How good is it to have three wonderful new categories on the blog. Future Stars (Dilrosun, Danjuma, Frenkie, Rosario), Current Stars (Van Dijk, Wijnaldum) and Past Stars (Robben, Sneijder, Van der Vaart)… I feared a year ago we had to make do with only the past stars…
Still, Arjen Robben – recently retired and the topic of many a post – deserves another headline.
When he made his way to the Dutch top, the experts (incl Johan Cruyff) doubted his effectiveness due to the fact he only used his left foot and was “easy to defend” as a result… When he made his way to the European top (Chelsea, Real Madrid), he was doubted for his weak physique and called the Man of Glass. Today, in the autumn or even winter of his career, we’ll have to concede to the fact that Robben is and was unparalleled in his effectiveness. This guy totally deserves to be mentioned in the same list as Cruyff, Van Hanegem, Neeskens, Van Basten, Gullit and Bergkamp. A true Dutch Master.
Last week, Robben declared he will stop playing for Bayern next season. And he might even quit football altogether. Time to look at his stats and time be completely overawed.
And despite his chronic injuries, we do need to establish that Robben is part of that elite of world class players. Deserving to be named in the same vein as Messi, C Ronaldo and Neymar. His last CL match is a good example. Bayern is in crisis this season. And it has been whispered that Robben, Ribery, Boateng and Muller might well be told to find another club next season. But its the right winger who dampens the slumbering crisis in Bavaria against Benfica when he solos through three Benfica players, with a little cut back with the right foot and a blistering shot with his left into the top corner. A move for which he deserves the copyright.
Looking at the stats, it should be forbidden from this day forward to call Robben an egotistical player. Since his debut at Bayern in 2009, Robben created 2,5 chances per 90 minutes of football. That is more than Messi, C Ronaldo, Zlatan, Suarez or Gareth Bale. In 198 matches, Robben had 53 assists!
During his tenure in Munich, Robben excels in 5 categories: goals, assists, attempts on goal, created chances and successful dribbles. Until very recently, no other player could get near him in these 5 categories. Only in the last two seasons, Robben’s age is starting to play a role, as his dribbles begin to lose power.
Arjen Robben dribbles per 90 minutes:
The fact that Robben can’t use his explosive speed as much only makes it more impressive that is his effectiveness is so high. And even with Bayern’s weak form this seaon, the left footer from Bedum scores a goal once every 120 minutes. And if we take his goals and assist of his whole German period, it shows how incredible he is. He is involved in a goal every 92 minutes. That is more often than any other player in the Bundesliga during Robben’s tenure.
Most often involved at Bundesliga goals since Robben’s debut in 2009
Minutes per goal or assist
Even when we take the other top leagues into consideration, Robben’s results are astonishing. Only the yield of players like Messi, C Ronaldo, Mbappe, Zlatan, Suarez and Neymar are better than Robben’s.
It’s also remarkable to see that Robin van Persie is in the top 10, which shows how Holland produced two of the best forwards in the last decade.
Most involved in goal in top competition since 2009
Minutes per goal or assist
Robin van Persie
*Only players with 50 matches minimum
Even if Robben is successful as assist provider, his reputation is mostly about scoring goals. Every 142 minutes, Robben scores. He finishes just behind Roy Makaay. Das Phantoom needed 139 minutes per goal, but Robben was just ahead of him, until 2016. Ten super strikers are ahead of Robben, but the emphasis is on “striker”. Robben is no. 11 in the list, but Arjen is a winger, which makes this even more incredible. Being able to compete with typical #9 stats as a winger is quite something.
Minutes per goal
On top of this, if we look at players who played 119 matches or more in the Bundesliga, Robben is the player with the highest win % of matches. Bayern won 76% of the matches which had Robben on the team sheet. Should we take 100 matches as the cut off, Thiago and Javi Martinez are above Robben in the lists.
Bayern with or without Arjen Robben
Average goals per match
Average goals against per match
Points per match
So, it is not that Robben’s stats are good because he plays for the strongest team in the Bundesliga. It’s the other way around: Bayern is the strongest team in Germany partly thanks to Robben! Bayerns has more odds to win with Robben than without.
It’s important to enjoy Robben while we can. It might well take another 15 years before we will see another Dutch player with this extraordinary set of skills…
As we close to the end of the year, a year in which the drab and disgraced Dutch National Team straightened the back and rose, like a Phoenix from the ashes. With victories over the newly crowned World Champs, the former world champs and good results and performances overall vs the likes of Belgium and Portugal.
And the result: group winner in the Nations League and a big jump on the FIFA ranking.
Most importantly: the fans love the team again and the team loves playing for Holland again.
And boy, did we see tremendous development in our player? I mean, Denzel Dumfries?? Pablo Rosario?? Marten de Roon? Tonny Vilhena? Ryan Babel?
Time to pick the best international of the year… I’ll help you with some insights, but the vote is all yours. I’ll give you until December 1, and then we’ll announce the winner here, with a cool interview/article on the winner.
Virgil van Dijk, our captain, deserves the first mention. What to say… His year was tremendous. The big money move to Liverpool. The winner in his debut vs arch enemy Everton. His stats are terrific. In Oranje, he developed into a great leader and skipper, with the deciding goal in the final minutes vs Germany. Does it get better than that?
Virgil is a true natural leader. The way he handles his team mates, the way he covered up the young ball girl when he noticed she was shivering in the cold, the warm manner in which he consoled the ref after the Germany game, when Virgil learned the poor dude lost his mum (and got notified of that fact during the half time break). Virgil… pure class!
Memphis Depay is in the key age group for top notch peformances, and it shows. The former Sparta talent is a changed man. From arrogant, self-centered, headstrong wannabe winger in Manchester, he grew into a lethal striker in Lyon. With stats that are only topped by Messi and C Ronaldo. Better stats than Neymar and Mbappe, to name other forwards in France. The loner, who clashed with the likes of Sneijder and Van Persie is now a team player. One of the leaders on and off the pitch. Ever since he found God, Memphis is a better human being, more humble, active with his foundations for the lesser fortunate ones and on the pitch he is unstoppable.
He creates goals, he scores them, has a sensational corner kick delivery, hustles and hassles defenders, keeps three markers busy while working for the team and stretching the play. He’s clearly in a positive mindset, as he coaches, encourages and directs the play from the front.
Every “Best Player” award should go to a forward. A player who makes a difference. A player that draws people to the stadium. Cantona, Ginola, Ibrahimovic, C Ronaldo, Ozil, Ribery, Rooney… Memphis falls in that category and I personally don’t care what hat he wears or what colour leather seats are in his Bentley.
