Tag: Stengs

Horror week for Dutch football!

And just when we started to feel really good about ourselves…what with Oranje performing well and reaching the Euros, Frenkie impressing in Spain, Dutch coaches on the up and up (US, Bundesliga, Ajax) and Ajax and AZ impressing, fate took a hit at us. As if to say “Nope! You’re not there yet!”.

And while the Dutch handball women won the gold at the World Cup, it was bad news after bad news for Dutch football.

For starters, Ajax getting ousted from the CL. So unjust. So unfair. Yes, Ajax played bad vs Valencia. Didn’t create a lot. Gave away that goal due to a series of errors. True. But we should have had Promes’ goal allowed vs Chelsea at home. That was at least one point, if not three points more in this group. And I don’t believe Ajax should have received 2 red cards in that away game vs Chelsea! Simply bad officiating, from my perspective. Ajax was cheated out of the Champions League!

Ajax lost two Eredivisie games on the trot as well and where the Amsterdam giants were thinking of easily repeating their title winning shenanigans from last year, AZ Alkmaar is now joint leaders of the competition. And rightfully so. AZ is dazzling, and should have had a 0-2 lead vs Man United in the EL. Feyenoord got ousted out of that competition, while PSV already was.

Their loss vs Feyenoord last Sunday was cause for the PSV board to sack Van Bommel. And even though I’m not a PSV fan (I am a Van Bommel fan though), I believe his sacking was very harsh.

Yes, he lost many points. Too many. But…he was the coming man. They knew he was inexperienced, he also had to deal with a new and inexperienced technical director (John de Jong) who didn’t bath himself in glory re: the players he got Van Bommel. I mean, Angelino left for Man City, and what did they get back?

They bought two left backs and they were so disappointing that Van Bommel had to play Sadilek ( a midfielder) on that spot. And Luuk de Jong (20+ goals) left and they got Sam Lammers back, who got injured straight away. Next thing, they bring a 40+ year old Greek striker…

Jeroen Zoet was dealing with a form crisis and on top of that Bergwijn and Malen got injured (Malen again!!) and they had to do without Ihattaren for a spell due to a private matter (loss of his dad). A topsy turvy season for Van Bommel and the board decided to sacrifice him (and keep De Jong in his role as TD). I think it’s weird and at least De Jong should have been loyal and leave as well.

The national cup competition hasn’t even started yet and obviously, PSV was never going to win the Europa League so the PSV board sacked Mark because he was supposed to win the title. But does PSV really believe you can win the title with a defence consisting of Viergever? Baumgartle? Schwaab? Sadilek? PSV’s midfield consists of youngsters (Rosario, Thomas, Ihattaren) or mediocre players like Hendrix and Guti. The forwards, ah…yes. They can play. If they’re not injured. I believe PSV should have supported Mark like Feyenoord did with Gio. He won the title after a season in which he lost 8 on the trot!

And top top it all of, as if it wasn’t enough, both Malen and Memphis got seriously injured. It seems Malen too would be out for half a year or more with tore ligaments but luckily for all of us, Malen’s injury is not that bad. He’ll be “only” 3 months out. Memphis however…. I think we won’t see him at the Euros…

And Daley Blind! During the Valencia game he went down (without ball or opponent close) and was groggy for a couple of seconds/minutes. Was he unconscious? Fact is, Ajax is up in arms after the Abdelhak Nouri drama and sent Blind to the hospital in Amsterdam where he spent two days/nights in their cardiology department under watch. He didn’t play last weekend vs AZ and news has yet to come out.

Isn’t there any good news??

Well, as mentioned, the handball ladies did win the World Cup… Otherwise, Atalanta is through in the CL… Zirkzee made his debut for Bayern. Berghuis got the hattrick vs PSV. But that’s it.

Oh, before I forget… AZ Alkmaar… They did pretty good this week. Joint leaders. Beating Ajax. Scaring Man United. And their golden boys keep on growing and developing. Our straw to hold on to….

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Oranje’s new direction

Before the Estonia match, Koeman announced he would make some changes and test some ideas… He never is the type to test things while in the race for a prize or trophy, but now, qualified as we were, he was happy to experiment.

At first sight, it didn’t look much like an experiment: 4 defenders, 2 holding mids, a deep striker… But in reality there were indeed some interesting changes…

The most remarkable one was a decision that yours truly already suggested here a number of times: use Quincy Promes as the right wing back instead of Dumfries or Veltman.

Dumfries lacks positional / tactical nous and ball skills but offers speed and power. Veltman lacks speed and power but offers neat passing and experience. But both are just not good enough (for now).

So with most of our opponents playing without an out and out left winger and with our team playing with a left back who lacks the legs to race up and down the flank, why not use the right flank for a player who can – basically – do everything!

He can score, he can dribble, he can run, he can assist, he reads the game well and he’s game: Quincy Promes as right wing back!

And with a right winger who hardly plays on the right wing, a midfielder like Van de Beek and a wing back like Promes can utilise that space.

Stengs was the right winger vs Estonia and he demonstrated to have earned the right to be in the squad. Of course, left footed Berghuis can play in this role too as can Mo Ihattaren and Bergwijn.

Depay came from the left, with marathon man Patrick van Aanholt behind him, and Luuk de Jong as deep striker.

Some elements which Koeman can use…

Luuk de Jong as distractor for Memphis

The comeback at home vs Northern Ireland opened up this option in Koeman’s mind. The Lyon striker couldn’t find an opening against this defensive opponent. Once Memphis went to the left, with Luuk in de team, he found the key to unlock the Northern Irish door.

Against Estonia, Luuk de Jong didn’t impress. He had a supporting role and only one attempt on goal. But as a distractor, he’s really useful.

Luuk de Jong blocks the defender allowing Promes time and space

In the 6th minute, he creates the space for Memphis and then he sets a block so Promes can come in possession and assist Gini’s first goal. Luuk makes his move to the near post and creates space for Gini’s header.

Luuk going near post, binding 2 defenders

Same thing with Oranje’s second goal. Luuk makes a dart to the far post creating space for Ake. Two defenders are with Luuk and Ake has a relatively easy header.

Luuk de Jong takes 2 defenders with him when jumping to the far post

And Ake can enter the space vacated by De Jong & Co

And the fact that in both cases, Memphis creates the goals makes the picture complete. Memphis is rested after the break and Myron Boadu takes his spot. And by then it’s clear that this is a good tactics to use against teams parking the bus.

Memphis’ heat map of the first half. No longer needed as target man upfront, now free to roam

Power on the wings

The position of the backs have been a discussie topic for years. Denzel Dumfries and Joel Veltman miss the composure, technique and vision in the final stage of their rush forward. Something Blind has in spades on the other side, but Daley lacks the pace and the power. The lacklustre performance on the right prompted Koeman to use a different option: Quincy Promes. Estonia was a good opportunity to test his ability. Koeman: “Promes as right back is a solution for the future, in particular against these types of opponents. Because Promes can do everything. He can play winger, he can assist, score, run, but he’s also strong in the duels. And when we need to defend, well…he needs to defend. That’s normal.”

Van Aanholt can do what Promes does on the left. They both show power on the wings and keep on running up and down. This allows Stengs, Memphis and Boadu to find space in the half spaces or midfield. Promes again proves his value by his assist on Wijnaldum (1-0).

Van Aanholt pressing high

It’s also remarkable how Oranje presses with high intensity and high risk. Van Aanholt almost presses the back on to their corner flag. When he does, Ake moves forward as well. This style of pressing resembles what Ajax does. Usually, Oranje plays it less risky. This does show vs Estonia, as a number of times, the forwards press up and the defenders stay in place, allowing Estonia – pretty limited team – to find a way out.

The high press leaving the rest defence wanting at times

The forward pressing backs… The conclusion: with two of them pressing high, the risk is higher but so is our threat. Organisationally, it’s a problem, as the rest defence is vulnerable with both backs gone. This is why Koeman enjoyes playing a more stable deep lying play-making back on the left (Daley Blind) and a marauding right back on the other side (Dumfries, Promes).

Creativity in midield

The most positive aspect of the Estonia tactics, is the way our midfield operates. The recent 0-0 vs Northern Ireland is a good example of the way Oranje played defensive minded opponents. A lot of possession, not enough creativity up front and fully depending on the intelligence of Frenkie de Jong. Whenever the opponent sacrifices a man marker for De Jong, we get ourselves into trouble. In this system, less so. Koeman uses a strong passer of the ball next to De Jong (Davy Propper), which allows for a quicker pass forward than with De Roon. Promes and Van Aanholt are also good build up passers (as is Blind of course). Memphis and Stengs can bring their creativity from the flanks, something Oranje needed badly. Babel – despite his work ethics – couldn’t deliver this too well. Combined with the runs from midfield from Wijnaldum, Memphis and Stengs had ample options for the combination. Wijnaldum’s hattrick has everything to do with this.

