We were able to focus a bit on fun stuff here (Fosu-Mensah, Ruud Krol, Tiju) but we need to face reality again.
Amongst the incredible performance of Ajax in Gelsenkirchen (semi-finals baby!!) and the long overdue title for Feyenoord (dare I say it!?) it seems Oranje is still in a mess.
Before we go into solutions, I think it’s cool to do an overview of insights, opinions, criticism and more from a number of Dutch football icons (and former team managers)…
In Sofia, for the Bulgary match, Blind had some choices to make. Wesley Hoedt, next to Martins Indi? The Lazio defender plays on a weekly basis in a top league, so why not? Joel Veltman was an option too. With Tete and Karsdorp as right backs in the squad, Blind already suggested that Joel could play the CB role for us. But Blind picked De Ligt. A 17 year old talent from Ajax. With only 7 games under his belt in Ajax 1 and with two major mistakes in two of them (Kopenhagen, Excelsior). Nine days before his selection, De Ligt was asked about Oranje. His response was telling: “Oranje? That is very presumptuous. I just made the prelim squad of Jong Oranje. I think I should maybe start there?” The 17 year old was more realistic than the team manager of Oranje. How can one experiment in such an important game? Blind played Russian Roulette. And we now how it ended.
Blind got lost in romantic musings of a time where youngsters like Kluivert and Seedorf were able to make their way into the top with Ajax, while very young. But Blind forgot that these players were surrounded with quality and made their debuts in teams that dominated and played top football. Blind’s main reason was the combination of left (Martins Indi) and right (De Ligt) footed players in the central back role for a better and quicker build up.
And this is exactly the problem Blind had. He thought in terms of posssession, of build up, of dominant play. But reality is, the key moments in the matches (post 2014’s WC) are those moments where we turn possession around and lose the ball.
But, the match in Sofia also showed that the team let De Ligt down, just like the team let Blind down. We didn’t lose just because of De Ligt. In the weeks before the game, Blind made a trip to Turkey (Sneijder), Italy (Strootman) and Munich (Robben) to discuss matters with his three “certainties”. But Sneijder wasn’t picked for the Bulgaria game, Strootman was clueless and Robben did not get the support from his team to shine and was facing 3 or 4 opponents whenever he finally got on the ball. Strootman, is a soldier. A very good one. In a strong midfield (Roma) he can shine. But he’s not the general. He won’t lead the way.
The Strootman role (#6) is a key role in football. It’s the bridge between defense and attack but also a guarding role. It’s the metronome, the man who decides when the press is on, or when to pace the game down etc. It’s Carrack at Man United, Fabregas in his glory days, Lasse Schone at Ajax now and El Ahmadi at Feyenoord.
Blind lost the support of this players, it seems. In every line of the team there was at least one player not feeling supported by his coach. Jeroen Zoet was axed after Sweden away. Martins Indi was publicly criticised for his red card vs Iceland at home. Wijnaldum, who was one of the better players in the series, was always the first one to be pulled off the pitch. Even against Bulgaria he was one of the “least worse”. He wasn’t pleased. And up top, Bas Dost was quite aware that Vince Janssen would have played if the Spurs striker wouldn’t have the flu. The chemistry was gone. Klaassen, Strootman, they weren’t able to lead the team while Daley Blind doesn’t play on a position to do so (left back).
Originally, Blind wanted to go back to Van Gaal’s 5-3-2 of the 2014 World Cup and abandon the Dutch 4-3-3 which the KNVB pushed onto Hiddink. We won against Wales, but after an abysmal first half vs France, he abandoned the system again. Experts, ex-players and colleagues all praise Blind for his insights into football, his analysis skills and ideas. Van Gaal relied heavily on his support during their time together, but a good consiglieri doesn’t necessarily make a good Godfather. For months, he had been prepping the Bulgaria game and he “felt really confident” about it. During the game, his house of cards collapsed. No patterns, no energy, no inventively and most tellingly: a lot of personal mistakes and bad performances.
Blind will go into the history books as the team manager with a short reign in a period of mediocrity and his inability to get something out of it.
Ronald de Boer (ex Ajax, ex Barcelona, ex Glasgow Rangers): “It was a snowball effect. Once the ball started rolling, you know it gets bigger and you can’t stop it. It was a series of blunders, starting under Hiddink, with that Janmaat mistake. And it didn’t stop. Daley Blind vs Turkey, Martins Indi vs Iceland, Strootman vs Sweden and now De Ligt. So much bad luck, it’s not a coincidence anymore. It was laughable at times, if it wasn’t this serious for us. Tactically, I also think we were second best. The 4-4-2 of Bulgaria should have been countered with a 3-4-3. You could see the problems in the first ten minutes but Danny needed till the break to change it around. And now what… You can throw bad wine out of a beautiful bottle but if you replace it with more bad wine… Frank (Ronald’s brother) isn’t keen. He’s a club coach, still. A foreign coach is a risk, but it could work, as long as his English is ok. The best leader, for me, is Louis van Gaal. Get him to take the team in those last 5 games and then promote him to technical director.
Pierre van Hooijdonk (ex Feyenoord, Celtic, Benfica): “There was never a moment of rest for Danny. All those shenanigans at the KNVB… But also, we know, all of us, that our level has dropped. We are not longer a dominating force in football. But I don’t see that translated into our vision and thinking at NT level. We still wanna play Dutch School and Total Football and have possession. Wake up! Van Gaal gave us the right example in Brazil, to play better without the ball and hit the opponent on the turnaround. We still have not landed, we’re still in dream land. We need to be humble and adapt our playing style. Everyone rants about how we develop such good coaches and trainers. Oh really? Where are they? But even then, we are still better than Bulgaria. That game should have been done and dusted. And then our most experienced midfielders are letting us down the most. We want to see leaders in Wijnaldum and Strootman, but they aren’t. They are water bearers at their clubs. They’re important but not key. Where are the days of Davids, Ronald de Boer, Wouters, Rijkaard, Van der Vaart, Van Hanegem? World class, all of them. I think we should go for Henk ten Cate. Experienced, Dutch, and he can be tough as nails. And let’s use someone like Seedorf as his assistant or Gullit. But we need a mental shift, the time we could dominate and put fear into opponents is over. The roles have been reversed.”
Arnold Bruggink (ex PSV, Mallorca, Hannover): “I think Blind was a doubter. A tinker man. Van Gaal had clarity and confidence. It seems Blind was constantly trying out new options. But Blind isn’t the only one to blame. Th KNVB has screwed up big time. And, it’s a fact that our core of players should be good enough to finish above Sweden and Bulgaria, surely? And Hans van Breukelen? Lovely guy, but his way of communicating generates so much agitation. He’s not clear, he’s rash, he isn’t always straight. There were a lot of things, decisions, that worked out really badly.”
Ronald Waterreus (ex PSV, ex Manchester City, ex Glasgow Rangers): “Since Van Gaal left in 2014, it was a mess. The appointment of Hiddink and then Blind… Hiddink is totally different than Van Gaal. Van Gaal is on top of everything, where Guus is really laidback and laissez-faire. Then we had the issues with the assistant coaches. Players need clarity. And we are not getting that for years now. Hans van Breukelen added fuel to the fire and had a false start. I personally don’t think he’ll be around much longer. I think we need to try and get Frank de Boer and Phillip Cocu to do it. To commit to Oranje for 6 or 8 years. Build it back up. They’re mates, they trust each other and can work well together, as they did as Oranje assistants under Van Marwijk. Another option is Fred Rutten.”