Frenkie de Jong is probably a solid candidate as well, even though he only played 4 caps for Oranje. His talent was spotted many years back and both Willem II and Ajax decided to bring this kid slowly. He was 20 years old when he made his first foray into Ajax 1. As opposed to the likes of Seedorf, Kluivert Sr and Jr and many others who got their first games at 16 or 17 years old. But once Frenkie made his mark on the first team, everyone could see his tremendous potential. So much so, that Frenkie is already the new footballing leader (playmaker) of Oranje. Everything goes via him. And he is already seen as unmissable. And its expected he’ll make a massive jump from Ajax to a world class team in the summer (Man City, Barca, Bayern, Real Madrid, Chelsea….).
Gini Wijnaldum has also made a sensational growth, finally, to establish his position in Oranje. Making his debut more than 10 years ago (!) at 16, in Feyenoord’s first team as a #10. Used as winger at PSV. Signed by Newcastle as box-to-box midfielder and in 2014 suddenly part of the Oranje midfield that got bronze in Brazil under Van Gaal. Van Gaal apparently was reluctant to use Wijnaldum as controlling mid, believing the always smiling Georginhio would be able to play there, but he managed and even scored vs Brazil in the losers final. Klopp signed him at Liverpool and immediately told him he signed him for the controlling mid role. Today, Liverpool uses him on any spot in midfield. Despite all the new midfield signings, Wijnaldum – when fit – plays. In Oranje, Frenkie de Jong’s game allows Gini to play further upfield and be more decisive for Oranje, scoring important goals.
Mathijs de Ligt is considered one of the best central backs in Europe and like Frenkie, appears on all the scouting lists. The grounded Dutch lad, called “Dickie” as he used to be a tad overweight in the Ajax youth (in Dutch, the word for fat is “dik” so he was called Dickie), is only 19 years old but plays like a 26 year old. Composed, focused, and utterly complete. Fast enough, strong, fierceful header of the ball, able to dribble infield (Dickie used to be a midfielder) and with a good long pass as well. De Ligt will go places. He’ll be the Oranje centre back for at least another 10 to 12 years (if he remains fit). And we’ll see him playing for one of the top teams in the world for sure (Bayern, Barca, Real Madrid).
Ryan Babel‘s story is the come back story of the decade (in Oranje). He broke through in Ajax as a winger, but was considered an ideal player for a 4-4-2, a system Ajax back then simply didn’t want to play. Babel made his name in Young Oranje, under Foppe de Haan and impressed with his physique, his “hip” shot and his speed and power. Ajax was happy to let him go for a decent offer as he didn’t fit the bill in Ajax’ 4-3-3. By then Marco van Basten brought him into Oranje where Babel scored in his debut game. San Marco called him “the next Thierry Henry”. His big money move to Liverpool got waylaid as he tore his ankle ligaments right before the Euros2008 and was ruled for a spell, which forced Liverpool to sign alternatives and Babel got behind in the pecking order (behind Dirk Kuyt, amongst others). Bert van Marwijk kept faith in Babel and used him extensively after the 2008Euros. Kenny Dalglish, manager at Liverpool, decided to bring Luis Suarez to the club and let Babel go. The dark days followed, with a stint at Hoffenheim which didn’t work out. He went back to Ajax to rejuvenate his career, but ended up in the Turkish competition and not much later choose the money of the UAE league. He ended up playing for the reserves there and was relieved to be able to return to Turkey via Deportivo La Coruna. Now he’s at Besiktas where his good form got him a spot in Advocaat’s Oranje back in 2017. The explosive winger from yesteryear is now a mature team player, playing as a wingback. He clearly acts as mentor for the younger lads (on the pitch and potentially in the music studio as well) and his workrate and tactical smarts have brought him lots of kudos from all Oranje fans and pundits.
Other candidates? Jasper Cillesen? Top goalie on the Barca bench, but usually strong when relied upon. Both in Spain as in Oranje. Although the two German goals last time around did seem stoppable… Or Daley Blind? Mr Reliable? Good touch. Superb vision. Excellent passing. Pleasant positive personality. But vulnerable in defence? Just not tall enough? Just not quick enough? Quincy Promes than? Scoring goals like there is no tomorrow for Spartak, but always a question mark in Oranje (and Sevilla). Despite all this, his success in Moscow was always as a number 9, so maybe Promes should be seen as the understudy for Memphis?
We didn’t qualify for two big tournaments, we burned through some very decent coaches in a short time (Advocaat, Blind, Hiddink), we produced thigh thick reports about how dreadful our football has become, bowed our heads in shame when Vincent Janssen failed at Spurs, Memphis failed at ManU and Bazoer failed at… I don’t even know where he failed… and we all need to learn how to play football again, from the Germans! That is only a year or so ago…
Today, Europe has taken notice. There is a new sheriff in town and he brought some exciting deputies. Koeman’s Kids is the phrase. And the mix of the squad seems to be quite good. From old hands Babel, Cillesen, Wijnaldum and Strootman, to team players Blind, De Vrij and Propper to stars in the making De Ligt, Bergwijn and Dumfries… We are excited again!
And with reason.
Some interesting little symptoms that bode well. Just randomly. A 70 mio euro offer for Frenkie, from Man City. Or, on the other end of the spectrum: a distraught and highly critical Pablo Rosario beating himself up after his below average debut. Or Denzel Dumfries who humbly admits his ball technique needs a lot of work (“I have hard feet”). This squad exudes joy, comradery, ambition and above all: exceptional quality!
The win over Germany and the draw against Belgium is another big step forward in Koeman’s mission to bring Oranje back to the top. And the signs are positive: the interception of Donny van de Beek, snakelike. The turnover and high quality counter. Within a nano second the ball goes from Promes to Memphis and his pinpoint pass has the angle and the weight, perfect for Danjuma to finish. All this, within 15 seconds of retrieving the ball.
Sure, Belgium had pressure, dominated and created chances, but Oranje fought and countered and could have won it.
And Ronald Koeman can take the credit. He brings balance, structure and maturity to the picture. Realism. The joy was big after the Germany win, but immediately after the match Koeman put his foot on the brakes. He saw some tactical mistakes in the second half. He saw the spaces becoming bigger, with the team on the fence between pushing up or sitting deep. “We keep on stressing the points we need to improve. We’re going ok, but there is much much more potential, things to improve. But give these kids three more years, all the Champions League experience and what not, and check again in 2021 where we will be.”
The players are happy with Koeman’s directness, with his clarity. His team selections and squad selections are logical, with a strong fixed core of players and players who get the chance to show themselves. Patterns and “automatisms” are showing more and more.
Jasper Cillesen is the number 1 goalie. Without debate. Even with him being a bench warmer in the Nou Camp. The central defenders duo will be De Ligt van Van Dijk. A top defender from the EPL with a top talent with a tremendous future in front of him.
In midfield, it seems Frenkie de Jong and Gini Wijnaldum will be the usual suspects. Gini’s qualities will become more apparent with a player like De Jong behind him. Marten de Roon was excellent vs Germany, but surely Propper and Van de Beek can fill the third man’s shoes as well. With Carel Eijting and Pablo Rosario making big steps, it seems Strootman’s role will become smaller and smaller.