The typical Oranje field positions. The full backs are widest. The wingers are in the half spaces. The #10 is close to the striker

With free-style wandering wingers and controlling midfielders who will continuously press up, Holland has a lot of variance and options through the centre. There are constantly different players popping up in certain areas, the Estonia defenders were played drunk. With more time, Koeman will be able to bring in more “automatisms” between the players.

The 4-0 is a good example of Holland’s dynamics. It’s Stengs that pops up in the #10 role and turns the ball around. Sub striker Weghorst makes a run to the left, allowing space for Boadu (left winger) and Wijnaldum (#10) to make a run in behind. Stengs has the skill to find Wijnaldum and the Liverpool midfielder finishes coolly. Two assists in this game for Stengs, a goal for Boadu and a number of positives for Ronald Koeman.

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Oranje qualifies after 6 years again!

It had to happen at some stage. A nation like Holland wouldn’t keep missing out on tournaments. History taught us so much. The tremendous development of players like Virgil, Memphis, Frenkie and Matthijs will have helped enormously, but it was also the changes made by coach Koeman that helped us reach a higher level.

Despite some negative responses after the 0-0 vs Northern Ireland this Saturday (we could have and should have won it and become the group leader, but hey… I won’t be raining on any parade), the overall feeling was joy and pride and relief.

Ronald Koeman’s first big decision when he was appointed as NT Manager, was to skip the training camps in flash and touristy Noordwijk to the boring woods of Zeist, to the KNVB’s sports centre. He didn’t want to turn the internationals into prisoners so much, but he did want them more “in his control”. So instead of individuals and little cliques, Koeman created a whole squad-vibe, supported by his captain and vice-captains (Virgil, Memphis, Daley, Strootman) and introduced group whatsapps and other group initiatives to help turn our talents into a cohesive team.

He did more.

  • Dominate the axis of the pitch

In the run up to the first matches under his management, Koeman was cryptic in his answers. Asked what system he was going to play: “I am not going to tell you. But I won’t call it 4-3-3.” With this comment, he said goodbye to the (Louis van Gaal) mantra, that wingers need to keep the pitch wide and cross balls into the box. Koeman wants a left footed player on the right, and a right footed player on the left. He wants them to come inside and he wants the full backs to keep the width. Koeman knows it’s easier to win games if you dominate the middle of the pitch. He wants his team to keep the ball in the central axis of the field as long as possible. In the EPL, most successful teams stock up their central areas. Pep Guardiola uses the full backs to come centrally to support, while Klopp at Liverpool uses Firmino to drop back and support and two wingers who constantly come to the centre of the park. Ten Hag and Van Bommel play a similar style in the Dutch competition. The number of crosses has diminished significantly as a result. In the EPL we saw 40 crosses per match in the 2008/2009 season, and that has imploded to only 24 on average in last season.

Typical positioning of Oranje in possession. A winger and the #10 (circled) forming a square with the midfielders (in rectangular)

Koeman used to be a fan of the tall #9 striker (Graziano Pelle at Feyenoord and Southampton) but with the mercurial Memphis as an option, Koeman has steered away from aerial attacks and crosses. He uses Depay as striker, with runners Babel, Promes and / or Bergwijn on the wings. All players who can play central striker, winger and #10 in midfield, allowing for maximum flexibility.

In this way, Oranje has more options when playing the minions who come to park the bus and want to force Oranje to the flanks. This was what happened under Hiddink and Blind a lot, when we failed to qualify versus Iceland, Turkey and Bulgaria. They forced us to go wide and use the crosses, which are relatively easy to defend. Under Koeman, we also struggled at times to find the way through, but Oranje always was able to find that solution. The cross is no longer Plan A, but basically Plan B or C when everything else fails…

  • Play Forward!

Not long ago, we had a national debate about the question, why is Wijnaldum a key player at Liverpool and mediocre in Oranje? The midfielder who won the CL with Liverpool was at times unrecognisable in the orange jersey. With Daley Blind, Kevin Strootman and Memphis Depay he became the symbol of player who couldn’t lead Oranje to the big tournaments… With the new playing system under Koeman, we might conclude that it wasn’t him/them. It was how they were used. With Wijnaldum, the discussion has been turned around even. In Liverpool, they’re asking “how can we use Gini like Oranje does, so he can decide more games for us?”. Wijnaldum: “That has to do with my new role in Oranje. I have more freedom now.” With Memphis, Blind and Wijnaldum performing much better in Oranje has to do with the build up. Koeman destroyed the Dutch Disease of playing the ball square constantly. In the run up to the World Cup 2018, more than half of the passes in 9 out of 10 games played by Holland were played between central defenders. In one of this first press conferences, Koeman said: “I don’t like to see players playing back to the keeper. Find space up front. Make it hard for the opponent. Let them deal with the issue. When you want to create something, you need to play the forward pass.”

When we are faced with two pressing forwards, Frenkie drops next to the centre backs, keeping the full backs higher on the pitch

Koeman has demanded from his players that they see and recognise where to apply pressure. If the opponent has one player pressing, we need to find the second team mate to come and help and create the man more situation. Do they press with two, than we need a defender to join in.

Koeman’s second principle: find the space behind their last defender. With the introduction of Frenkie de Jong, Koeman starts playing the 4-2-3-1 and manages to find the pass behind the last defender. Now Oranje starts to make an impression in an attacking sense as well.

This is a perfect example, vs Germany. Blind gets the second ball after a pressure moment on the left. In the failed qualification matches, he might have played it square to De Jong. Or he would control the ball first and turn back to his central defender to slowly build up again. But not now.

See how deep Promes is playing, as a make shift right back

Without hesitation he plays the ball hard and low into the feet of Memphis. The holding mid of Germany is too late and is played out. Wijnaldum is already dashing forward, Memphis finds him and Malen is on hand to score.

The late, great Johan Cruyff once said: sometimes something needs to happen before something happens… This Oranje does make things happen by playing the forward pass. Possession has become a means again, not the end.

  • Defend Space

Koeman: “We need to build a consistent core of players. I don’t change a lot because we never have a lot of time to build a dynamic. All we do now is just add some details about the opponent and off we go!”.

We conceded a goal against Belarus. Koeman: “We are suddenly faced with a situation of two defenders against three attackers! Maybe the others think Virgil van Dijk can deal with everything!”

And then he sums up the list of errors: Joel Veltman not pressing the ball so the cross can be played in easily. De Jong doesn’t track his runner. Blind doesn’t squeeze in time, and as a result Van Dijk and De Ligt are facing 3 opponents. The Dutch NT doesn’t make couples on the pitch, in a manmarking manner. We defend the spaces. Compactness is a key word for Koeman. The distances between our players should be max 10 t0 12 meters. With this, we can always give backing to team mates and offer options in possession. Everything he wants, was forgotten in that one situation vs Belarus.

  • Do what you can to win!

Wijnaldum: “Koeman explains what we need to do to win the game. And if we can’t make it happen in the first half, he will explain calmly in the break what we need to do to win. This group absorbs all this very well.”

The little note assistant Lodeweges used in the away game vs Germany has reached epic proportions. We were 2-1 down in Germany and in the final stage of the game, Van Dijk is directed forward to operate as second striker for Oranje. Just before time, it’s a cross by Vilhena which reaches Van Dijk and he scores the 2-2 securing our spot in the finals of the Nations League.

Koeman also directed Frenkie de Jong to play as third central defender in that Germany match, allowing or more control.

In the home game vs Germany for the Euro qualification, we see more shots of Lodeweges with notes in his hand. In this match, we play a 4-2-3-1 again, but Koeman adapts defensively. Koeman mirrors the German 3-5-2 by using Promes as a wingback. Oranje fights back from trailing 0-2 to 2-2 but loses in the dying minutes.

The “Germany System” with Promes as wingback

Not that long ago, Dutch NT coached would be heavily criticised for abandoning the Dutch 4-3-3 system. The Dutch NT needed to play to their strengths, people said. Van Gaal got massive complaints from the football world when he played with three centre backs at the World Cup 2014. Koeman didn’t seem to care about all these sentiments, went his own way, and got the results. Koeman is also not the type – as opposed to Van Gaal – to be very open to the press what he is doing. He deflects questions about tactics and uses so-called kitchen tile one-liners to explain things to the media. He always plays tactics down and says those discussions are not so important. His motto: if I don’t start the conversation, I won’t get any hassle from it.

  • Focus on the turn-around

Virgil van Dijk: “At some stage, space opens up and we have lads up front with speed who can benefit from this. And we do.”

A quick look to the stats show us that Oranje is deadly in ball possession. We have dynamic forwards, with legs and lungs and similar players in midfield (Van de Beek, Wijnaldum!) who can bridge any distance to the goal easily. This kind of counter goals were long considered an inferior way to win games. We usually blame Portugal and Germany (in the past century) for using these tactics. Today, victories vs Germany and Portugal (…) have silenced the criticasters.

