It’s that time again… The Dutch will sip Advocaat ( an egg based alcoholic thick creamy beverage, eaten with whipped cream – not the Feyenoord coach) and eat oliebollen (oilballs and the word describes the product really well) all night, while reminiscing about the glorious (not so much) past 10 years…
We look back in this post, but forward in the next.
For now, a look at the past 10 years gives us a remarkable roller-coaster ride with the boys dressed in orange. We were ever so close to gold in 2010 (Iker Cassilas toe kept us from winning it!), only to disappoint in 2012. We got back on our high horse in Brazil with bronze at the World Cup there, with mindblowing games vs Spain and Brazil, to name a couple. Only to completely implode in the post WC2014 period. Our Big Four started to show their weaknesses, the dynamics and hierarchy in the team disappeared, the KNVB made a number of bad mistakes (sacking Hiddink, putting Hans van Breukelen in charge of football strategy (what?!?!), allowing Advocaat to be assistant coach and then letting him leave for a big paycheck again, letting Ziyech slip through the cracks, etc etc) and we simply didn’t have the quality in the squad we needed to qualify.
But at the end of the decade, Ronald Koeman, Virgil van Dijk, Memphis Depay and Frenkie de Jong changed the way Oranje looked, smelled, played, performed and via the Nations League and the Euro Qualifications, Oranje managed to do what the KNVB wanted them to do: let the Dutch people love and adore the Oranje team again.
Without winning a single trophy (silver at the Nations League…okay…), Koeman re-established pride in the Dutch hearts.
So far so good, the real test lies up ahead. More on that in a later post.
Lets pick the best eleven of the past decade. I picked my eleven, feel free to add yours…
The Goalie: Maarten Stekelenburg (2004- 2016)
We can’t complain about our quality in goal keepers. Cillesen is a very capable goalie (probably close to world class but not really) while Tim Krul also played a crucial role at the World Cup 2014 for us. Overall, Cillesen never really made us jump out of our seat, I don’t think, like Stekelenburg did in 2010 with that sensational save vs Kaka in 2010. Brazil is leading 1-0 and is totally ransacking us in the first half. Right before half time, the 2-0 is on its way, but Stekelenburg doesn’t want to play along and stops the effort. In the second half, Oranje plays va banque and gets the win!
Right Back: Dirk Kuyt (2004 – 2014)
He’s not a right back. I know. He was a lot of things. Striker, right winger, midfielder but in all these roles, he was never the true talent, like Sneijder, Robben or Van Persie. Van Marwijk was told by a wise old man at the WC2010 that he should play Kuyt as right back! That man was Johan Cruyff, of course. Van Gaal actually did this during the WC2014. I don’t see a typical candidate pop up for this position… Van der Wiel? Van Rhijn? Janmaat? Karsdorp? Tete? They were all decent and useful but it would be super cool to find a spot in the best eleven of the ’10s for Kuyt. As one particular poster used to say: “Dirk always earns his Heineken!”
Right central defender: John Heitinga (2004- 2013)
I want the next decade to be Mathijs de Ligt’s but the last ten years were more for Heitinga. The former Ajax player played at 5 major tournaments for Oranje and was a real warrior at the back for us. In 2010, Heitinga was the guardian of the gate, playing close to or something beyond the line of what was allowed and what was not. He ended up being redcarded in the finals for a very slight tug on a Spanish jersey. Seven minutes later, Iniesta scored. Heitinga is now on his way to become a top coach.
Left central defender: Virgil van Dijk (2015 – now)
He went from Forgotten Virgil to Phenomenal Virgil. The captain. The role model. In 2017, the Dutch KNVB “forgot” to add Virgil’s name to the squad list. Today, no one will overlook the late bloomer. Today he is the best defender in the world. It’s no surprise we reached the finals of the Nations League with him as our skipper. When he lifts the Henri Delaynay trophee coming summer, he will also be in the best eleven of the next decade.
Left back: Giovanni van Bronckhorst ( 1996 – 2010)
Gio van Bronckhorst started as a mercurial left winger at Feyenoord, which got him a move to Glasgow. At Arsenal he moved a line back to midfield and at Barcelona he played left back, amongst world class players like Ronaldinho and Iniesta. We all know the images from the WC2010: Casilla’s toe, the header by Sneijder vs Brazil, the Stekelenburg save, the battle to get Robben fit but one of the key moments is undoubtedly the massive strike from 40 odd yards against Uruguay in the semis. Gio makes his debut when Frenkie de Jong isn’t even born. But after the farewell of Arthur Numan and Winston Bogarde, the left back spot was Gio’s.
Holding mid right: Mark van Bommel ( 2000 – 2012)
Van Bommel. You hate to play against him. You’d love to play with him. Everywhere he goes, something happens. He says what he thinks. And he could be mean and rough, and taunt players with his sour black humour. He did not fit the typical Dutch football role model. Under father in law Van Marwijk, Van Bommel had his best time. He refused to play under Van Basten and he clashed with Van Gaal but this self critical and eager professional had a glorious career playing for Fortuna, PSV, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AC Milan.