Up top, Memphis is the key man, with Ryan Babel currently his side man. Bergwijn, Danjuma, Promes, but also AZ’s Stengs or Roma’s Kluivert can come in to complete the forward 3.
This Oranje does know how to deal with space. And with prospects like Fosu-Mensah, Van Aanholt, Dumfries, Karsdorp, Janmaat and even Ake and Vilhena for the wide back roles, the mix of talent and experience is really good.
In the international break before this last one, we got some colour back on our cheeks. Now, we can even muster a smile…
A tpyical weapon Koeman is putting a lot of time and effort in, is the dead ball. Every team works on that, of course, but Koeman made it clear he sees the free kick / dead ball situation as an extraordinary opportunity. “When you dominate, you will have opportunities galore to find a gap and create a chance. When you play more compact and will have less possession, against the stronger teams, the dead ball situation can make all the difference. For this reason, we put more emphasis on it. We even train and practice and talk through these situations on the match day. When you have players who can deliver, like we do (Memphis, Dumfries, Janmaat, Blind) and players who can win aerial battles (Van Dijk, De Ligt, Dumfries, Strootman, Ake) you’d be silly not to use their qualities.” And it shows: Van Dijk scored vs Portugal like this, Nathan Ake vs Italy and now Van Dijk again from a Memphis corner kick.
Memphis playing in between the lines, pulling away from the defenders and coming into the zone vs statically being there…
Another weapon we use with flair, is the false #9. Most central defenders like to play against static strikers. Lets make it an even battle, between strength, length, timing… Defenders like Ramos, Hummels, Skertl, Thiago and Ottamendi to name a few, will love to play against Luuk de Jong. But when Tadic plays #9 for Ajax vs Bayern or Memphis vs Germany their weaknesses show. It’s not new of course, one Johan Cruyff started it maybe, in the 70s. Every nation back then had a Gerd Muller like #9. Holland didn’t even play with a player wearing the 9 on his jersey :-). Messi perfected that with Barca and Memphis Depay is quickly becoming the new standard. The alternative to Benteke, Lukaku, Lewandowski and Giroud.
After the first weeks with Oranje, Koeman criticised Memphis for being to static. Playing like a pedestrian. “Move Memphis, run!”. And Memphis picked it up. He makes himself available in between the lines, he knows when to dribble, when to go deep without the ball, when to hold up play…. Against Germany, he had 5 attempts on goal and created 3 chances.
Holland doesn’t need to dominate anymore, to win. Based on our compact organisation, the effectiveness on dead balls and the world class qualities of Van Dijk/De Ligt/F De Jong/ Memphis we can kills opponents off without seeing much of the ball. A luxury Holland never had.
A match vs Belgium is always fun, due to the rivalry. This time, it is an up and coming Oranje team oozing with talent vs the top class players of the #1 on the FIFA ranking…
Ronald Koeman was true to his word, he would play different players and rested some lads, in order to give Ake, Van de Beek, Strootman, Danjuma, Promes and De Vrij a chance. In those circumstances, with a starting eleven which never played together before, it’s only logical that the start is a bit rusty. And take into consideration that the players Oranje was facing have names like Hazard, Mertens, Lukaku and Witzel… Not a bad line up.
Holland started on the back foot and Belgium really jumped out of the traps. Hazard in particular had a real appetite and it didn’t take long for Mertens to score the 1-0 in a glorious fashion. I have to be honest, at that point, I really believed Belgium would eat us up, puke us out and eat us up again.
The first 20 minutes were horrendous with Ake constantly chasing his man and De Ligt and De Vrij constantly looking for their man. But slowly, Holland would grow into the game, playing compact and disciplined and it would be long before Memphis was offered a first chance, he should have put away.
When Donny van de Beek picked up on a lose pass in midfield, Memphis had the wherewithal to reach debutant starter Danjuma, and the Club Brugge wing man scored his first senior Oranje goal 1-1.
Holland fought itself back into the game and would get more opportunities even, with a good strike by Promes on the post. Belgium slowly drifted off, with their midfield being dominated by the Dutch.
In the second half, with 6 subs for both teams, the flow of the game disappeared a bit. There were chances for Lukaku and co and some opportunities for Holland (the Ake header deserved more, while Memphis was unlucky with a shot cleared by Aldeweireld).
We saw Pablo Rosario make his debut too in this game and the PSV midfielder had to get adjusted to the pace of the game as his first minutes in orange were a bit unlucky.
The end result (1-1) can be seen as pretty good in an away game vs the world’s #1. We could have won it even, but, as Memphis said post-match: we could have lost the game too.
It was a good effort all in all and Ronald Koeman was quite happy with the two matches. He felt there clearly was a good foundation to build up on.
And don’t forget: we played Germany and Belgium! Two powerhouses of international football. One win at home, one draw away. Not bad. And as Donny van de Beek said after the match: “Playing compact and disciplined, isn’t that how France won the World Cup?”
The axis of the team seems to be quite clear and quite solid too. Cillesen as not real competition, Van Dijk and De Ligt seem to be certainties too, with Frenkie de Jong as deep lying midfielder and Wijnaldum centrally high up the pitch. Memphis as the false #9 again played a very good game and is the danger man up front, this time with an assist.
Dries Mertens and Toby Alderweireld, both with a Dutch Eredivisie background of course, were full of praise about the Dutch. They were quite certain Holland would soon be amongst the European football royalty again.
Speaking about royalty. Mathijs de Ligt has played vs Robert Lewandowski, Romelu Lukaku and C Ronaldo, three absolute top goal scorers, and none of them found the net against the Ajax man. Another calling card dropped last night by the 19 year old Ajax captain!
He is the first Oranje player under 20 years old to play 10 caps in a row for his country, since 1933!
The win over Germany resulted in some interesting responses. Ronald Koeman, usually critical and sceptical, was very positive about his lads. He lauded their work rate, their skills, their quality and actually said that he expects great things from this group… The Dutch media approached the result as a Dutch Spring after years of winter. Obviously, the German media focused on the abysmal form of the Germans and wondered if it wasn’t time for Low to step down.
Most international media (French, Spanish, English) concluded that “Holland is back”. Only the media in Belgium decided to have a typical Dutch arrogant approach: “Don’t think you’re back coz you beat the weak Germans! We are better than them!”. The rivalry between Holland and Belgium, it never bores. We are probably considered “the Germans of Belgium” so to speak…
The match up with Belgium is never boring. And it’s never a friendly either. Although the Rijkaard coached NT back in the Euro2000 prep came close to a demonstration game with Belgium, with a 5-5 end result. We had a 9-1 and all sorts of results… But in the serious matches, we also had red cards, razor sharp tackles and excitement galore.