Opponent Goal scorer Number of Passes
Belarus Georginio Wijnaldum 5
Belarus Georginio Wijnaldum 3
Northern Ireland Memphis Depay 3
Northern Ireland Luuk de Jong 8
Northern Ireland Memphis Depay 1
Estonia Ryan Babel 5
Estonia Ryan Babel 3
Estonia Memphis Depay 10
Estonia Georginio Wijnaldum 1
Germany Frenkie de Jong 6
Germany Ryan Babel 1
Germany Donyell Malen 3
Germany Georginio Wijnaldum 4
England Matthijs de Ligt 1
England Quincy Promes 0
England Quincy Promes 1
Germany Matthijs de Ligt 2
Germany Memphis Depay 8
Belarus Memphis Depay 0
Belarus Georginio Wijnaldum 7
Belarus Memphis Depay 0
Belarus Virgil van Dijk 1
Germany Quincy Promes 5
Germany Virgil van Dijk 0
France Memphis Depay 0
France Georginio Wijnaldum 0
Belgium Arnaut Groeneveld 3
Germany Virgil van Dijk 0
Germany Memphis Depay 2
Germany Georginio Wijnaldum 1
France Ryan Babel 4
Peru Memphis Depay 3
Peru Memphis Depay 0
Italy Nathan Aké 5
Slovakia Quincy Promes 3
Portugal Memphis Depay 5
Portugal Ryan Babel 15
Portugal Virgil van Dijk 2

In the run up to the Northern Ireland game, Koeman says this: “We want to score quick and start well. We are even better when we can play compact, with a goal to the good. Our counter attacks are super dangerous.” So, under Koeman we play dominant first, to counter-attack later. Our forwards feel most comfortable when they have space in front of them, and turn-around experts Wijnaldum and De Roon also feel best with space in front. And playing compact doesn’t mean playing defensive. You can press high, and be compact still. But when that doesn’t work, the players will drop back on their own half. And then the team requires patience to wait for the right moment to pounce.

In the small spaces of the modern game, the counter attack is an essential weapon. Even Man City, Barcelona, Bayern and Liverpool play like this, with France winning the World Cup in this style.

The turn around vs Germany, with De Roon playing the forward pass

Like any NT manager before him, Ronald Koeman benefits from the work done by the club coaches. Van Dijk and Wijnaldum feel at home in this style, because Klopp works the exact same way. De Ligt, Blind and De Jong will always try and find the solution by playing forward, because Ten Hag demands this at Ajax. Bergwijn will fortify our midfield and make way for Dumfries, because Van Bommel wants this from them at PSV. Babel, Promes and De Roon will help balance the team because these players learned to be a team player.

Koeman’s biggest strength, is that he has developed a playing style utilising the strength of his players.

So, one more game. A match in which Virgil will not be present due to personal circumstances. Gini Wijnaldum will be the captain and Koeman promised a completely new system / approach…

We’ll see…

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New faces in Oranje

We’re starting to get in the thick of things… The competitions have started properly, coaches leave or are fired, players reach their full potential or get injured. Oranje is almost qualified for the Euros and is prepping for the last two qualification games. Due to injuries (Vermeer, Malen, Bergwijn, Memphis), Ronald Koeman did what many here wanted to see earlier: the introduction of some “new” names.

With Kenneth Vermeer injured (and Jeroen Zoet suddenly on a dead end street with PSV), Marco Bizot is added to the squad. AZ talents Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu are part of the squad too, while Wout Weghorst is also called up, together with rival striker Luuk de Jong.

Interestingly enough though, Memphis did make the trip to the Oranje camp. Initially to “work on his fitness” and “be with the lads” but secretly he is working like a horse to get himself fit and into the team on Saturday. “I want to play. I may be important for the team, but the team is also important for me. After missing two big tournaments, I really want to be part of the team that secures our ticket.”

Koeman will obviously be careful with the Lyon captain but also emphasized Depay’s importance for the team.

The big question for many is: who will Koeman play now Berghuis, Malen and most likely Memphis are absent.

Most punters, analysts and fans feel that Stengs and Boadu deserve the chance to start. I personally think Koeman, conservative as he is, will be tempted to use his trusted players vs Northern Ireland. The Irish are a shrewd and physically tough team to beat. So the experience of Promes and Babel might be needed along with the power and work rate of Weghorst.

A more adventurous coach (Ten Hag!) would probably start with Promes – Boadu – Stengs… But Koeman is not that coach and might wait with using the youngsters once we get that point vs Northern Ireland.

Most of the team will be unchanged, although the right back question is also still unanswered. I think there is a case to make for Veltman and for Dumfries…

Luuk de Jong will probably remain as pinch hitter. Should Memphis be fit to play, it probably means Weghorst will find himself on the stands.

No one debates the quality of the two AZ players. Stengs will probably go and become a top class player for the next 10 years. I can see him end up at a big name team in the future. Boadu is a bit younger and lacks a bit of maturity. In the Eredivisie, it doesn’t hurt so much but he’s too light for the big leagues, at this stage.

Having said that, he’s a very complete striker. Light on his feet, quick, explosive, two-footed…scoring all sorts of goals… And what a great understanding (couples!) with Calvin Stengs.

Boadu and Stengs running riot vs PSV

But Wout Weghorst’s development can’t be ignored. The 27 year old is back with Oranje, for the first time since June 2018. Koeman used the 1 meter 97 centimeter tall striker only as a battering ram in the final stages of the game and has lost the pinch hitter role to Luuk.  But things have improved for Weghorst at Wolfsbutg with the entrance of coach Glasner, who has a strong football vision. The team now attacks more from the flanks, using wide wing backs which is perfect for the tall striker. He also grew enormously in his hold up play and his combination play. He also made the near post his domain, Wim Kieft style. The timing is impeccable, he first makes a move to the far post, to only switch quickly and dart to the near post. It seems he patented this move as he also was successful with this at AZ.

Compare Weghorst with similar strikers (Bas Dost and Luuk de Jong) and you’ll find that Wout creates three times more changes for team mates!

Versus Hoffenheim, 0-1 down, it’s Weghorst who creates the equaliser with an Ozil like backheel! The Weghorst phenomenon. Every two years he steps up to a higher leve. His motto: “I’m not a super talent, so I need to work hard to become part of the squad and then I work hard to become better and better on that level.”

Excellent assist by Weghorst

And this is how he went from FC Emmen to Heracles, to AZ and now Wolfsburg. Next stop? Somewhere in England maybe? Watford? Burnley? Or a bigger club in Germany?

Weghorst could leave Wolfsburg already last summer but he doesn’t want to switch after one season. But after two? Yes… By the way, he knows he won’t force Memphis out of the starting line up with Oranje but , he can be the ideal target man taking attention away from the mercurial Oranje forwards, while battling the central defenders.

With Boadu and Stengs, Oranje has another bossom buddy duo, after Krol-Suurbier, Jansen-Cruyff, Sneijder-VanderVaart, Frank de Boer – Cocu, Seedorf-Kluivert and many other combinations. Colleagues and best friends.

It’s 2016 in Wijdewormer, North of Holland when on a Saturday afternoon AZ is watching the AZ talents play Excelsior Maassluis. Something is brewing. Louis van Gaal is present, as he knows two big talents will play their first match at this level. Myron Boadu is 15 years old and he scores his first goal after 22 minutes. After 70 minutes he’s subbed for the 17 year old Calvin Stengs. And would you believe it? He also needs just 22 minutes to score his first goal. Their names are mentioned for years already in Alkmaar. They’re both born in Amsterdam and both scouted early by AZ. The biggest difference between them, the pace with which they presented themselves. Stengs was a slow burner. He was small in his youth and that made him a question mark. He grew taller when he turned 16 and he was moved into AZ under 19.

A young Boadu vs Ajax, for AZ

Boadu’s development was noticed by Arsenal, Ajax and PSV but the youngster decided he wanted to finish his high school in Alkmaar and thus he stayed loyal to AZ. Stengs and Boadu bonded on the pitch and at their school and their chemistry would develop more and more.

2019 was supposed to be there year and by all means, I think they’re making it happen. They both came back from a horrific injury and they seem to have shrugged it all off successfully. In May 2017, Boadu got seriously injured to the knee in the Euros Under 17. Three months later, a heavy injury for Stengs on the knee, in the first match of the season vs PSV Eindhoven. They needed to dig deep into their character and mentality to fight back. Both players were aided by two world class legends. Boadu worked on his fitness in the US, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic while Stengs was visited often by Ruud van Nistelrooy who suffered a similar injury before he signed for Man United.

When Stengs was ready to make his come back for AZ, faith again struck. In his sixth game for AZ, versus Feyenoord, the striker broke his ankle. This time, he needed 7 months to recover. Both players now have a yearning desire, a hunger, for a consistent season, with more highs than lows and without any more injuries.