Holding mid left: Frenkie de Jong ( 2018 – now)
One can’t escape this lad. He’s one of the new faces of our Oranje team and the driving force of why we are considered back at the top. Griezmann said he never played against a better opponent. And Griezmann played against Barca and Real Madrid many times… He is slick like an eel, he dribbles, he turns, he faints, he passes and he does it all like a dancer. No comparison with his namesake Nigel. De Jong was the playmaker pushing Oranje to new heights, like he did Ajax in the CL. No Barcelona player played as many minutes as he did this new season. We all expect him to shine again in Amsterdam this coming summer.
Attacking mid centre: Wesley Sneijder ( 2003 – 2018)
When you get a testimonial and people like Mourinho, Seedorf, Kuyt, Kluivert, Robben, Van Bommel, Van Bronckhorst, Eto’o, Davids, Cesar, Zanettti, Chivu, Milito, Cannavaro, Litmanen and more are coming, you know you were a world class player. Sneijder was the mouthy little general in midfield who played for Real Madrid and won the CL with Inter. His WC 2010 campaign on top of that CL trophy should have resulted in the Ballon d’Or for him, but hey… One of the most popular Oranje players.
Right wing: Arjen Robben ( 2003 – 2017)
Mercurial. Focused. Playful. The young Arjen Robben was a sensation at 16, a pro at 18 and playing for Mourinho’s Chelsea at 20 years old. If he wasn’t that vulnerable, he would have been mentioned in one sentence with the likes of Messi and C Ronaldo. I once calculated he lost 5 full seasons due to injuries, but when he was fit he was a complete army all by himself. Work ethics, speed, guile, dribbling skills, tremendous kicking ability and the ability to score and assist from any angle. Add to that his leadership and personality and Robben deserves to be in the top 5 of best Dutch players ever! In that list, JC, Van Hanegem and Van Basten probably will never be replaced. So there is Arjen Robben on #4 (for me).
Centre striker: Robin van Persie ( 2005 – 2017)
Van Persie was the black sheep in a family of artists. Sculpturs and painters. Mum, dad and sis. But Robin ended up being an artist as well. A genius. His volleys for Arsenal and Man United are of the highest caliber. Works of art. But the most iconic goal he scored was the flying header vs Spain. Around 7,2 million Dutch football fans were gasping for air when Daley Blind played his pass to the sprinting Van Persie. He flew like a superhero towards the ball and headed it over Casillas into the top corner. Van Persie laughed and beamed in his final days, more than ever. In his younger years, he could be difficult, moody. His top years were in England, in the footsteps of Dennis Bergkamp. An icon in the EPL and adored in the Kuip in his final season. And 50 goals in Oranje? No one does it better.
Left winger: Memphis Depay ( 2013 – now)
Back in 2014, Memphis was Van Gaal’s trump card. Whenever Oranje was stuck, the youngster was released to run amok. In 2019, he carried Oranje like he carries the lion tattoo on his back. He was the marauding, drifting, productive and at times brilliant leader of the attacking line. But socially, he also to a leading role in this young group and won the sympathy from the Dutch people. It’s such a shame that he might have to forego this Euro tournament. His knee injury will throw him back in his amazing development. But he has started his recovery with a lot of positivity. So there is hope!
Coach: Louis van Gaal ( 2012 – 2014)
Tough one. Bert van Marwijk impressed by reaching the finals in 2010. But the quality of play was disappointing. Ronald Koeman impressed by rejuvenating Oranje and pulling them from the doldrums. But Koeman hasn’t won anything yet. He might be the best coach in the coming decade. But Van Gaal probably performed best with a team consisting of top players in the autumn of their career and a couple of up and comers (Blind, Memphis, De Vrij, Wijnaldum). The 2012 campaign didn’t instill a lot of optimism in the Dutch fans for the 2014 tournament and despite the negative vibe, Van Gaal turned Oranje into a fighting machine. He chooses realisme over romantic football and gets really close to the WC finals. The old physical ed teacher getting the best out of his pupils, once again!
The bench consists of:
Jesper Cillessen, the current no. 1 and all around best goalie we have now.
Gregory van der Wiel as right back, the former Ajax man retired and was always more a business man than a player, despite adventures with PSG, Fenerbahce, Cagliari and Toronto. When he did play for Oranje, he was without question the preferred option.
Stefan de Vrij as centre back. He was a key player in Van Gaal’s World Cup campaign and has had a tremendous career in Italy where the pundits can’t believe he’s not a regular starter in Oranje.
Daley Blind, a smart and complete ball player, usable as left back, midfielder and central defender. Like wine, getting better and better as age progresses. Among first players on the team sheet for Ronald Koeman and Erik ten Hag.
Nigel de Jong, central midfielder, breaker, tackler, passer. Even in Van Gaal’s 2014 WC marauding team, Nigel played key roles as a sub.
Gini Wijnaldum, the marathon man and Jack of all Trades. Can play any position and a great team player (particularly with buddy Memphis).
Rafael van der Vaart, the gifted playmaker. Able to make something out of nothing. Beautiful left foot, great vision and guile and colourful as well.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar… Yes, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Patrick Kluivert, Marco van Basten, Robin van Persie….they will all grace the walls of young football fans with their incredible talents, whereas Klaas Jan is a more the working class striker… But what a striker. The 36 year old is still going strong for Ajax. The Hunter actually has the best stats when it comes to scoring goals. The perfect pinch hitter for this Oranje.