A topic that has been discussed here many times. And will be discussed many times too. In essence, that is what this blog is about, isn’t it? And under Van Marwijk’s reign, we debated this, as we all felt Bert’s way of playing – no matter how successful – was not paying hommage to the Clockwork Orange of yesteryear.
Bert taught Oranje to play business like. He brought grit to the team. Or better still: he brought “Team” to the team… Suddenly, egos of the likes of Van der Vaart, Van Persie, Sneijder, Robben were able to play together. And with destroyers like De Jong and professionals like Van Bronckhorst and Van Bommel, Bert was able to bring the winning ways back to Oranje. And truth be told, in the qualification series, we played attacking football too. Only at the World Cup, we got stuck in playing “German”…
Although I will never forget the quarter finals against Brazil, for sure. In what some will call a mediocre series of games, that was a real high point.
So, the Dutch school suffered under Van Marwijk. Left footed right wingers? Slow build up from the back? Limited Boulahrouz playing right back? Two holding mids?
But with good old LVG on deck, people could be fooled into thinking that Louis would bring the Dutch School back.
But has he? Will he?
Profile descriptions? Robin van Persie can only play deep central striker? Nigel de Jong centrally against Andorra? Four defenders against Andorra?
Louis van Gaal, by the way, claims to be told by the Federation to play with one holding mid. “But, if we don’t get the results, I am supposed to adapt. And if you look at the Belgium game… We lost because we made too many personal mistakes. No system can prevent that.”
Van Gaal doesn’t forget the personal elements in this whole discussion. “I was able to play dominant football with Ajax in 1995, because my wingers (Overmars and Finidi) were able to play like midfielders if we lost possession, and like wingers if we had possession. If players lack that fitness, you can’t play like this.”
This was also the reason why Nigel de Jong, Rafa van der Vaart, Greg van der Wiel and Ibi Afellay were left out of the squad for Belgium. Van Gaal deemed them not fit enough.
Let’s see what Frank de Boer (Ajax), Ronald Koeman (Feyenoord), Gertjan Verbeek (AZ) and Rene Meulensteen (Manchester United) have to say about it.
Does Dutch Football still have a unique position in the world?
Koeman: “The Dutch school is very much alive. Dutch players are being developed really well and scouts from all over the world are scavenging on Dutch youth parks. Our way of thinking about football is pretty specific. We are pro-active, we don’t play what I call response-football. Look at Borussia Dortmund-Ajax for the CL recently. They have more quality on every position and probably twice the money Ajax has, but they allow Ajax the ball. At their own turf!”
De Boer: I was a typical example of a Dutch School defender. I was a left winger in the youth system and being transformed to defender. In our case, we have 60% ball possession per game, so defenders need to know what to do when they have the ball.Typical Dutch beliefs. Defenders need to be able to do more than defending.”
Gertjan Verbeek: “It’s genetics too. We are an adventurous and entrepreneurial people. It’s how we are. Loud mouths too. Have an opinion about everything. The only concern I have is the age at which top talents leave the country. Their development stops too early. Adam Maher is a top talent. But he still have years of learning to do. If he’d now decide to make a big money movie to – say – Benfica, he’d suddenly lose his development. Parents are being worked on by agents… It’s not a good development. Altidore told me. He left for Europe at a young age. Started in Spain. Couldn’t impress. Was loaned out to Turkey, to England. Didn’t work. When he doesn’t score, they sell him. They don’t analyse it, work with him… He told me that AZ is the first club that focuses on his strong points, his weak points… And then I hear from Bas Dost what he is going through at Wolfsburg. The first weeks he was sick every day from all the running and working. If Magath would work in Holland, at least five players would put their hands up and say: Coach! Why the hell are we doing this??? And then you better have a good story to tell…”
Meulensteen: “As I’m working abroad, I have a different view. If you want to be unique, you need to be able to see it in the results too. Otherwise you can be unique by dressing up as clowns too. And the results of Dutch clubs in Europe are…non existent. The last success was 10 years ago. The results of the Dutch national team have shielded that a bit. We do have our own identity. We do develop lots of very creative players. Unique players. Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, Van der Vaart and coming up a couple of wonderful youngsters too. But Holland now only develops great attacking players, while in the past Holland also delivered superb defenders: Krol, Suurbier, Israel, Hulshof, Mansveld, Spelbos, Jaap Stam, Rijkaard, De Boer, Koeman, Blind… Where are these guys??”