This season, AZ as a whole impresses. Arne Slot is doing something really really well. His forward trio, are dynamic in their moves, can score goals, give assists and dazzle opponents. Idrissi might have chosen to play for Morocco, the two other want to be come colleagues in orange. With left full back Owen Wijndal (still at Young Oranje), they are called the three musketeers. In the competition, Feyenoord and PSV have been taken to the AZ sword. There is now only Ajax to deal with. “That is December 15”, says Boadu, confidently. “It’s three days after Man United away. That will be a top week.”

On October 11, 2019, both Boadu and Stengs play for Young Oranje vs Young Portugal. Two assists by Stengs on Boadu and a goal for Stengs. That was Boadu’s first match in Young Oranje (Steng’s fourth). A month later, the world looks different for both. Boadu: “Coach Slot called to tell us. My mum started to cry, my dad was speechless. I also didn’t know exactly what to make of it. I didn’t count on this, at all. It’s going so quick now.” Stengs responded in the down-to-Earth manner we know of him. “You won’t just get an invite for Oranje! This is the highest of the highest. I have no expectations. I’m just going to work my socks off and then we’ll see what happens.”

AZ Coach Arne Slot

So two of the three musketeers drove to Zeist to join in with the big Orange. The third musketeer will one day follow, without a doubt. How did they go to Zeist? “You can paint that picture yourself, no?”, laughs Boadu. “Calvin and I drove up together. Him behind the wheel, me picking the music.”

How can Oranje qualify?

After 6 matches, Holland has 15 points, as much as Germany and 3 more than Northern Ireland. Should Oranje draw vs Northern Ireland, we will be sure of an Euros ticket. When we lose vs Northern Ireland, it depends on the number of goals we concede. There is a scenario out there, in which Holland could end up exactly at the same level as Germany and Northern Ireland. The goal difference will be vital in that case, provided that the results against the rivals is also the same (Oranje beat Northern Ireland 3-1 at home). Oranje has a goal balance of 9-6, whereas Germany has 7-6 and Northern Ireland has 1-5. So even a slight defeat plus a win against Estonia will get us to the Euros. And even if Holland drops out of the top two, we still have the Nations League play-off ticket in hand. In March 2020, these play offs will be played.

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Why Koeman can’t ignore Stengs

Calvin Stengs is 20 years old. If you deduct his year of being badly injured, he’s actually only 19 years old… When he came on the scene, some two years ago, we could all see how special he could become. Some players are not “discovered” by any scout, as even Stevie Wonder could see how talented this lad was.

Let’s analyse him.

Positional Intelligence

In today’s world, wingers play on the wrong flank, given their favorite foot. Robben started life as a left winger. As did Berghuis. And dozens of others, who ended up playing on the right wing. The so-called Inverted Winger. Calvin Stengs is one of those. Like Ziyech at Ajax, a gifted left footer on the right wing. But Stengs can’t be compared to Robben or even Leroy Sane. He looks a bit like Sane, he even walks a bit like him, but Stengs is one of those wingers who doesn’t rely on speed. He’s not slow, by all means, but he will not bamboozle opponents with explosive sprints or dazzling speed. If you have to compare the young AZ player, you probably end up with Angel di Maria, who is reborn at PSG.

He will start on the team sheet as right winger. But he will do most damage in the half space on the right, while the AZ right back Svensson will cover the channel on the right with overlaps. The interaction between these two and the timely passing of midfielders Midtsjo and Koopmeiners are the foundations of Stengs play.

But it’s not a one-trick pony gameplay, here. AZ also used the variance, of having the back dive into the half space, and allowing Stengs to drift all the way to the touch line.

Stengs loves to wonder in a free role and when he really gets the space he needs, he can create threatening situations from nothing. Sometimes, Stengs will pop up in the half space on the left, starting a combination with left winger Idrissi. It’s the intelligence of Wijndal, the left back playing wide and high usually, and the covering runs of Dani de Wit who will take Stengs position on the right hand side of the field.

Stengs popping up in the left half space to confuse the opponent

Stengs is also really comfortable playing on the “10” position and using his smarts and positioning to keep opponents busy, and keeping them from putting pressure on AZ Full backs, like Stengs did vs PSV. His midfield play kept Doan from pressuring Wijndal. Stengs will use his positioning skills to play in between the lines and once in possession he usually can find the killer pass, as he did in the game vs PSV, taking 3 or 4 opponents out with one pass.

Stengs dropping deep to force Doan to follow, allowing for Wijndal to get in possession

In Oranje, Koeman uses the 4-2-3-1 formation, with the right winger more on the half space while left back Daley Blind usually positions himself as a third central defender and starts the build up play. As a result, Dumfries (or whoever is right back) gets the freedom to move up into the area vacated by the right winger. This right winger position is therefore ideal for Stengs, who loves to wander and roam and who can easily play the role of all midfielders. With his versatility and intelligent positioning, it will be easier for the real left winger (Malen, Promes, Bergwijn) to play his part.

Functional skills

AZ scored four times vs PSV and with three of them, Stengs individual class was on display. Before the opening goal, the 20 year old does something remarkable. When Boadu keeps the ball in field, after a header by Wijndal, Stengs becomes available as a result of a smart little run. When Boadu plays into Midtsjo who dribbles towards the right, Stengs is running along in the same direction. But suddenly he stops. This results in him being completely unmarked behind Erick Gutierrez. Stengs than plays a killer pass into Boadu. The pass gets the applause, but Stengs’ movement deserves as much kudos.

The freedom Stengs creates for himself in between the lines

The second goal is a real team goal, yes with a magical dropkick by Midtsjo, but Stengs again is the architect. First, he controls a loose ball really well, then he loses 3 PSV players with one-two shimmies. He has a touch and go with Midtsjo and then opens on the right, where Svensson and Sugawara are in a two vs one situation. His assist for the 3-0 was quite simple but still smart. PSV is looking to get back into the game. Svensson passes into Stengs who is one on one with left back Sadilek. His typical dribble style will put the fear of God in the PSV defender: short steps, lots of touches, relatively straight back but with a plan. He wants to dribble diagonally inside, knowing that Svensson will be on his moped on the right flank. Stengs makes Sadilek believe he’ll go for goal, by emulating that body style. But he passes the ball gently to Svensson who finishes: 3-0. (see below)

Whether Stengs is Holland’s best winger is debatable, but the big plus is that he can play in different styles: running in between the lines, acrobatic individual skills and dribbling, to allow his team mates to score.


He is involved in eightteen goals (18) this season (in 20 official games). Eight goals and ten assits. His productivity is the result of his individual qualities, yes, but also the result of the way AZ plays under Arne Slot. Stengs, like Boadu and Idrissi, doesn’t need any time to think in finding the right positions on the pitch.

Stengs productivity is not the result of luck. Only Dusan Tadic, Steven Bergwijn and Brian Smeets (the Sparta revelation this season) created more chances for team mates than Stengs (19). Also, the number of shots on goal (26) brings him in the top 10 of the Eredivisie. Stengs is super productive thanks to his skill set but also because Slot organises his team around these qualities. It will be interesting to see how Stengs’ productivity will fair in Oranje…

Stengs waiting for the cross, as a real right winger here…

Work Ethic

When Arne Slot is asked about Astana attacker Rotariu, who played for AZ in the past, he says: “He is very skilled on the ball, but we wanted more from him without it. He had difficulty with that. When you look at Calvin, and his work ethic… I mean, he can do anything with a ball but he works like a horse when we don’t have it.”

The statistics support this. Stengs has won the ball back more times (55) than Boadu and Idrissi together (54)! By positioning himself smartly in between centre back, full back and holding mid, Stengs can jump at any given time on a risky pass in the build up of the opponent. This is a situation vs Heracles Almelo.

Stengs, in red with jersey 7, putting pressure via his “jump” on the left back, who is about to lose possession

He also supports his team mates, even on his own half. A risky pass by Joey Konings goes beyond him but he sees with a carpenter’s eye that the ball is not good enough so he can put pressure on the receiver, with Svensson, to win the ball back.

Stengs recognises the risky pass and aids Svensson in putting pressure on, on his own half

This work rate and defensive smarts make him a real target for the big top clubs and of course for Oranje. Most talented forwards coming through the systems lack this defensive awareness and willingness to work for the team. This may not sound sexy, but the willingness and ability of players in the modern game to defend, to effectively put pressure on opponents are becoming crucial in top competitions (see Liverpool, Man City, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Atletico Madrid, Dortmund). Stengs is not a speed train on the wing, and he’s also not a goal scoring forward, who gets 20+ goals, but his technical brilliance, his positional intelligence, versatility, productivity and work ethics make him a talent of the extraordinary category. Not bad for a lad who suffered a horror injury two years ago.

He will come into the Dutch squad and will probably never leave it again. He will most likely start, even, with Bergwijn injured, Malen uncertain and Berghuis in a form dip. And next? I can see Ziyech leave Ajax this coming summer and Stengs making a record move (25Mio? 30Mio?) to Ajax.

