
As the loyal blog followers will know, a post with this title has popped up every two years or so… We had the dramatic 2006 Portugal game. The 2008 Russia defeat. The 201o Casillas toe. The 2012 Ukraine debacle. The 2014 magic. The 2016 absence.
And that’s only in the period I’ve been blogging. We had the 1974 qualification issues. The 1976 red cards. The 1978 departure of Cruyff and Van Hanegem. The 1980 debacle. Absent in 1982, 1984, 1986. The victory in 1988 (playing 4-4-2!!!). The drama of 1990. The revival in 1992. More drama (Gullit/Advocaat !!!) in 1994. Hiddink’s clash with Davids in 1996 and the cup in reach in both 1998 and 2000. Only for Master Louis to screw it up in 2002… Oh boy. All this to find a new depth in Portugal 2004 with Advocaat (him again???) subbing Robben at the wrong time in the wrong match…
Does this sum it up nicely?
Ok, here’s my analysis:
This word “quality” doesn’t cover it. What does “quality” mean? Do we mean technical ability? Do we mean dribbling skills? It really is too broad a term. If we’re talking about talent, I can say for sure that we still develop great talents. That is never going to go away. We have young players now knocking on the door (Frenkie de Jong, Van de Beek, Kongolo, Vilhena, Hendrikx, Kluivert) and many more in the youth teams below. And not just with the Big Three. AZ is developing amazing players (Stengs!) as is Heerenveen (Pieri!) and even VVV has a player (forgot his name) which is touted to be the next big thing for Oranje and Dutch football.
However, we do lack certain qualities. At this has to do with the level of refereeing in Holland (among other things) and the lack of resistance in the youth competitions. So when the Bazoers and Stengs and Haps’s of this world have to face Sevilla or Hoffenheim or Stoke City (let alone Barca, Juve or Arsenal), they simply can’t step up that easily. We need more power in the duels, we probably need more physical endurance and we need to have our players play with much more resistance.
Our development at youth level seems outdated. We still play 2 vs 2 at youth level. Or 6 vs 6. That is nice, but not enough. In order to understand “space”, players need to get an understanding of the canvass they’re working with. When the time is right, use a big field, play 11 v 11.
It’s no surprise that one of the world’s best free-stylers is Dutch. A Dutch player won the World Championship Free Kicks in 2005, beating Zidane in the finals. We had many Best of the World Indoor football players (Grunholtz, John de Bever). Our trickery is unsurpassed. But match technique… You’ll see it in the French squad. Daley Blind has it. Some other Dutchies have it too. But it’s a functional technique, that you use in the flow of the game. And it needs vision and fast thinking too. Kuyt wouldn’t be able to do a trick to save his life, but oozed match technique in his latter career-stage.
So, yes…we develop quality players, but rough diamonds. Allowing 15 year olds to play in a competition against other top talents is key. Our scouting parameters need to change too.
The Dutch “invented” total football. But we are the only big nation that doesn’t play it anymore. In Holland, it’s now somehow synonimous with 4-3-3. That’s nonsense. Napoli plays total football. Chelsea attempts it. Man City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich. Ajax got their EL finals playing a fluent style of football. But it has nothing to do with 4-3-3 or the manner in which we execute it. Tactially, we dried up. We got sloppy, complacent and don’t realise France, Germany, Denmark and Italy have surpassed us. Today’s system of choice, is playing with a striker up top (Lukaku, Costa, Aguero, Lewandowski, Dolberg, Jorgensen), two wingers who play on the inside or even behind the striker (Hazard/Willian for instance) and the width of the park is offered up by the wingbacks. Then 3 midfielders, of which one sits deep, to support the centre backs. And two box to box midfielders, who can pass, run, tackle, defend, score etc. The centre backs need to be tall, need to be able to build up, play the long ball and have speed.
An attempt to mix it up. Here Robben on the right hugs the line, with Tete potentially moving up on the inside. And Promes playing inside more, with Blind on the line.
The static 4-3-3 – even attempted by Dick Advocaat vs France! – is out. Sneijder, with his lack of dynamics, running and tackling can’t be carried anymore against top opponents. Look at Ziyech at Ajax: working hard, running, dropping deep, penetrating, left to right. Dick got it wrong vs France. Our three man midfield was actually a two man midfield (Sneijder was not pulling his weight) and Robben and Promes were forced to play wingback. No wonder Janssen was isolated.
The other nations came to check out what Holland was doing tactically in the last 30 years and all have surpassed us by developing it further. We should go to Napels, to Turin, to Manchester, to London, to Paris and to Munich and see what they do to be where they are. Money is not the key driver here! It’s focus and vision.
The Dutch Football Federation – KNVB
It’s no surprise that the NT’s demise is happening at the same time the KNVB is a complete and utter mess. There is no board of directors, no general manager, no technical director. No vision, no strategic plan. Just a couple of velvet hugging nobodies “taking care of business”. With the latest disgrace: the chairman/CEO of the Oranje Supporters Club – an outside agency! – defrauding the club of 100,000s of euros while having the exclusivity of distribution match tickets to the supporters. And none of the Club members wanting to put in a formal complaint, as the CEO would simply not sell tickets to Oranje games to renegade/complaining members! The several strategic plans (one from 2001 by Louis van Gaal and Andries Jonker and one from 2016 written by a committee of smart people and to be executed by Hans van Breukelen) ended up collecting dust in the filing cabinet. Louis laid it out, back in 2001. All talent development and scouting to be overseen by the KNVB and endorsed by the clubs. Like the Deutsche FB had initiated in 2000, led by Mathias Sammer.
