Tag: Van Dijk

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 Hand of Ronald Koeman

It’s that typical question, when a coach takes over at a club or nation: “Is the hand of the new coach visible already?”

Well, Ronald Koeman clearly puts a line in the sand lets the past be the past. “That is the only way for us to qualify.” And he did so on the second anniversary of the death of his friend, mentor, former coach and neighbour, Johan Cruyff. During the press conference before the Portugal game, Koeman said: “I miss him a lot. There is not a day that goes by on which I don’t think about him. He’s in my heart.”

But, the heart is not the head. Maybe 3 seconds later, the former Everton coach says that all Cruyff stood for is currently not so relevant for Oranje. Not because Koeman doesn’t want to play the JC style, but simply because there is no alternative. “You have to play according to the abilities you have.”

Any NT coach knows this, you’re totally dependent on your material. As a club coach, if you miss a good left winger, you can sign him. Or several. Not with the national team. “But, what we can have and must have, alway, is the right attitude, mentality and focus. We need team spirit, first and foremost. Look at Iceland. Look at Wales. Greece in 2004. They compensate lack of top quality with mentality, focus and team spirit.”

The first signal Koeman gave to the players, was the move from the loose Hotel Oranje to the more enclosed “East Germany” style camp of Zeist. Most internationals hated the move, prior to experiencing Zeist. They like what they know. But Wijnaldum said it well, after their first week: “It was actually great. In Noordwijk, players go to their room or stroll with their mates on the boulevard. This time, I actually had to hang out more with players I don’t know so well. And it was fun. Now, we just got the room to rest or sleep and the rest of the time, we’re together. We play cards, we play darts. I had my thoughts prior to coming here, but it’s actually really good.”

Koeman had to start somewhere and this is was his first step. “But, we need to see it on the pitch, at the end of the day. A coach is right when he wins and he’s wrong when he loses.”

The first demonstration against England was a losing one. One of the worst international games Oranje played. Solid in the organisation but not creating anything. And sure, Jeroen Zoet should stop that Lingard shot and in that case, we’d have a 0-0 draw vs a strong England. Not that bad.

But 4 days later, a rejuvenated Oranje counters the arrogant Portuguese off the pitch, in 45 minutes. Koeman does see that Oranje is a quick learner. The ex Barcelona libero saw some aspects to hold on to.


Against England and Portugal, Oranje didn’t give away a lot. “Against two top nations, I think that’s positive. Our central defence played really well. You do need to start with the fundaments at the back and I’m positive. We have two more games of course, Slovakia and Italy and I do believe we will see more progress. We have more good players for these positions (Van Beek, Rekik, Bruma, Van der Hoorn) so I’m happy with that.”


Koeman was satisfied with the team discipline. He worked on the training pitch with them and he did see the results in the game. “Tactically, we did well, against England as well by the way. I focused on certain aspects and I saw that come to life in the match. And sure, we still make mistakes, but I am not complaining.”

Player Development

Matthijs de Ligt was one of the guiding lights vs England and Portugal. With Van Dijk and De Vrij/Ake at his side, he was fantastic. “At that age, he is remarkable. But we have more great talents. The key is to use them properly and allow them to grow.”


Koeman picked seven different players against Portugal but the most important change, was the set up of the team. Against England, it was a 3-4-3 with two wide players, resulting in two midfielders to cover the midfield. The 3-5-2 vs Portugal resulted in three midfielders and these three bossed the game. But individually, the differences were significant as well. Davy Propper has grown tremendously in England, from an elegant attacking mid at PSV to a leader and controlling midfielder at Brighton. Donny van de Beek and Wijnaldum at his side, a bit further up the pitch, all three players who can control the ball under pressure. All capable of one/two touch football and all players with good awareness of what’s around them. Both Tete and Vilhena played very disciplined in their wide roles and Ryan Babel appeared to be much better in holding up play, than Bas Dost. And obviously, the team played more compact and defended and attacked as a whole. With key roles for central defenders De Ligt and Van Dijk in the attacking moves.

Koeman can be highly critical and he wasn’t happy with the lack of response of his team, whenever Sterling of England dropped to midfield to strengthen the England engine room. None of the central defenders pushed up and the two wide backs (Hateboer and Van Aanholt) were playing too high up the park. Koeman adapted the system in the second half, letting Promes drop into midfield and go with two up top (Memphis and Dost), but Holland couldn’t play compact enough to control the game and was constantly one step too late.