After two seasons Ajax, anything can happen. Liverpool, PSG, Bayern (with Ten Hag?), even Barcelona….

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Oranje’s Future


Oranje U17 – Kosovo U17. Final score: 1-1

The last two squads of Oranje U17 won the European championship and Wednesday, a new campaign will start. Team coach Mischa Visser, taking over from Peter van der Veen temporarily, started the qualification with a match vs Kosovo, and they do so with 20 new names. These talents practiced twice against France and won both matches. This Kosovo also seemed to be prey for the Dutch talents, in particular when PSV midfielder Jimenez scored within 10 minutes with a shot from distance.

After that quick goal, Oranje has extreme possession, close to 90%, but they can’t create more chances. Kosovo plays terribly defensive. When Oranje fails to clear a ball, it’s a freak goal by a Kosovarian: 1-1. The home team can’t believe it. Visser immediately brings Xavi Simons on to the pitch.

Circus Xavi can start, although it already started when the midfielder exits the players bus. It’s unreal to see how popular the 16 year old is. This squad is full of talented young lads, but we don’t know any of their names. With Simons, it’s different. In the 100 meters from players bus to the dressing room, dozens of fans raced to Xavi for an autograph and when he starts his warming up, the excitement can be sensed on the stands.

Once Simons is on the pitch, Simons demands the ball continuously and is close to scoring, twice. First with a tremendous free kick and later with a shot that flies over the bar. After the game is over, no one talks about the strange stats. Possession 90-10. Attempts on goal: 21-1. Goals 1-1. The fans who are present all chase Simons as if he’s a Beatle. He patiently joins in on the selfies and joins his family once he can. After this Circus Xavi performance, one has to feel for the 16 year old who probably feels the pressure from the extreme hype to perform conform to expectations in the coming years.


Oranje U18 – Belgium U18. Final score: 3-2

In two weeks, the Dutch NT U18 will participate in the World Cup in Brazil. This might well be a historical tournament for us, as this group oozes talent! Peter van de Veen won the European title twice with one hand tied to their back. And against Belgium, in this friendly, at times it’s just sumptuous to watch these lads play. In particular, the combinations between  Naci Ünüvar and Mohamed Taabouni (see main photo) are of exceptional quality. Taabouni scores early after a trademark outside foot pass by Ünüvar, who repeats that feat once more later on. This team has so much football in it, that at times it all goes a tad too easily.

Belgium, with Wesley Sonck as the team manager, benefit from the this complacency and score twice from a counter. Jayden Braaf comes on as a sub and rectifies it all with two identical goals. Coming inside and placing the ball with his right into the far corner. The left winger started his season at Man City strong and it says a lot about the strength of this team that he started on the bench. Braaf gets the spotlight with his two goals, but man of the match is Taabouni. The 17 year old playmaker constantly draws the game towards him and always finds the right solution. AZ has another gem in their midst.



Oranje U19 – Lithuania U19. Final score: 8-2

NT manager Maarten Stekelenburg’s team is a week in Lithuania for the Euro qualification tournament and plays top drawer football. First, it’s Moldavia with 5-0 and last Friday they won 8-2 vs Lithuania. It’s the role of the Feyenoord players in particular that catches the eye. Seven of the eight goals were scored by players who are signed with Feyenoord. Cry Summerville, on loan with ADO Den Haag, scored four goals, while Azarkan and Burger also scored.

It offers hope for Feyenoord, whose youth academy has had some lean times recently. Five years in a row, the Feyenoord Academy was considered the best of the country, but the last seasons, AZ and Ajax is topping the bill. Of all the youth teams’ players, 55 in total, 13 are from Ajax and 13 from AZ. Feyenoord offers 5 players and PSV a mere 2.

A talented generation is coming through for Feyenoord, and it’s exciting to watch Cry Summerville play for ADO Den Haag, who can use some goalscoring capabilities.



Oranje U20 – Portugal U20. Final Score: 1-1.

In theory, Bert Konterman could well be the most fortunate coach at Oranje U20, with the ability to play Mathijs de Ligt and Donyell Malen, but both players have moved to the big Oranje and most likely foregood. Young Oranje has players who could also play for this team. Tahith Chong and Mitchell van Bergen are two more experienced players of repute but both players were not able to play due to slight injuries.

Konterman had to change his team on three spots and the lack of flow was noticeable. The Portuguese do all they can to stop Oranje playing and to suck the oxygen out of the game. The Dutch goal is the result of a dead ball set play. Ekkelenkamp is first to react when the Portuguese goalie spills the free kick of Obispo.

This Under20 team is a sort of inbetween-team. Players who can’t play for Young Oranje anymore can still play here and make minutes. The interest in the matches of this team is much less than with other teams. The time this team plays, for instance, is at the same time as the big Oranje, vs Northern Ireland.



Young Oranje closes the international week with a strong 4-2- win over Portugal and a 0-4 win over Norway. The matches resulted in one big AZ show. Five AZ players are in the starting line up and three claimed a key role. Koopmeiners, Stengs and Boadu showed what was clearly visible in other rep teams: AZ has gold in their hands.


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Player Ratings and Future Stars

I had this post on future Oranje players getting ready to go and decided to start with some Player Ratings for y’all, as I am seeing so many Anti Blind comments…. I simply have to respond to that.

Thanks to all for joining in and I am totally ok with discussions and differences of opinions. That is all fine.

But some of you (Wilson being one, Tiju being another) simply keep harping on against – usually – one player. Like a hate campaign. As if that player can’t do anything right. Wilson has it with Daley, Tiju had it with Dirk. I think both had it with Memphis.

We can all safely say that Dirk Kuyt is a Dutch icon. Memphis’ stats are through the roof and Daley is the connaisseur’s player.

Yes, Daley made a defensive error this weekend vs Heerenveen (and they scored) but he also had an array of superb passes. Any coach will take the defensive weakness, as no defender is 100% tight. Look at De Ligt at Juve. Or this weekend Pique allowing two goals at Barca. Just score one more up front, guys!

Again, I am fine with people pointing out the negatives, but I believe it becomes a witch hunt when:

  1. they can’t add anything positive, but just keep on repeating the same old stuff… Wilson on Blind’s defensive weaknesses and Tiju did this with Kuyt’s lack of technique (both are wrong, by the way… Blind is a tremendous defender, but simply slow… Kuyt had magnificent match technique, but he wasn’t a circus artist, like Vanenburg or Davids)
  2. irrelevant things are brought into the discussion (like Danny Blind protecting son Daley)
  3. disrespectful arguments are used (“Sonny Boy” which points to the Danny – Daley family link)

Every player has negatives, apart from a couple world class players we have… That – for me – applies to Virgil and Frenkie. All other Oranje players do have some weaknesses… Memphis, Gini, De Ligt, Blind…all of them.

Coaches tend to pick the team which is able to 1)strengthen each other strengths and 2) compensate each others weaknesses… This is probably why all Dutch NT coaches pick Blind. His weaknesses can be compensated, while his strengths are really needed.

Frank de Boer, Louis van Gaal, Guus Hiddink, Ronald Koeman, Erik Ten Hag… what connects these coaches? Answer: They all rate Daley Blind really high.

Why? Because of his speed and his goals!

Just kidding. They rate Daley really high because of his 1) ability to read the game, 2) his exquisite passing range, 3) his thrifty possession, 4) his positioning.

Erik Ten Hag: “Daley Blind is my extension on the pitch. He sees what needs to happen first and gets the message across to the other players.”

Dusan Tadic (Ajax #9): “I love Daley Blind behind me. He is our Beckenbauer.”

Blind’s last season at Ajax (centre back) is considered to be one of the key performers for the Amsterdam club. By analysts, football commentators, supporters, ex-players and by coaches. The only two people who don’t seem to see this are Wilson and Tiju. Apparently. But who knows? They might have way better insights in football than Van Gaal, Ten Hag and Koeman….

Complaining about Blind’s lack of speed is like complaining about Overmars’ lack of header goals. Or complaining about Bergkamp not stopping any penalties. Or complaining about Dumfries not being able to dribble past 3 opponents. Or complaining about Memphis weak sliding tackles.

We should be grateful to have Blind in our squad, like the coaches are all grateful and most of the Oranje fans are. I’m fine with people not “liking” a certain player… I’m personally not a big fan of Strootman, but I am a huge Oranje fan and I support the lads and the coaches and I would never vomit all this negativity about players without any real substance.

So, lets have a look at our squad.

Jasper Cillesen

Maybe not world class (like Neuer, De Gea or Ellison) but definitely a top notch goalie. Good enough for Oranje. And with Vermeer, Krul, Bizot and Zoet all at the right age and a couple of youngster making their name (Bijlow, Scherpen, Kelle Roos) we should be ok for shot stoppers.

Daley Blind

World class versatile player. Master in reading the game and positioning. Great passing and distribution. He sent Memphis away for a corner and delivered it on Van Dijk’s head, leading up to the 1-2.