Dutch squad entering the stadium in Brussels
This time around, Belgium is the favorite and Holland the underdog. Belgium is the #1 on the FIFA ranking (Holland is currently #17), with players like De Bruyne, Kompany, Hazard and Lukaku. In 2012, the Red Devils played Holland for the last time and won 4-2. In 15 minutes, Belgium scored 3 times and the southern neighbours played Van Gaal’s eleven drunk. Axel Witsel saw the Dutch game vs Germany, but wouldn’t want to use that as a “key game” in Holland’s reversal of fortune, just like that 4-2 vs Holland wasn’t key for them. “Holland is back, it’s clear, they do have a good group of talented players, but to speak about key games… It’s never one game, it all comes down to all the work done in the years prior. But we are looking forward to this match. It will not be a friendly, I don’t think.” For both nations, a lot is at stake. Belgium wants to keep their spot at #1, while Holland wants to further confirm their way back to the top.
Willem van Hanegem, Holland’s living football legend and oracle: “This match and the development of players like Frenkie de Jong and Steven Bergwijn tells me one very important thing: our youth development is still pretty good. All those years of whining and complaining. There is nothing wrong with what we do. But there is something wrong with how we look and how we observe. Players like Dumfries, Virgil van Dijk and Arnaut Danjuma were ignored by the top 3. Players like Rosario and Bergwijn (and before them: Promes and Elia) were sent away by Ajax. Marten de Roon was sent away by Feyenoord. It is all about recognising talent. That is key. What really irks me, is that 5 months ago, the whole Dutch football world proclaimed that we needed to do what Germany is doing. We needed to borrow their smarts. And now, 5 months later, we beat them and we are on the up and up and Germany is on the way down. All that opportunistic waffling… Scoreboard journalism, we are very good at that. We did not copy what Germany did, and still we are developing talent. I also think Rosario would have made his debut if he wasn’t suspended. It’s all about recognising talent and being careful and cautious with their development.”
Van Hanegem with one player who was recognised early as a top player and one who wasn’t…
Romelu Lukaku is a player at the top of his game. He’s only 25 years old and already the top scorer of the Red Devils. He scored 28 times in his last 26 internationals. Who will stop him? Mathijs de Ligt smiles: “This is a major challenge. He’s tall, strong and fast. I don’t think I ever played against someone like him. I know, I need to be 100% top and I look forward to it. The better the opponent, the better I feel.” De Ligt is already working on it. “I watch Youtube videos to analyse his movements, how and when he takes in a position. Lewadowski and Lacazette are also super strikers. Like Lukaku.”
Ronald Koeman gave De Ligt another compliment, even after his weak start vs Germany. “But that is the point, he started not so great, but he fought back and got back into the game. That is tremendous. Not a lot of 19 year olds can do that.”
Koeman will make some changes and not take too many risks. Captain Van Dijk is back in Liverpool already due to his rib injury and the expectation is that Rosario will make his debut at some stage. He probably would have played vs Germany, but just before the match, Koeman was informed that Rosario’s suspension at Young Oranje level also applied to the senior team. For Belgium, its seems De Bruyne, Vertonghen, Vermaelen and Dembele won’t play and the fitness of Fellaini and Kompany is a question mark.
If Virgil van Dijk is the new leader of Oranje, his Liverpool buddy Wijnaldum seems freed from the shackles in his new role in midfield. In previous outings, with Sneijder on the 10 position, Gini was the first player to get the ball from defense and was responsible for the through ball forward. That is a position where risk is to be completely banned. Wijnaldum was always told to keep the balance, make sure Robben and Sneijder don’t have to do too much work and play sober. Now, with Frenkie de Jong or Daley Blind behind him, Wijnaldum is the forward playing midfielder who receives the second ball in midfield. When he plays in between the lines. And boy, he demonstrated vs France and now vs Germany how well he can play that role. Wijnaldum: “Do I enjoy the compliments now? Yes, but hey.. many times, it wasn’t good. And I think it has to be said if it isn’t good. But at the same time, Strootman and myself became easy targets.” Now, Wijnaldum demonstrated his tremendous powerhouse role late in the game, when Memphis hit the cross bar with a rocket, it was Wijnaldum on the edge of the Germany box picking up the ball. When he lost it, he ran all the way back to his own box, to join in in the defence. When, however, the Germans were pushed back, Wijnaldum ran forward again, to pick up the ball, pass two Germans and hit the ball in the net. That is something not many players can do after 90 minutes of hard work. “Oh no, it hurts. It really does and it costs strength, but that is what I do and will do. This is just one match. We need to do this time and time again. Because we can.”
The final words are for Koeman. He is not surprised that the mood in Holland has lifted tremendously. “That is normal. Our fans have not been spoiled lately so a win like this is landing on fertile ground. But, it is my role to analyse also what didn’t go well. And we have way to go. We are on the right track but we are really back to the top, not when we reach the Euros but when we actually compete for the top spot.”
I am quite sure no one will read the title of this post and be surprised. I’m sure every Oranje fan will have seen the game or at least know the end result. The first time Holland beats Germany in 16 years and the biggest victory over the East Neighbours ever.
Well done lads!
A deserved win, but also a much needed one. Because, yes…it is clear we are developing great talent still and yes, it seems with Koeman now as coach and the older generation having made way, Oranje is on the up and up, but in order to really make the step up, results are key.
Good play (like vs France) but losing gets tiresome soon.
So, we bucked the trend. We played a strong team and actually won. And I’m sure we’ll beat Belgium too in a couple of days. That is what confidence and “flow” bring.
I was positively surprised by Koeman’s choices for the line up. I expected Hateboer or De Ligt on that flank, not Dumfries. But the 22 year old did ever so well. I was happy to see Bergwijn on the pitch – he was a tad unlucky – and didn’t expect De Roon either.
Koeman will have seen things at training which he liked. I think De Roon played a good game and he did surprise me with a couple of “Frenkie de Jong” like forward passes even.
Fair is fair, Germany isn’t that good anymore. They struggled clearly to get in a flow and top players like Muller and Kroos are clearly struggling with their form. Nevertheless, they did dominate the first stage of the game, when Oranje looked a bit complacent and seemed to take it a bit too easy. Too much confidence, maybe?
In particular De Ligt fell victim of sloppy play but he did improve quickly and played a good game overall.
I felt Bergwijn, with all his quality, was a bit unlucky with his decision making and passing, he had a couple of opportunities to play a deadly final pass but missed the chance.
Frenkie de Jong took some time to put his mark on the game but once he did, he was quite mercurial and his substitution was purely because if fitness issues (Frenkie’s first game since the PSV defeat).
The Dutch axis is becoming very strong indeed! Cillesen is the best goalie, De Ligt/Van Dijk a strong couple, Frenkie de Jong the ideal deep lying playmaker and Memphis leads the line with panache, strength and speed. I like Wijnaldum in the more attacking role, but I think Promes, Propper, Bergwijn and Van de Beek can play there too. Wide, we have options too, now with Danjuma, Berghuis, Kluivert, Dilrosun, Bergwijn and others coming through (Malen!).