After the Portugal game, he was unhappy with the fact that Oranje couldn’t capitalise on the red card for Portugal and create even more.

Koeman watched both games back on video with his analysts and realised that in possession, Holland still can’t impress. “When you’re on the bench you see the game as a coach and as an Oranje fan. I thought we did ok in possession. When I saw the games again on video, I realised we have a lot to improve on that. We need to improve in the football playing, but then again, I am sure we have the right players who will become available (Daley Blind, Frenkie de Jong, Vincent Janssen). We do have time to build on this.”

Holland isn’t the only nation to have to rebuild significantly. Germany had to do it from 2000 onwards. Portugal had a failed World Cup in Brazil and ended up winning the Euros. England was played off the pitch vs Germany recently and made drastic changes. “I think we’re at that same juncture. We need to make changes, we did, and now we need to build on this. I’m not satisfied, but I’m optimistic. We will keep on working on the 3-4-3 and the 5-3-2. Against lesser countries, we need to play 3-4-3, against the Germanies, Spains, and Frances of this world, we need to adapt.”

An analysis of the different players Ronald Koeman used.

Cillesen vs Zoet

Jeroen Zoet repeatedly voiced his frustration how he – as a regular- was bypassed by Cillesen, a benchwarmer. Cillesen got his change against Portugal and was one of the key players, with six saves and in particular the stretched reflex on a C Ronaldo header. Zoet was less tested by England but he did allow a goal that seemed very stoppable. Lingards shot from outside of the box passed Zoet by 1,5 yards. Any goalie should stop that shot. Of the 7 goals Zoet conceded in Oranje, 5 were from outside the box…

Tete vs Hateboer

In Koeman’s system, the wingbacks need to cover the whole flank. Enter Hateboer, who impressed at Atalanta with this style of playing. Tete is always seen as the typical defender and has always been seen as a weaker offensive back vs Karsdorp, Janmaat and now Hateboer. But the stats say differently. Tete had 5 assists and 1 goal for Lyon whereas Hateboer only had 1 assist and zero goals in the Serie A. Both backs were both playing well for Oranje, with Hateboer winning more duels and Tete being more precise in his passing. With Karsdorp and Janmaat also in the running, we’ll have options here.

Ake vs De Vrij

Even though there was not to cheer about re: the England game, the back three played very well. De Vrij is probably more complete and more experienced than Ake, but Ake does have to left foot. De Vrij and Ake won all their personal duels vs England and Portugal respectively. De Vrij intercepted more than Ake and his passing accuracy was very high (92% vs 80% for Ake).

Van Aanholt vs Vilhena

Vilhena is normally a midfielder although used by Gio as a left back every now and then. Koeman picked up on this and Vilhena played a perfect first half vs Portugal. Van Aanholt has tremendous legs and lungs and also knows how to score. Having Vilhena as another alternative (Kongolo, Willems, Pieters, Daley Blind) will be a plus, as the Feyenoord youngster might just have more in his locker in terms of positioning play and ball control over Van Aanholt.

Strootman vs Propper

It remains a mystery. Strootman is a leader in Roma’s midfield. He’s seen as a key player and has been for 7 seasons in the Italian capital. But in Oranje, we hardly see that player.  Strootman has excuses of course, for the England match… No midfielder would have impressed in the set up Koeman chose, as England created a man more constantly. But Strootman does seem to slow the game down and does go for the obvious pass. His first touch needs a lot of work. Propper on the other hand is a real gifted technician, with good vision for the forward pass. He was constantly open, his first touch impeccable and his head always up.

Van de Beek vs Dost

This is not a fair comparison as they played in different roles of course. But with an extra midfielder instead of a striker, the positioning was much better. Dost’s problem is that Oranje doesn’t play to his strength. He’s a classical centre forward, needing service. Whenever Dost drops back to midfield, he’s arguing with the ball. With Van de Beek, Koeman gets what he wants: dynamic movement between the lines and a player coming into the area instead of a player statically waiting there. Donny’s runs even got us our first goal vs Portugal, when his failed attempt was turned into an assist by Memphis.

Babel vs Promes

When you can’t play dominant football but want to use the turn-around to counter, you need speed. Ryan Babel, not having played in the jersey for eight years, does have that versatility. He’s fast, strong in the duels and can score, with his left and right and with his head. Babel’s relationship with Memphis is developing well and he was key in blocking Portugal’s build up. Promes and Memphis weren’t as helpful in that part of the game and Promes – key for Spartak Moscow – was never able to impress in Oranje, in the two recent friendlies.