Virgil Van Dijk

Needs no further kudos. World Class with capital letters. Will win the Ballon D’Or. Strong. Tall. Quick. Composed. Leader. Concrete. Tower. Goal threat in the opponent box.

Matthijs De Ligt

On his way to become Virgil Mark II. Only 19 years old. Courageous. Tall and strong and quicker than you think. Great build up pass. Needs to develop tactically and in terms of positioning. Looked great at Ajax thanks to mentor Blind (something he’ll miss at Juve).

Denzel Dumfries

Still in development. Late bloomer. Strong body, quick, athletic, tall and good header. Still lacks smooth technique and is probably the weak spot in the current team. Alternatives Veltman and Tete lack the forward thrust Denzel offers. Karsdorp is probably a better option on all counts, bar the header capabilities.

Frenkie de Jong

The brains in midfield. Oozes class. Velvet touches, great dribbles and that winner mentality allowing him to win balls back. Explosive speed. Tremendous vision and courage.

Marten de Roon

Strongholder in midfield. More destroyer than creator. Has had great moments and has had terrible moments. Passing and technique are average. Work rate and tackling is top notch. A water bearer in the team. Good to have in the squad but we should have a player on his spot who can do it all (like Davids, Cocu or Van Bommel before him).

Gini Wijnaldum

Marathon Man. Strong in possession. Fierce without the ball. Amazing mentality and wonderful technique. Works and sacrifices himself without a problem. Needs a cooler head in the box and should score more. Does need too many chances for a goal. Could use a bit more vision to aid the team in the build up, Frenkie-style. When on fire, good for 1,5 player.

Quincy Promes

Jack-of-all-Trades. Good runner with and without the ball. Can score goals. Can assist. Can play alsmost everywhere on the pitch and never complaining when moved from left winger to right winger to right full back. Positive mentality and unpredictable. He is the first to have to worry for his spot with Bergwijn and Malen on the up and up.

Memphis Depay

World class potential, suffering a bit from ego and overconfidence. Can work magic if all goes his way and can be agitatingly annoying when things don’t work out. Sensational right foot. Confident. Cheeky. Wonderful vision and superb ball skills. Strong body as well.

Ryan Babel

The Come Back Kid. Had a great spell in his younger days, with his speed, his hip-shot and opportunistic playing style. Came back from the cold and is more a team player now. Covering the left flank, tracking back, supporting players with dummy runs and scoring important goals. Tremendous work rate and the wise old mentor in the squad. Might lose his spot in the starting eleven but Koeman will probably keep on selecting him due to his off-pitch qualities in the group.

Davy Propper

A light version of Frenkie de Jong. Has similar ball capabilities, has tremendous vision as well and great in the build up. Should score more (like Frenkie!) and lacks Frenkie’s explosiveness and speed. Should be player at a better club as he will definitely play better in a stronger team. Quiet achiever and in my view a better player to start with than De Roon.

Nathan Ake

The perfect 12th man. Can slot into midfield, central defence or left back. Perfect mentality, focused, more than average ball skills, strong header of the ball and great team player. Won’t get into the team as long as De Ligt and Van Dijk are ahead of him but a great utility player to have.

Donyell Malen

Brings something fresh and new. Very quick, with and without ball. The ability, smarts and willingess to make dummy runs and keep the opponent busy. Cold as ice in the box and has eye for the team mate in a better position.

Steven Bergwijn

All round attacker. Quick, good ball skills, dribbling ability and knows how to score a goal. Used as a winger, striker and #10 at PSV, and still looking for his best position. Might be the ideal stand-in for Memphis, or he might push Promes out of the team.

Patrick van Aanholt

Highly athletic full back, covering the whole flank. Defensively vulnerable but strong going forward and the ability to score. Has a canon of a left foot but tactically naive.

Joel Veltman

Versatile player, able to play right back, left back and centre back. Lacks length for the centre back role but still a strong header of the ball. Overall a good player, without any real apparent strengths. Focused and mentally strong. Lacks speed and won’t cover the whole flank. Tough in the personal duels.

Luuk de Jong

Wonderful header of the ball. Courageous and a real leader. Can score goals, but lacks speed and technical skills in the smaller spaces. Useful as pinch hitter, not as a starter. Beats Weghorst in the pinch hitter category. Good in hold up play too.

Stefan de Vrij

No nonsense defender. Fully focussed and mentally strong. Good build up pass and great header of the ball. Not the quickest but also not the slowest. Lacks the “Virgil” charisma but could well be a starter in the Oranje eleven. Keeps head above water as a defender, in the Land of Defenders.

Tonny Vilhena

Again, multi functional player. Can play in all positions in midfield and left full back or wing back. Will warm the bench (like Ake) without complaining. Will always earn his Heineken. Amazing energy and work ethic. Good left foot and tremendous drive. Sometimes over does things with his abundant energy and tends to run with the ball too much. Perfect team player.

Steven Berghuis

Top technical skills, wonderful vision and winner mentality. Lacks speed and wants the ball in his feet. Has a wand of a left foot and tremendous goal scoring and assisting abilities as a result. Lacks body and power at times and loses his temper easily. Still looking to find his ideal spot in the team. Not an out and out winger, but also not a real midfielder. Ideal #10 in a 4-3-3 with two holding mids. Probably never headed a ball in his life.

Justin Kluivert

Prodigal son. Wonderful speed and almost perfectly two footed. Can play left and right up front. Needs to play more consistently and decision making needs to improve (quite normal for a young player). Still a lot to develop but unpredictable and has great confidence and composure. This needs to be his season with Roma.

Kevin Strootman

At times a pitiful picture. Was considered the natural successor to Mark van Bommel and even given the captains armband at some point but two massive knee injuries took the sharpness away and Strootman without the legs to do what Strootman does best is not a good Strootman anymore. Lost his starting spot and might lose his spot in the squad once Van de Beek and players like Rosario or Eijting, Ihattaren and/or Stengs make their way into the squad. With De Roon, De Jong and Propper in the midfield, Strootman will not much longer be needed… Koeman does hail his attitude and leadership off the pitch and will probably not write him off until after the EC2020.

Are there players out there that should be in the squad in place of some player above?

I don’t think so. Wout Weghorst, some say. He would be used as pinch hitter, I don’t think Koeman will pick a team that would suit his “normal” game. And for pinch hitting tasks, I agree with Koeman: Luuk de Jong is better.

Obviously, I am not in favour of taking Daley Blind out. Within months, I do expect Stengs to take Berghuis position soon, while Van de Beek will push Strootman out, I think.

But it takes more than a list of names… It’s up to Koeman to pick the players that form the best team, not necessarily the eleven best players. And to concoct a tactics that works with the players, and offers us the best chance to win, while playing attractive football.

Future Stars of Oranje

We were so spoilt for choice in the past. We had Ruud Geels, Dick van Dijk, Johan Cruyff, Cor van der Gijp and other going for the striker role in the 70s. Or we had Van Basten, Boskamp, Kieft, Gilhaus in the 80, Makaay, Kluivert, Van Hooijdonk, Hasselbaink, Van Nistelrooy in the 90s and the likes of Huntelaar, Van Persie, Kuyt, Robben and more in the 00’s… Where are the world class strikers of today? Weghorst, Dost, Luuk de Jong? Nah… not world class.

Vincent Janssen? Nope. But we do see some amazing talent coming up, able to take some pressure of golden wonder boy Memphis Depay (just look at his stats).

Donyell Malen PSV (20 years old)

The obvious choice, after his amazing run in his first two matches for Oranje and the 5 goals he scored last weekend! Boom! Developed at Ajax, made his way to Arsenal and returned to Holland (PSV) to get some playing time. His key quality: skill in confined spaces, speed and the willingness (!) to keep on making the dummy runs!

Cody Gakpo PSV (20 years old)

Blessed with a right foot like David Beckham. Long legs, good stride. Amazing vision and a cool head. Like with Robben, you know he cuts back to his fave foot but he’ll keep on doing it and he’ll get away with it. Very elegant player, who could well go the same route as Phillip Cocu (from left winger to strong holder in midfield and ending up as skipper at Barca).

Myron Boadu AZ Alkmaar (18 years old)

Lightning quick player at AZ. returning from tough injury, but scoring easily again. Nose for the right spot and cool as ice in the box. Still missed easy chances so needs to work on his decision making. Very likeable chap too. Down to Earth. The real deal, this one!

Mitchell van Bergen Heerenveen (19 years old)

Was 16 years old when making his debut for Vitesse, the youngest player ever (for Vitesse). He ended up warming the bench and made a move to Heerenveen where he is a starter and he plays for Young Oranje. Compared to Robben when he broke through but his key strength is his speed. Mitch is one of the quickest players you’ll see, capable of scoring and providing the assist.