Our future is bright.
Still, Germany was able to play through a couple of times, when Low brought Sane finally, for instance. But overall the team did well defensively. I think Daley Blind played well as left back and really well in the Frenkie role, when the latter was subbed.
If I can be a bit of a nitpicker: I do think we could and should have put this game to bed much sooner. 1-0 is a vulnerable score line. And with the break opportunities we had, we should do much better. We were also a bit unlucky on that Dumfries cross to Babel, where the German defender miraculously slid into his own goal but manage to work the ball into a corner.
Denzel Dumfries was glad to have made his debut in such a wonderful and historic match. The PSV right back was like a kid in the toy shop and with reason. Only 4 years ago, he played for the Barendrecht amateurs before he made his foray into second tier of pro football with Sparta. He then went from Sparta to Heerenveen and as the assist king made his way to PSV Eindhoven, this season.
Ronald Koeman had trouble hiding his victorious smile in the post match interview, and did concede that “there are still things we need to improve in” but he also said that this was a victory we really needed. “The players, the fans…the whole nation needed this.” And after a lot of bad luck (Dost disallowed goal vs Sweden, France-Sweden game, goal difference between Sweden – Holland), we did get some luck going our way, when Leroy Sane missed the target when he was through on goal.
But we managed to keep a clean sheet and score when it mattered. The first Van Dijk goal turned the game around, as Holland won in confidence and Germany seemed to be at odds and sods. The second and third goals came a bit late (Memphis had a go at the cross bar before that) but the goals did justice to the way Oranje played.
Another festive moment before the match, Oranje legends Dirk Kuyt and Rafa van der Vaart had their place in the sun, their farewell greeted with a standing ovation. The two centennials (Rafa 107 caps, Kuyt 104) were offered their epic jerseys framed with the new title of Federation Knight for both former Oranje players.
Any match vs Germany (or West Germany) will bring the heart rate of any Oranje fan up. The pantomime villains! But if we get a double bill for games, vs Germany (our neighbours on the East) AND the Belgians (our neighbours to the South), well… any Oranje fan would start salivating.
We do have a firm rivalry with both nations and now we’ll meet them both in the course of 4 days. There is a God! The rivalry with Belgium is more brotherly. We actually like the Belgium people. We love their country, their food, their beaches and we also are impressed with their national team, at the moment. We had massive competitive games against them, but also some amazing friendlies, with heaps of goals and lots of good memories.
Less so with the Germans. Yes, those clashes in the 40-45 World Cup…eh.. War didn’t help. The first post-war match at top level was the finals in 1974 of course.
How many articles / posts have I not written about this in the past 14 years! On the Worldcupsoccerblog and on this blog… All these wonderful stories, anecdotes… But whatever we say about it, we lost. That doesn’t change. I remember vividly watching the game. I was 12 years old (yes!) and watching the games at my holiday address, with heaps of other people. A colour tv, but a small screen. I sat on the floor, right with my nose on the screen.
In those days, the expectations around the national team were low. Really low, as somehow it never really register with the pros. They were paid for by the clubs, they weren’t properly insured when playing for the NT and somehow, we weren’t too interested. When Holland went to West Germany for the World Cup, no one expected them to shine. And with reason, as we actually scored our winning qualification goal in off side position and actually didn’t deserve to go. And ironically, Belgium didn’t qualify as a result of that goal. A good reason for them to dislike us!
So there I was. Johan Cruyff was an untouchable. He was an Ajax player, so as a Feyenoord fan I wasn’t openly a JC fan, but like anyone, in my heart I adored him as a player. Willem van Hanegem was my fave. Partly because he played for Feyenoord and partly because he lived just one block away from me. As did midfielder Wim Jansen. We had some rock stars in the team too, the 5th and 6th Beatle: Ruud Krol and Johnny Rep. And there were some unknown players part of the team too. Players a 12 year old didn’t see play often: Robbie Rensenbrink, who was at Anderlecht. The snake man. What a player! I didn’t get why Keizer didn’t play on the left wing, but after seeing one match (vd Uruguay) it was clear why Rensenbrink was the man. Jan Jongbloed, our sweeper keeper was another unknown, a massive masterstroke by Michels Cruyff to put him in.
But the Germans got the better of us. Was it our arrogance? Was it the night of lost sleep, as JC had to spend hours on the phone with his wife pre-match, to explain the naked girls in the swimming pool? Was it the sheer quality of Sepp Maier, who simply stopped every ball aimed at the German goal?
Who knows. Willem van Hanegem says it was arrogance. Johan Cruyff said he was played out of the game by Berti Vogts. Others will point to the ref and the first real schwalbe/dive by Holzenbein, getting the Germans their penalty.
But the world took notice. And Oranje made its mark. Winning or losing, it didn’t matter.
We need a revenge though. In 1976, we bitterly disappointed, with red cards for our star players. In 1978, we took on the West Germans again and drew 2-2. We ended up in the finals again, and West Germany didn’t. Still, it didn’t feel like revenge.
In 1980, the Germans were boss. Holland disappointed massively and in 1982, 1984 and 1986, we didn’t compete. Long long stories. And all these stories have been told, here and at other blogs in the past. Simply ask me if you want me to rehash them.
Then came 1988. The 12 year old fan was now a 26 year old supporter, with some ties to Feyenoord and the national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. And as a result, found himself in Hamburg on the stands. My partner worked for the newspaper and called me up at 11 am-ish. “I have tickets for the game, you gotta come now!” I drove from Amsterdam (my place of work) to Rotterdam (where the newspaper resides) to pick her up and our tickets. Changed clothes at home and off we went to Hamburg. We arrived 30 mins before the game and saw Oranje win vs West Germany (1-2) in an unforgettable match. The one where West Germany and Holland both got a gift penalty. The one where Van Basten scored the winner in the last minute. The one where Ronald Koeman wiped his ass with Olaf Thon’s shirt and Van Breukelen yelled at “I hope you focking sterbst” to Frank Mill…
And while we walked out of the stadium, in a state of joy, my partner saw a sports editor of her newspaper, and we tagged along to the players’ hotel to celebrate the win till the early morning. I vividly remember a somewhat boozy conversation with a young bloke at the party whom I later recognised as a very young Richard Witschge. Around 2 am I realised we still had 5,5 hours to drive home as work was waiting the next morning and we decided to leave.
The story of our trip to Munich the Sunday next, where Holland took on the USSR in the finals is even more epic, but will have to wait for another time. Now its about The Germans!