Yes, these were conclusions based on two friendlies and particularly Promes, Hateboer, Ake and Van Aanholt will surely have more value for us in the future. With the likes of Daley Blind, Steven Bergwijn, Frenkie de Jong, Jetro Willems, Calvin Stengs and Vincent Janssen on the fringes, this Oranje can only become stronger and better.

I personally am still a fan of Adam Maher. He got lost at PSV and is currently playing relegation football with FC Twente, but with the right club/coach, I think Maher might surprise us all still.

And if we do need a strong central striker in games vs lesser opponents, lets not forget the qualities of ( a fit) Robin van Persie.

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UPDATED: Oranje impresses vs Euro champs

My dear friends, I will again start this post with pointing out that a win in a friendly normally doesn’t mean that much. Coaches will usually look at the progress, the style of play and whether it becomes 1-0 or 0-1, well… But not in this case!

Ronald Koeman lost his first game in charge. The Oranje squad has been on a losing streak basically since 2014. The media have been all over the Dutch. Even last Saturday the English media called us a disgrace. And our loyal fans all need a win too.

So this game did matter. Against the reigning Euro champs. Against our angstgegner. Against the culprit of the Battle of Neuremberg.

I personally believe the criticism on Oranje after the England game was uncalled for. Yes, we weren’t too good going forward, but we played compact and didn’t give a lot away. England didn’t create much either, did they?

But when Koeman announced to make 7 or so changes, I was worried a bit for this game. We know Portugal does have quality, they have confidence, they all play for big clubs, etc etc.

Sure, Portugal didn’t play as disciplined as England. And Portugal didn’t play as if their lives depended on it. All true.

But no team wants to lose 0-3 in the prep run for a World Cup. Don’t forget, some Portuguese players will need to demonstrate to their coach that they’re deserving of a spot on the plane, in summer.

So Oranje impressed me. Given the changes, given the lack of Robben/Sneijder/Blind, given the loss on Friday… They impressed really muchly.

Our midfield was a completely unrecognisable. Van de Beek impressed with his composure, his runs, his smarts (he’s still a young kid!) and Propper has grown a lot in England. He used to be a bit lacklustre, complacent. Not any more. Turning into a beautiful playmaker. Elegant on the ball and with that visor aimed forward. Always looking for the opening.

Even Wijnaldum, much maligned in Oranje, did well. Mr Risk-free, in his position, tends to square the ball a lot and take a lot of touches- and I do hope he’ll improve in that area – but he was strong on the ball and worked well with the rest of the midfield.

Babel also showed why Koeman selected him. He’s gotten some criticism on this blog, from me as well, but he demonstrated his value with his runs. Weghorst and Dost can’t play like this. In what was a 3-5-2 set up, Memphis and Babel did what they had to do. They were a threat, they worked the space and held up play well.

Tete was decent, Vilhena could well be the right wing back on the left for us, and the three central defenders were excellent yet again.

For me, Cillesen also demonstrated to be the number one. He oozes composure. Has great reflexes and stopped some good attempts while his footwork is just much better than Zoet’s…

The goals were great, in particular Babel’s header on right winger for the occasion De Ligt’s firm cross, and Van Dijk’s goal was a tremendous training ground goal. Deep cross by Memphis, cushioned header De Ligt and composed movement and finish by our skipper.

There is hope, people. With the likes of Blind and Frenkie de Jong coming in and some time as well, we should be able to compete. To qualify. And once we qualified, to be that dark horse again.


A bit more in detail now. Oranje changed some details in the way they executed the tactics.

England was too smart for our midfield on Friday, with the deeplying Henderson dropping back and Sterling coming into midfield. Our 2 men midfield didn’t cope with that. Koeman basically tried three different systems vs England. The starting 3-4-3, the change to 5-3-2 to deal with aforementioned midfield issues and later in the game, chasing it with 4-3-3.

For this Portugal game, he went with a mix of 5-3-2 and 3-5-2, tilting the team based on where the ball was. If the Portuguese left back had the ball, Tete would push forward which would mean De Ligt would drop to the RB spot and Van Dijk would tuck in too, with Propper dropping deeper (and vice versa).