Calvin Stengs – AZ Alkmaar (20 years old)

A highly playful winger, a one-of-a-kind player whose perfect position needs to be found, as Stengs can play central striker (and score), play winger and provide and play midfielder and make the play. Very gifted, great vision, athletic and effective. Missed the Young AZ experience due to a terrible injury keeping him out a full season. Everything is effortless with Stengs and it’s only a matter of time or he’ll claim the right winger role in Oranje, like Ziyech plays that role for Ajax.

Mo Ihattaren PSV (17 years old)

Not a real forward, but an offensive midfielder / playmaker but for me, the most impressive talent since…well…Frenkie de Jong. Ihattaren’s name presented itself already some years ago when he impressed in Oranje under 15 and his reputation keeps on building. Once you have watched him play 45 minutes, you can see what a potential world class player he is. He is young, but he reads the game, plays without fear, has the physique of a 24 year old and has everything to end up at Real Madrid or Man City within 2 years and be a force at those clubs to be reckoned with. The only issues with him: 1) keeping him healthy, 2) keeping him grounded and 3) making sure he will pick Oranje to play for, as Morocco is very keen to enlist his services.

The next pack is on its way….

And there is more coming, in the group just below the lads described above. We know the names: Tahith Chong (19) at ManU. Joshua Zirkzee at Bayern (18), Daishawn Redan (18) at Hertha. Brian Brobbey (17, Ajax) and Naoufal Bannis (17, Feyenoord) impress as well and are on the verge of making more minutes in the first teams.

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Congrats to PSV and Feyenoord

Lots of developments again in Dutch football! Apologies for the late post again, just busy busy busy, but also lots of football to follow…

Can I say a big thank you first, to all of you contributing to this blog? I wish to thank all of you for keeping the discussion alive and lively but I also want to thank all the ones who have donated to the blog, to help me keep it in the air!! You know who you are (always seem to be the same ones by the way) and it’s very much appreciated… Very much!!

PSV and Phillip Cocu

I need to start with my least favorite team of the Top 3 in The Netherlands. I hardly ever do posts on PSV, but they deserve one now. They snatched up the title again and they were impressive this season. Not in terms of the beautiful game, but definitely in terms of winning games!

I am not a fan of PSV, but I am a big fan of Phillip Cocu. And it’s his title more than anything.

They lost a couple of key players (Guardado, Willems, Moreno, Propper and later on Locadia) and they started the season terribly, with the exit in Europe. But PSV kept their cool and allowed Cocu to fix it. And he did. He switched the system up, with a change in the midfield set-up (Guardado was the lone holding mid, now PSV has two midfielder sitting in the holding role) and allowed his mercurial forwards Lozano and Bergwijn to do the job. Typical for a title winning team, the main striker Luuk de Jong re-discovered his mojo and was again important to the team.

Key players this season: Jeroen Zoet, Marco van Ginkel, Lozano, Bergwijn, Arias and De Jong, with a good supporting role for Hendrix.

Mark van Bommel on Phillip Cocu: “We shared a lot, Phillip and I. We played together at PSV and Oranje and we both played at Barcelona. I also did my apprentice training job with Phillip and I am totally impressed. As a player, you can learn from training set ups and from coaching decisions taken by your coach, and I have worked with some of the best of course. But you’re never in the room when the staff actually makes the decisions and how they come to these. In my apprentice role, I got that opportunity and I learned a lot from Cocu.”

Van Bommel on Cocu’s style. “We all know how he was as a player. He’s the thinking man’s guy isn’t he? Always smart, always in control and as a coach he’s also very analytical. He is more patient and controlled than me, but the key thing is: he’s always himself. Never impulsive, never in panic mode.”

Cocu has picked up his coaching career like he did his playing career: step by step. He started as a creative left winger at AZ, moved to Vitesse and at PSV was transformed into a leading midfielder. A big move to Barca was the result, where he played for 7 seasons, even earning the captain’s band. As a coach, he started as an assistant at Oranje and as youth coach with PSV.

Frank de Boer is probably Phillip’s best mate. The both of them worked together as assistants with Van Marwijk’s Oranje, in South Africa 2010. De Boer: “As a player, I was more vocal I think. And as a coach, I guess that hasn’t changed. Phillip is more the observer. But we think the exact same way about football and make no mistake: Phillip is a tough guy. He has the image of being “nice” but he’s a winner. As a player, he could hack you to the grass with a smile on his face. And as a coach, he’s no softie either. And he is strong in his confidence. I believe he has a broad football vision about how clubs should be run and he will go a long way, I’m sure.”

In five years with PSV, Cocu won 3 titles. No mean feat. His start wasn’t too great and in his first season he asked Hiddink to mentor him. Some people felt it was a sign of weakness. Now we know, it’s a sign of strength. He is stoic, can handle pressure really well and doesn’t get upset when the position on the table is not in sync with his expectations. He simply analyses the situation and deals with it.

De Boer: “Cocu has seen it all. He’s played World Cups, he played in full stadiums in Spain, he doesn’t get all nervous when things turn south. Like Gio van Bronckhorst and myself, we might have been inexperienced as coaches, but we’re independent and have all been through all the ups and downs. And we hate losing.”

PSV has had criticism for the lack of quality and entertainment. The midfield lacks the creativity of – say  – Ajax and AZ. Still, De Boer thinks Cocu gets the maximum out of his team. “You need to be realistic. If you don’t have the creative lads, you need to set up your team in such a way that the ones who are creative can get on the ball. Look at Liverpool, their most creative players are the forwards. So their midfield plays in service of those up front. It’s the same with PSV.”

PSV takes the second spot this season in terms of chances created, way in front of the much praised AZ team. Last season, when Feyenoord won the title, PSV had 64 attempts on goal more than the champs.

Cocu has ways to make sure his approach stays fresh, by introducing new approaches and keeping the squad fresh. Recently, young players like Paal, Schwaab and Bergwijn made their mark and several youngsters (Lammers, Mauro) are brought in to lighten things up, with Cocu working with mental coaches and yoga practices to shake things up.

The use-by-date of Cocu hasn’t been reached it seems, but the ambitious coach might look at making a move this summer. His successor is being groomed for the big job. Former team mate Mark van Bommel seems to be the man.

Feyenoord and AZ: Gio vs John van de Brom

The Dutch Cup Final was supposed to be an interesting affair. AZ Alkmaar received most compliments this season for the quality of their football and the rise of several young players (Til, Koopmeiners, Stengs) and the terrific progress of Weghorst and Jahanbaksh (Iran’s Salah). But, compliments are not trophies. And AZ failed to win against a top 3 team for yonks. In this cup final, many were convinced, AZ would play Feyenoord of the pitch. AZ’s form and confidence were sky-high while Feyenoord struggled to the finish line, this season. Sure, injuries, new players and a tough CL group will not have helped, but finishing 4th in the Eredivisie means Feyenoord’s season was a disappointment.

And what happened? Well, the game disappointed. Tough to watch. And this time the fault lies with AZ. Feyenoord doesn’t swing this season, but knows how to play big games and has players (Van Persie, Vilhena, El Ahmadi, Jorgensen) who can rise above their average based on their grit and pure class. AZ however, started the game already 0-1 behind. Coach Van de Brom decided to abandon his winning tactics and swagger by going 5-3-2. Mercurial signing Idrissi (developed at Feyenoord) was left out of the team and Ricardo van Rhijn was brought in as the 5th defender. AZ was scared. Cautious. And decided to adapt to the – this season – weaker Stadium club. AZ never controlled the game, allowed Feyenoord the initiative, and Feyenoord scored first. When the 2-0 was on the board (Van Persie super goal), Van de Brom decided to go back to 4-3-3. Too little too late. Van de Brom confirmed why he’s not top coach material and AZ left the pitch with a 3-0 defeat. Another Cup Final gone for AZ. And with Weghorst, Jahanbaksh and potentially more players leaving this summer, it seems AZ needs to rebuild again.

Elsewhere, Memphis Depay is making the headlines in his new striker role in the 4-4-2 of Lyon, while Van Dijk and Wijnaldum might be on their way to the CL Finals and Cillesen dazzled with a pre-assist in the Spanish cup final for Barca.

Slowly the new Oranje can be seen developing, with De Ligt, De Vrij and Van Dijk more and more established as European top defenders. Throw in full backs like Hateboer, Karsdorp, Tete, Van Aanholt and Willems, and forwards like Memphis, Berghuis/wijn, and Promes and a midfield with Van de Beek, Frenkie de Jong, Wijnaldum and Blind and our future is looking better and better. And partly, thanks to Van de Brom too… With prospects like Til, Stengs and Koopmeiners knocking on Koeman’s door as well.


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The Dutch Talents for 2022

We like looking towards the future. Because the present isn’t so hot for us. No tournament for us this year (again). No club performances in Europe. No real big stars in the high lights in Europe. Our best “Big League Players” are defenders (Van Dijk, De Vrij, Blind) or water-carriers in midfield (Wijnaldum and Strootman), with arguably Memphis and Dost the exceptions (are France and Portugal considered Big League?).