In 1990, the same squad albeit with Richard Witschge among others, was keen to win the World Cup, in Italy. We played Germany again and that is where the comparison with 1988 stops. It was shocking. Holland actually didn’t play that bad vs Germany, but our key players simply didn’t come to the party. Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten in particular were sub-standard. Our best players were John van ‘t Schip and Jan Wouters, with Rijkaard getting the spotlights spitting a big one in Voller’s wig. We lost. And had to go home. The players lamented after the World Cup that the power struggle between Cruyff and Michels had demoralised the team and Beenhakker’s army boot camp in Yugoslavia prior to the tournament didn’t help either. If you wanted a performance from the likes of Gullit and Rijkaard, it was key to have a player’s hotel close to the action (clubs, girls, pizza) and not in a remote and desolate castle with nothing to do but to moan and whinge and whine.
I watched this game at home again, in despair. The group stage of Oranje was already abyssmal so expectations were not too high. Most supporters were distraught that the KNVB ignored the wishes of the players and signed Leo Beenhakker for the coaching job.
In 1992, at the Euros. Oranje got the chance to take revenge on the Germans and we did. In a master class, in which Van Basten conducted Bergkamp’s goals (pointing at Winter where to place the ball) and an uncharacteristic distance striker from Rob Witschge, Holland won 3-1 in probably the best performance a Dutch national team demonstrated vs the Teutons. I remember watching this game with my best friend Nico and my life partner of course in my home, where we ended up dancing through the apartment block, convinced we’d win the title, against the beach team of the Danes.
In 1994, the Allied forces the US organisers of the World Cup keep Holland and Germany separated.
In 1996, we sadly don’t meet them either. We end up being dressed down by England and Germany ends up winning the Euros with the worst team ever.
At so the list goes on. We have been able to keep them at bay in 1998, 200o, 2002 (by not qualifying) and meet them again in Portugal 2004. First group game, and Germany tastes first blood. Van Nistelrooy scores the equaliser late in the game and everyone is happy with the draw. In 2006 we miss out on playing them, same in 2008 and 2010. It’s 2012 when we do end up playing them again in the group stage and after a good start (15 minutes or so) we forget to defend and allow them to score first. A situation we simply can’t overcome and despite having the silver medal at home of that previous World Cup, we end up going home. In 2014, again, the Germans are able to get to the finals without having to play us and that must have helped them a lot.
By now, all stories about how Germany took a couple of pages from the Dutch football Academy book in 2000 are fairly well known. They re-invigorated their youth development and started to play more Dutch than German. Their horrific tournament in Russia this year is a clear testament how the Germans have really started to copy all we do….
What will happen tomorrow?
Well, I think we’ll win 2-1. I think Germany will be a tad nervous, a bit forced maybe, and on their toes for the young Dutch talents.
I think Koeman will play the following 11:
De Ligt – De Vrij – Van Dijk – Van Aanholt
Wijnaldum – Frenkie De Jong – Daley Blind – Strootman
The dark, barren days truly seems behind us now. Those days, when we couldn’t qualify for a big tournament, remember that? Now, we have some world class central defenders, exciting top notch full backs, a midfielder on the scouting list of many a big club and coming from nowhere (seemingly) some new attacking talent!
Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld suddenly appeared. From second tier club NEC to Belgium’s top club, Club Brugge. And yesterday, he joined the Dutch national team squad in Zeist. “My nerves are holding up well. I do wish to find new challenges all the time and this is a top example. And I don’t want to just be here today as a one-day-fly. I wanted to proof myself and come back regularly.
Asked what his secret is: “I don’t have one. It’s a matter of confidence with me. I work hard every day and this is the result. People tell me things go really fast for me, but I don’t see it that way. I work hard and this is where I am at now. And it’s almost normal, you know. Ever since I was a child, I wanted this.”
“I spoke with Ruud Vormer about it of course and with Stefano Denswil and Sofyan Amrabat (all Brugge players). It’s sad Ruud had to bail with his groin injury. This is a huge honour for me and I hope I’ll get the chance to show something. These two games, vs Germany and Belgium. Amazing of course. And there are two mates of Brugge called up for the Belgium team. That is extra cool.”
Danjuma has scored 5 goals and offered 4 assists in 14 official games. He’ll meet some old friends at Oranje. “That makes life a bit easier, I know Rosario and Bergwijn from my time at PSV. It’s special for sure.”
When the 21 year old was presented at Brugge, son of a Nigerian mother and a Dutch father, the experts could see what his thing was. “A mouthy Dutch lad, who cuts inside to shoot on goal with his right. The whole Belgium competition will know this within weeks.” But like with Arjen Robben, knowing that he’ll do it and stopping him from doing it are two different things.
Club coach Leko signed Groeneveld from NEC, now called Danjuma. And after a couple of training sessions he knows enough. He’ll start Danjuma in the super cup match vs Standard Luik. He breaks open that match with an assist in the first half. Leko is convinced. Aad de Mos, ex top coach and football fanatic, watches the first match this season in the competition of Brugge. And he knows after 45 minutes. He grabs his phone and tweets: “The Dutch top clubs have been sleeping again: Groeneveld is at Brugge and is a top player!”.
After three matches in the competition, Danjuma is the most discussed player / topic. Club wins and Danjuma has to face the media again and again. Ruud Vormer looks at with approval from a distance. The blue-black jersey tightly fitting the muscles on the upper body, legs like concrete pillars and a twinkle in the eyes.
Danjuma is not keen to discuss his past. He had a life of ups and downs and one day, he’ll tell his life story. Not now. “That is too personal”. Because life in Lagos, Nigeria isn’t easy and neither is moving to Holland and being caught up in the social services system of child care. He did say something once… He was in three different host families until his dad finally got custody. He doesn’t want to say more. He used to confuse attention with affection and was hoping on positive re-affirmations. Like the 8 years at PSV, where he suffered from many injuries. Every coach could see he had talent but he needed to stay fit.
In Nijmegen, at NEC, he changed from an inconsistent talent to a man with a mission. Danjuma finds inspiration in athletes who had to fight to get to the top. Players like Zlatan or Neymar. Or Memphis. Or a boxer like Mike Tyson. “Setbacks make you stronger. Let’s just say I experienced more than most at my age. I think I built up more resistance.”
When Arnaut was Arnaut at NEC, he already told anyone who wanted to listen: I am good, I will become better, I will play for a top club and I will win trophies. Danjuma at Brugge seems to fulfil his promise. And he did play against Almere and Helmond Sport last season. This season he’ll play Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. The goal vs Atleti and more specifically Jan Oblak already went viral across the globe.
At NEC, they are looking forward to the day Brugge will sell Danjuma to a big spender, as NEC will receive a % from that future deal. They sold him for 1mio euros which enabled NEC to almost build a complete new team as a result. How was it possible that NEC got this gem?
The Dutch youth international made his way to NEC two years ago from the PSV youth to the NEC youth and in two seasons Danjuma got 14 goal and 17 assists in 46 matches. Not bad!