The Germans failed miserably in the Euros 2000 and immediately, the Easter Neighbours did what they had to do: plan visits to Holland, Spain and France. They checked out our tactical and technical training and scouting protocols. They checked technical development in Spain and the Academy organisations in France. They changed it all. Instead of scouting for 2 meter tall Triathlon guys, the Germans switched to smaller and more agile technical players. Think Ozil. Reus. Gotze. And look where they are now. Top talents in Germany were collated and put in a strong competition. In Holland, it’s all still regional. So the top talents of PSV only play against Helmond Sport, Eindhoven and Venlo. But hardly ever against Ajax or Feyenoord. Or Sparta or AZ. This has nothing to do with TV money, or artificial pitches. This is about football development and scouting.
Van Drongelen left for HSV but preferred to go to Ajax or PSV. And boy, could they use him!
The KNVB has failed to develop a football vision, a development apparatus and continuity. The NT manager is focused on the short term results, the technical director was supposed to manage the long term. But there was no technical director. Hell, there IS no technical director. We do have a performance manager, but even he failed to inform Dick Advocaat that goal difference was going to be key, so Dick never instructed his lads to park two buses vs France, when they scored their second! And honestly, Dick shouldn’t have needed another executive to tell him this of course. The mess at KNVB level has been covered here at length. You know the story. The NT coach just had to pick the 22 best players and see what happens.
The story is, that Sparta played a friendly vs HSV. In the break, the HSV management had seen enough and offered a deal to Rick van Drongelen and Sparta. In the second half, he basically was a HSV player.
Tactically, Jurgen Klopp is a master. This is why Wijnaldum plays so well there. He’s part of a machine. A cog. Executing what the coach tells him to, and boy does he do it well at Anfield. But in Oranje, Wijnaldum is lost. Drowning. Like Strootman, Hoedt and many others. In today’s football, pressing, dropping deep, pacing up…it’s all decided from the team perspective. We saw Strootman as a lone wolf pressing Pogba, but no one would go up to Griezmann or Coman to take charge of the second ball. So Pogba outsmarted Strootman and played in to a totally free and unmarked Griezmann. It would result in Strootman’s first yellow and France’ goal. The Bulgaria goal came from a square ball from hell by Hoedt. Van Hanegem’s mantra: the centre back’s first option to play the ball, is vertically. To the forwards. Who can then lay it off in the path of the upcoming midfielders. This is how Spain plays, France plays, Germany plays. Even England! But no, in Oranje, the centre backs play the ball around at the back. Even Belarus will stop us from scoring like this…
The coach should simply be a cog in the system. A passer-by. He should use the templates of the KNVB to select the best players. Who can then play in the system the KNVB/clubs decided on for future development. And they would all fit in. At club level, most players know how to play this 4-3-3 version (see above). Wijnaldum at Liverpool, Strootman at Roma, Vilhena, Karsdorp, Toornstra, Boetius, Elia and Kongolo all did this at Feyenoord. Ake at Chelsea. The list goes on. But in Oranje, they need to play traditional 4-3-3 because what more can a coach do in three days of match practice? I know most of you blame Blind for everything. But Hiddink before him, and Dick now…surely they are not suddenly crap coaches? If Blind was the exception to the rule, I’d buy the criticism. But Louis had problems and could only fix them by changing the system and using the three weeks prior to the World Cup to gel it in. Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat aren’t doing that much better than Blind. Dick made some major errors vs France. And against Bulgaria, we were 2-0 up, with 30 minutes to play and with Sweden running riot in Belarus. Where was Dost? A fear-based tactics, yet again. Somehow, he allowed Gullit to film in the dressing room and post on Twitter. He allowed the players to forego a gratitude round for the fans. Resulting in Arjen Robben being the sole Oranje player exhaustively thanking the Oranje supporters. A disgrace!
The Eredivisie is currently the only “serious” competition in Europe with artificial pitches. Seven clubs play on the rubber/cork anomaly. With a lot of negative results. Shit games, lack of ball speed, strange bounces, and injuries. Oh, and did I mention the injuries? And for what? For monetary reasons only. Most if not all club managers using artificial pitches abhor them off the record. But, they can’t afford decent practice grounds, so artificial it is. We need to re-rout some funds (TV funds, European income) and distribute them more fairly. Ajax is getting top euros from the TV deal, as if they need the extra cash. They’ve got 150mio euros in the bank, Overmars doesn’t want to spend. Surely, a couple of millions could be put into a KNVB fund, allowing clubs in financial distress to invest in grass!
This is not the reason we perform badly, but it’s another example that we don’t seem to take the sports seriously. Like Arjen Robben having to do the gratitude round all by himself. Or earlier, the KNVB mailing (!) the medal for a century of international games to Robin van Persie in Istanbul. No regards or respect for the sports!
In all aspects of the game, we’re the laughing stock of Europe. We can’t qualify for big tournaments, our clubs can’t qualify for Europa League group games. Our main striker is third striker at Spurs. Our main goalie is second goalie at Barca. Memphis has to hope for regular playing time… Only two of our midfielders play for strong teams and they’re utility players there. Well liked and deemed important, but in Oranje they look like they sent their silly twin brothers to the match. Organisationally and strategically we’re a joke. And financially, we are a minion nation.
Everything looks really dour. But there is one thing that will keep us afloat and will allow us back to the top.
We still develop amazing talents and we have the most loyal and outrageous fan base. And that includes you!