And The Dutch Classic wasn’t really worth watching either. Ajax better on the ball, but too slow and without real creative impulses, Feyenoord better without the ball. Two moments of sleeping resulted in the goals, Berghuis miss left Ajax off the hook and Jorgensen red mist resulted in a limp 10 men Feyenoord longing to the end. And bloody PSV got the 3 points in the dying seconds again…

While the KNVB is still considering how to move forward with the new team manager and technical director (apparently, Bosz, De Boer and Koeman risk losing their massive pay-checks from Dortmund, Palace and Everton if they sign for the KNVB), there are too many unknowns moving forward.

Still, the future is bright. It always is. Until you realise the light at the end of the tunnel is actually the headlight of the oncoming train…. But seriously, we can safely assume that Van Dijk, De Vrij, Memphis, Tete, Willems, Fosu-Mensah, Berghuis, Van de Beek, Frenkie de Jong, Van Beek, Karsdorp, Wijnaldum and more (Ake? Van Aanholt?) will be able to forge a team together that can win us a ticket to the next tournament.

The question is, is there more? What players can we expect to see coming through for the WC2022.

Voetbal International made a nice list for us. Players, 18 years old or younger.

AZ – Calvin Stengs…

…deserves to be on the top of the list. The AZ playmaker is sadly out of commission at the moment as a result of a terrible injury (self inflicted, as a result of eagerness). He played against PSV, the game was only 5 minutes old or so, and it was clear Stengs was already AZ’s big man. He lost control over the ball, Marco van Ginkel was ready to take control and Stengs should have conceded the ball. Instead, he lunged in to regain possession and overdid it. Stengs hunger was fueled by his excellent pre-season where he played as a false right winger (Ziyech style) coming inside inbetween the lines to get the ball and do something creative with it. He’s one of those players that has complete control over the ball and thinks quicker than others and sees solutions no one else sees. Whenever Stengs has the ball, his team mates will make a move, start a run, because they know he’ll see it. Max Huiberts, AZ’s Technical Director: “He is our crown jewel. Ten years ago, a guy like him would have played in the Ajax Academy. This tells you a lot about AZ’s strengths today.”

PSV – Jayden Braaf…

…was sent away by Ajax when he was 11. Too light, too weak. But he didn’t just capitulate and left for the rivals from Eindhoven. The left -winger had a tremendous development trajectory there and was the key player for the Oranje Under 15s in the win over Germany in 2017. Ajax immediately went back to Braaf and pleaded for him to return, offering him a spot in the Under 17s. But Jayden stayed loyal to the club that did believe in him. His Youtube channel gives you a nice insight in the skills of the right-footer on the left wing.

Ajax – Justin Kluivert…

…isn’t the only Kluivert of course. Yes, there is dad Patrick, but little bro Shane is also getting massive views on Youtube as he plays in the Barcelona Academy. Kluivert’s current level is nicely symbolised by the fact that the junior keeps an A international of Germany (Youness) out of Ajax’ starting eleven. He’s fast, explosive, has a low centre of gravity, is perfectly two-footed and like Arjen Robben (and unlike Youness) he has the ability to come inside from the flank and find the killer pass or score with an almost signature curler in the top corner. There is a huge scarcity of players who can make the difference and it seems Justin is surely one of those. Ajax does have a problem with the little Kluivert, as he’s called: his contract ends in the summer of 2019. He has not yet agreed to renewing it, so to keep him from walking out for zilch, Ajax might have to sell the winger this coming summer already, to at least make some money. Several top clubs have shown their interest and it will not be hard for Justin to find a nice step up, this coming summer.

Chelsea – Daishawn Redan…

…was eleven years old when he was invited to entertain the crowd before an Ajax-PSV, with a game of keepy-up. The youngster started before the fans entered the stadium. When the game was about to begin, he was politely asked to please stop doing it and get off the pitch… Eleven years old! His talent was such that even Ajax wasn’t able to keep the striker in Holland. When he turned 16, he accepted invitations to visit Man United, West Ham United and Chelsea. “Man United was quite impressive but when I saw the training facilities and the stadium at Stanford Bridge, I was sold.” The youngster has a contract in West London until 2019 and is currently the skipper of Oranje Under 19. He scored 4 times in 3 qualification games for the EC 2018 in England.

Ajax – Matthijs De Ligt…

… is on his way to Barcelona in the summer of 2018, according to the Catalan paper El Mundo Deportivo. And why not? He’s just 18 years old and has already demonstrated his quality at top level. He’s number 8 on the list of most talented teenagers according to the English 4-4-2 magazine. When Ronald de Boer was asked which current Ajax player would easily fit into the 1995 wonder team, he responded immediately: De Ligt! When Man United played Ajax in the EL finals, Mourinho allowed Sanchez – n0w Spurs! – the ball for the build up. That is telling indeed. He’s the youngest Dutch player to ever play a European finals. It’s not hard to see Ajax won’t be his ceiling in football.

AZ – Kenzo Goudmijn…

…was 15 years old when AZ coach John van de Brom allowed him his debut against KV Mechelen. The youngster didn’t have any nerves. He thought the coach was pulling his leg and never believed he was actually going to play. Kenzo is the son of former AZ winger Kenneth Goudmijn, currently AZ youth coach. He’s considered to be one of the top talents but the midfield playmaker does need to make some steps physically to actually rumble with the seniors.

SC Heerenveen – Kik Pierie…

…has the name of a football comics football hero. Made his debut last year at 17 and hasn’t given up his starting birth since. It’s remarkable how he’s able to stop the strikers in the Eredivisie and demonstrates his build up qualities with his left. Both his parents were pro hockey players and both his brothers are also talents in the Heerenveen Academy. They might all three once play for the first team, although it’s fair to believe that Kik won’t be at Heerenveen for long. “My parents know what it takes to make it to the top so they’re wonderful in guiding me in my choices and patterns.”

Ajax – Ryan Gravenberch…

…is only 15 year old but is a key player in Ajax Under 17, which will claim the title easily this season. He’s will be moved up to the key Ajax youth team, the Under 19s and calls himself a midfielder. “I’m like Pogba. Tall, lean and quick. Like him, I’m a snake, I can glide past players but I also love watching Iniesta and Frenkie de Jong play.” He was the youngest goal scorer ever in the UEFA Youth League. At Ajax, they’re convinced of his future and have agreed on a 3 year deal, which he is only allowed to sign at the summer of 2018, when he turns 16 years old.

Feyenoord – Cheick Toure…

…left his country Guinee as a refugee with his older brother when 4 years old. He ended up playing for FC Dordrecht when he was 10 and got signed by Feyenoord when he was 12. Martin van Geel: “Cheick is a very mature guy, already. He has personality, has leadership qualities and has learned to speak up for himself. This season he’ll play for the Under 19s and he has a pre-contract motivating him more to develop himself.” When he was 16 years old, he made his debut for Feyenoord 1. He suffered some injuries and disappeared from the spotlight for a bit, but the explosive rightfooted left winger is top fit again and waiting for his second game in the first team.

AZ – Myron Boadu…

…was sent away after a test run at Ajax. He went to AZ and the rejection by Ajax resulted in him playing even better when faced with the Sons of Gods. He won nines times already vs Ajax. Last year, large clubs from all over Europe wanted to sign him but the young forward decided to stay at AZ. He’s regarded as their biggest talent – with Stengs – and according to his youth coach, he’ll go for two seasons in AZ 1, then maybe a step in Holland (Ajax?) and then…who knows? “Dutch football will really benefit from this lad. He is Bergkampesque.”

Hamburger SV – Rick van Drongelen…

…is like Virgil van Dijk. Recognised as a top defending talent, but swooped up by a rich mid-tier club instead of one of the top 3 Dutch clubs. HSV paid 3 mio euros for the defender, apparently in the half time break, during a friendly between the two clubs. And he has no trouble whatsoever keeping up with the Bundesliga level. Sparta Rotterdam scouted him in Zeeland when he was 13 year old. PSV also offered him a place, like Twente and Willem II. At his 17th, he made his debut in Sparta 1, and he became Sparta’s youngest goal scorer ever. His strenght? An un-Dutch match mentality. “I don’t play for fun or for the beauty of the game. I just want to win.” His idol? Not Messi, Pirlo or Redondo, but Italian beast Chielini. In Germany, they call Van Drongelen “The Machine”, because of his training mentality. “You can’t become a better player by doing less than the other guys.”

Fortuna Sittard – Perr Schuurs…

…will be an Ajax player soon. The 18 year old already is the figure head of the Jupiler League and will show his leadership in Amsterdam. Liverpool and Tottenham were after his signature too, but the young defender will remain in Holland for a spell. He’s a top quality passer, has length and is fast. Perfect characteristics for a modern defender. His main strength is the perfectly timed tackle.

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