Danjuma: “It is not true that the Dutch top clubs were sleeping. There was interest. There was also interest from Germany, England and France, but I followed my instincts. I can’t explain what it was. Everything clicked for me here. They really wanted me, courted me. I love that. Manchester City was interested too, but I think this is the club where I can really develop and make my minutes.”
Groeneveld did have to adjust a bit. “In Holland, at NEC, it was rough at practice. We’d go in full throttle, rough tackles and very feisty. Here at Brugge, I started yelling at players at practice and Ruud Vormer had to talk to me and said “that is not how it is done here,” hahaha.”
Danjuma played for Young Oranje but was also entitled to select Nigeria. He always expressed his wish to play for Oranje and Koeman decided to not allow Nigeria a shot at the winger. “I would have considered an invite for Nigeria, I do feel the Nigerian roots. But my dream is to play for Oranje.”
NEC was able to present their 11th new player some weeks ago, thanks to the transfer sum that they banked for Arnaut Danjuma. General Manager Oversier: “I was just here, at NEC, when I saw him play and I thought “that kid will one day play for Oranje!”. He is really good eh? He’s not even that super fast, but on the ball he is explosive, threatening and able to go on the outside or inside of the opponent. And his kicking technique is out of this world. He has so much potential. You should analyse his goals, they’re all differnt. I have seen right full backs fall over, so dazed and confused from playing him, hahaha. He never made it at PSV due to his injuries, otherwise he would have played there now, for sure.”
The big word after the France game, was “hopeful”. Somehow, we lost again. But instead of the drama after Van Gaal’s loss (“we can’t play 4-3-3 anymore but we can’t play 5-3-2 either…”) and the despair after Advocaat’s loss (“I really thought Sneijder in a three man’s midfield vs Kante would work”) we now have hope. We have light. We see the future.
And maybe it is justified. We were played off the pitch in the first stage of the game. We never looked like being able to compete. But when France took their foot off the gas, Oranje started to dominate the rhythm of the game. Or…did we force France to take their foot off? Hard to say.
But fact is, we did ok in the second half. We scored a good goal and we could have more.
And after the game. Ronald Koeman was quite clear and transparant. And angry as hell. “Two bad goals conceded. In games like this, against top nations, we need players who have the courage and mentality to put their claw in the challenge. And we didn’t. Blind didn’t in the run up to the first goal. Promes didn’t do too well. And Blind lost Mbappe, allowing him a tap in. And the second goal, Tete doesn’t put Mendy under pressure, while Van Dijk allows himself to be surprised. That cost us points.”
Koeman was pretty livid and it seems quite reasonable that Tete and Blind will have to watch themselves. Quincy Promes also didn’t impress but we know he’s quality and he just made a move to Spain etc etc. But with Bergwijn on the up and up, it might well mean the PSV winger will take the Promes role in a future match.
Tete lacks rhythm, and yes, he’s a good defender but no, he didn’t defend that cross. And moving forward, he was not as threatening as Janmaat or Karsdorp. In the first half, he was timid. In the second half he did run forward and immediately had the assist for Babel’s equaliser.
Koeman spoke after the game of “players having to put their claw in” referring to the lacklustre defending of Blind and Van Dijk (with the first and second goal). It’s a typical Dutch problem. It’s not just them, I think Janmaat, Propper, Frenkie de Jong, they all have that. The almost polite “after you” mentality.
Obviously, Frenkie de Jong was the highlight in the match. A debutant demanding the ball and always playing with a swagger. Good to see and we expect more from him. I thought Babel put in a real shift for the team, while Memphis also had good spells as the lone striker. And as someone noticed on the blog earlier, Wijnaldum is helped with a player like De Jong behind him. Gini gets involved earlier now and can use the space he finds.
I think the “Ajax” model Koeman is using can work well. But I also believe we need some changes. Blind is a question mark. Yes, he can be used on many spots in the team but he doesn’t excel in any of them. I think Van Aanholt and Kongolo are better left backs in Koeman’s system, while De Vrij and Van Dijk and De Ligt are better centre backs. Blind can play holding mid, but at this stage Propper and De Jong impress more.
I would love to see Karsdorp or Janmaat on the right. More threatening going forward. Frenkie de Jong should always play and I really like Donny van de Beek as well. Babel or Kluivert or Vilhena on the left flank, Bergwijn or Promes on the right and Memphis is a shoe in for central. I personally don’t see it in Ruud Vormer. Not good enough. Nothing special. No speed, no precision passing, no killer shot or extreme free kick. A good club player. Nothing more. We have many like that. Guus Til. Marten de Roon. Jorit Hendrix. Kevin Diks. Bart Ramselaar. Not Oranje material.
This team will most likely qualify and then we might see some underdog magic at the next tournament. All the lads will be 1.5 years older by then and we might even see some of the future stars make their way into the team. Let’s discuss these kids in a next post!
The first goal in the making. Promes heading the ball to Matuidi. Propper responding. Mbappe sprinting away from Blind. Who is glued to the pitch.
The second goal in the making. Benji “hit the cross early” Mendy is going to…well…cross the ball early. Tete keeps his distance. Van Dijk is surprised by Giroud who scores a goal he will never ever again score.
The next international game vs Peru has Sneijder’s farewell as the main theme. The new qualification series for the Euros is starting too, but all eyes and focus are on the little captain first. 34 year old and with 133 caps to his name, the former skipper looks back and looks forward from Qatar, his current home.
“I decided to go to Qatar also because of the World Cup coming here. Football is alive here and I enjoy exploring these types of countries. We loved living in Turkey, and we love it here. And when the World Cup comes, who knows, I hope to play some part. Maybe for Qatar, for the FIFA or maybe for Oranje. And until that time, I want to be an active player. Playing football is the best thing there is.”
Sneijder lives like a prince in Qatar. He describes his day. “In the morning, I am busy with my non football activities. I have a building company in Turkey, and we’re building apartments in Istanbul. In China I have SPort8, a youth academy company and I also have SportChain which is a crypto company. On Ibiza I own a restaurant and since this week I’m also ambassador for the Johan Cruyff Foundation. So, busy enough. Then it’s time for lunch and an afternoon nap and in the evening we have training. And when Yolanthe is here with our son we do fun things as a family. And hey, I know the stories, the big paychecks and what not, but I could have made more, much more, in China. But quality of life is important too. I don’t think I would have been happy in China. Life here is comfortable, hardly any crime, and I met a lot of cool new friends, locals and Dutch expats, all sorts. And Nigel de Jong and family lives here too of course.”
Last weekend, they played against each other, again. “We had our derbies in Milan and now here, hahaha. We beat him 4-0 but I decided to float a bit on the pitch as I didn’t want to get to near to him. I still have an Oranje match to play, hahaha.”
The matches in Doha are played before 100s of people, instead of 1000s. “It took some time to get used to, but like anything, you do get used to it. Playing before a full Bernabeu becomes normal and this becomes normal too. I think I prepared well mentally for this step and I enjoy myself. Just the training sessions alone and making fun with my team mates. I’m now at an age where I can support the coaching staff and I enjoy that.”