Is playing with one holding mid and a left footed left winger and a right footed right winger, is that the Dutch School?
De Boer: “No, for me it’s wanting the ball, wanting to dominate, wanting to attack. Whether you play 4-2-4 or 4-4-2 or 4-3-3… That depends on the players at hand. AC Milan played Dutch style football with 4-4-2. Wasn’t bad to look at. And Dutch teams and players have this naturally. We played AA Gent once, with Ajax and it’s was in Belgium. We were 0-1 up and they didn’t attack us. They didn’t press. Blind and I could pass the ball hundreds of times to each other, they simply didn’t put pressure on us at all. It’s culture, isn’t it? We had a Brazilian national team striker at Ajax once. Marcio Santos. Great player. Lovely bloke. But whenever we lost the ball, he’d track back. Without thinking. It took a long time to explain to him, that he needed to commence the forward pressure, immediately.”
Koeman: “That is a system question and that depends totally on the material at hand. If you don’t have great wingers, but you have great midfielders, you adjust to these players at hand. They key objective is winning. The strategy then is: have the ball, dominate, attack. The tactics are depending on the players.”
Verbeek: “I think you need to find the right system allowing you to use your best quality players. I think it’s a disgrace that Huntelaar can’t play if Van Persie plays. No one in his right mind would put Huntelaar on the bench. It is ridiculous. It’s all about improvising and using what is at hand. Look at Michels in 1974, using Haan as defender. And knowing that his team would push up, wanting a goalie with great footballing skills. That is Dutch School. Or take Johan Cruyff, with this tactical prowess. Using Stanley Brard as left winger at Feyenoord instead of Vermeulen.Cruyff played central striker, but dropped to midfield to distribute the play and allow midfielders like Neeskens or a winger like Rep to penetrate that space… That is the Dutch school. Tactical smarts supported by technical brilliance.”
Meulensteen: “I think those “system debates” are utter bollocks. I heard that Van Persie can only play as the central striker? What an insult! It’s bullshit, and Van Persie proves that every week in Man United, creating as much as scoring. He can play everywhere! That is how we use him. He drifts to the wing, to midfield… That is not Dutch school but it’s being rigid. The system is supposed to serve your best players. If this system in Oranje doesn’t allow Huntelaar and Van Persie together in one team, than the system sucks.”
What is the future of the Dutch School?
De Boer: “We will never lose this mentality. The Dutch supporters simply won’t allow it. Do you think we get applause if we win a game after scoring 1-0 and then playing the game out? They’d throw chairs at us…”
Koeman: “I think it will only go better in the future. The financial limitations make that clubs will become more creative. The 1987 revolution Johan Cruyff started at Ajax, which resulted in Van Gaal’s success team in the early 90s was the result of financial stress. And at Feyenoord, great prospects come through, because there is no money to buy. Somehow, this is a wonderful stimulator.”
Verbeek: “Funny that Koeman should say this. They sell Vlaar and El Ahmadi and suddenly Feyenoord signs Pelle and Verhoek and some other mediocre midfielders while they could have allowed the youth to play more…. Hmmmm…. Funnily enough, some clubs make totally wrong decisions like this. I heard some clubs have scrapped the youth prospect team to save money. Wrong!! Now there is no platform for the ones close to the big team. Would I sign for such a club, as a talent? Of course not! Clubs need a long term strategy.”
Meulensteen: “The thing is, Holland has a lot of benefits over other countries. We have a flat country, so pretty good amateur fields for the youth. And the clubs are relatively close so the best talents will play each other often. This is different in for instance, France. The best talents of Marseille hardly ever play the top talents of Paris or Strassbourg. On the other hand, amateur clubs in Holland are folding. And the focus should change too… the youth, they dribble a lot while in the seniors, it is all pass and move. At Barcelona, Messi gets to dribble. Whenever. While Xavi, Iniesta and Pique are the only other ones who can dribble with the ball. The rest needs to pass constantly. This is law. We have the know-how in Holland to develop like this. We need to use the Wiel Coerver method in the youth and deploy the Johan Cruyff philosophy when they get older. Those are the two key visionaries Holland brought forth. Coerver and Cruyff. And both have been systematically ignored by the Dutch Football Federation.”