Wesley’s Favorite Coaches. “You won’t find Louis van Gaal in my top 3. Yes, he’s a great coach, just not my great coach, hahaha.”
#3 Danny Blind
“I worked with him at Ajax and Oranje, and I think the success we had in 2014 was partly his work. Van Gaal got the credits, but Danny was important with analysis, training sessions and he was a wonderful guy to work with. A special coach.”
#2 Henk ten Cate
“He’s also a friend. But objectively, he is a very tough task master. He’s tough, he’s disciplined, he sees the game. I had my best season under him at Ajax. I scored 18 goals. And I was a bit complacent but he got me really going. And when I was unfit in 2013, he came to Ibiza to work with me to get me fit. Henk was also the one to motivate me to work on my fitness. He called me Billy Bigmans (Big = Pig). Told me I was too fat for the top. He challenged me and I needed that.”
#1 Jose Mourinho
“We didn’t work together that long. My most successful period. He is the special one, but you need to work with him to understand this. He has skills no one else has. His management skills, with 23 egos, that process. He can manage that so well. To get everyone focused for the big objective. Tactically, he is also super strong.”
After his failed Nice adventure, Ajax or FC Utrecht could have been Wes’ new club. But it didn’t happen. “I get that. Utrecht was actually more interested than Ajax but I decided to stay longer abroad. I enjoy this life. I do follow the Eredivisie by the way. Every match. And Nigel and I were cheering last week when we watched Ajax play Dynamo Kiev. We’re on the coach, and cheering Ajax on. That was fun. And I think Ajax will be doing so well, with the likes of De Ligt and De Jong. These two will be key for Dutch football. Everything they do has a forward focus and purpose. This is a natural thing for them. And I love that, which Is why I love watching Man City and Barcelona too. And with Memphis in good form and Van Dijk and Wijnaldum at Liverpool I really think Oranje has turned a corner. And particularly with Ronald Koeman as coach. He’s pragmatic, he demands a lot but he also has that Barca / Cruyff DNA. He’s good in his communication too.”
Talking about Oranje, the high point of his career needs to mentioned. “I have had many. I personally think our football at the 2008 Euros, in the group stages, was the best we played. Van Basten and Van’t Schip just said: go out there and play! We didn’t do much in a tactical sense. And we played ever so well, until that terrible thing with Boulahrouz. My first match vs Scotland was special too of course. I scored my first goal in the first 15 minutes or so. But the real high point was the Brazil quarter finals in 2010. When we were 1-0 down. And it wasn’t so much my two goals in the second half. It was what happened in the dressing room. I surprised myself. I came in latest and the whole team was staring at the floor. And I was like: Hey! We can go home a bunch of losers, or we go back out there and play. And take the game to them. And hurt them. And that did something. The heads came up, other players chimed in and we went out and turned the game around.”
In 2014, Sneijder again plays a main part in the World Cup story but differently, with his love-hate relationship with Van Gaal. “I frequently thought, is this guy a genius or is he insane?”. I think he’s both now. Hahaha. When Van Gaal first started I told him: you’ll need me there. And he did. But he decided to push me and pester me to get me to react. One example. During the tournament, we were on our day off and some of us went to this lounge bar for some drinks. Nothing spectacular. We returned, precisely at 10pm as instructed. Who is in the hotel lobby? Van Gaal. And we walk past him and he starts barking at me. Only at me: “So, why did Sneijder have to go to that lounge bar?” And I was like: “We all went, why are you not asking them?”. And he said: “Because I want to know from you!!”. And I just said “goodnight” and walked off. The next day, I was really pissed off and I played another good game. And I think now he did it to get me worked up. We did well with him, but I won’t pick him as my favorite coach. My top 3: Jose Mourinho, Henk ten Cate and Danny Blind.”
“After the WC in Brazil I realised we were not fully focused. We lost away vs Iceland, 2-0 and I knew we were in trouble. Not because we lost. But the manner in which we lost. We were without a chance. I even considered quitting but that’s not me. I wanted to fight back. But we were going downhill. My biggest low point was the 4-0 loss vs France under Advocaat. He put me in a 3 man’s midfield as the playmaker vs Kante. And I thought… oh… that is not smart… But what do you do? I should have said “Dick, please put me on the bench, that is not ending well” but I didn’t. The coach needed me and I wanted to deliver. But I don’t blame Guus Hiddink and Danny Blind. I blame the many players who decided to skip qualification games, only to play for their club 3 days later! No I won’t mention names, the players know exactly who they are. They let the team down. Fuck off. Should I ever become part of the Oranje staff, those types will have a problem with me, that is not on. You need to be proud to play for your country! Danny Blind’s sacking really hurt me. He was a perfect coach. As assistant to Van Gaal he was so important and his influence was huge. A real expert and he didn’t deserve that mentality.”
“The last years, it felt like some internationals needed to be pushed to play for Oranje. I think now these changes, the new Zeist centre instead of the players’ hotel in Noordwijk…all good measures. When players can’t deal with the freedom you need to create a situation where the focus is fully on the game. And it’s really a big trap, players thinking they are the Man because they are big at their club… You have to demonstrate that in the national team!”
“Another key concept is sacrifice. In 2010, we all were focusing on getting the best out of it. And the benchwarmers did their job. Huntelaar, Elia, Van der Vaart, no one was negative. How this changed in 2012. We had more players with big reputations and they couldn’t accept that bench role anymore. And I realised vs Denmark, if we lose this match, it will be all over. And it is such a shame. Players simply don’t realise how special it is to play one great tournament. Just one already is amazing…”
“My future, well… I can say this: I would not be able to think of anything better to do than be involved with the national team. I would love to be an assistant coach for Oranje. Being with the lads, parting my knowledge, setting up training, just sharing my experiences, you know? I spoke about it with Koeman. We’ll see. For now, I’m still playing and I will most likely keep on playing for a while still. But I love that whole group process of having a goal and working towards it. Preparing for a World Cup for instance. It’s amazing. And I paid attention with all the coaches I had. And I realised, you can be the best tactician but if you can’t communicate, if you can’t motivate your players to do something, it doesn’t matter. Mourinho was the maestro. He was able to let you do things you thought you couldn’t. He had the backroom staff for the practices, and the physiological stuff and tactical analysis. He simply asked you to do things for him and you did. Eto’o, a super striker, he was a flank player under Mourinho, running up and down and defending and attacking… Incredible. But now, my future is the Peru game. One more time part of the group. Having fun, kicking a ball, goosebumps with the national anthem. And then I will be watching Oranje on the coach, with a Heineken! Enjoying myself.
Below, Wesley’s favorite team of players he once played with:
Ok guys: tell me your best Wesley Sneijder memory below!