The three in midfield meant we always had a spare man and the two forwards had more space to operate, not as bound to the wing as per usual. In particular Memphis had space he could work in. When he’s a real winger, he’s confronted with double markers and lack of movement in front of him. Now he could find the gaps and drive forward.

It seems Strootman has to worry about his spot. The Brighton midfielder Propper played an almost perfect game, finding space and finding the forward pass when he could. His controlling play before our centre backs was excellent.

Ronald Koeman was pleased: “We worked hard on this in the past days. We knew these were the accents we had to change and we practised it well. It’s great to see this result. But, one game, it doesn’t mean we’re there. I wanted to use the four friendlies for our new system and we might find it sooner of course. Portugal did come back strong in the second half though. I think we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t take advantage of the man-over situation in the second half.”

Justin Kluivert and Guus Til broke their duck for Oranje, as debutants. Kluivert had one good run to goal in which he wanted to offer Til the chance to score. If this had happened in an Ajax game, he would have cut inside and curl the ball in the top corner, no doubt.

Kluivert: “This is the happiest day of my life. I’m really proud, but I know I have a way to go if I want to be as good and important for Oranje as my dad. I’m on the way though and it tastes like more.”

The international media were highly positive about Oranje: “This Holland team looks like it is in good World Cup form.” The Portuguese media: “The only positive about the game is that we will go to the World Cup and Holland won’t.” The English media realised that two so-called EPL flops (Memphis and Babel) secured the win for Holland. The Belgium media: “What a demonstration! At times, Oranje dazzled like in days past and beats European Champs Portugal 0-3. C Ronaldo’s only contribution of the game was diving, crying to the ref and taking selfies with fans who came onto the pitch.”

The Italian press focused on Dutch defending: “C Ronaldo destroyed. He didn’t do anything and eventually got subbed. That tells the story.” The Spanish AS focused on the battle between Barca goalie Cillesen and Real forward Ronaldo: “The Dutch goalie kept his goal clean and was the man of the match for Oranje.”

The Dutch “experts” about the game.

1974 and 1978 phenomenon Arie Haan: “We have enough quality but we need to stay grounded. There is enough positives, like Van Dijk, a European top player. And De Ligt is probably the biggest defensive talent in Europe currently. And Donny van de Beek is going to be important for the team. Dynamic, great passer and dribbler and he can score as well.”

Denny Landzaat (ex Ajax and AZ): “The backline deserves the credits and kudos, but I want to mention Ryan Babel, with his speed and his ball control and hold up play. I’m sure the whole team will play better with a guy like him up top. And Jesper Cillesen is a strongholder too. Great feet and tremendous reflexes.”

Aad de Mos (ex Ajax, Mechelen and Anderlecht coach): “This win is not coincidental. Koeman is a shrewd tactician. And there’s enough quality in the squad. The back four is strong. I would definitely use Daley Blind as left back when he’s fit, but Davy Propper deserves the spot in midfield. Perfect two-footed. The only thing we lack is a good striker, but Steven Bergwijn could fill that role. I want to see him too.”

It seems Mathijs de Ligt missed out on C Ronaldo’s jersey. “I think seven others beat me to it. Not sure who has it.” In 5 years C Ronaldo will lament the fact he missed the chance to get De Ligt’s jersey….

You can watch the full game here. Download links in the comments on that link.

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Oranje hasn’t lost since 1996….

….against England. It’s interesting, the Dutch were reigning supreme in the Golden Age, with the English Empire and the Portuguese seafarers… And England and Portugal are our up and coming opponents. We don’t do too well vs Portugal, but England…we never lost since that 1996 1-4 upset at the England Euros.

Ronald Koeman himself was part of some of these amazing games, with some significant contributions.

Koeman made it clear that he would be playing another system than 4-3-3. “I can tell you this, the system I’ll be playing is not 4-3-3.” That should be enough for us.

He also appointed Virgil van Dijk as the new skipper. With Daley, Strootman and Wijnaldum as vice-captains. No one seemed to disagree with the choice. Van Dijk has the potential to become a world class defender. He is vocal, he has personality and coaches prolifically in the Liverpool team as well. And, like Ronald Koeman before him, Van Dijk will have the game in front of him, which helps when having to re-position players and alert players.

Van Dijk will be the next in a line of wonderful Oranje players who wore the band before him.

Frank de Boer is the record holder captains of Oranje, with 71 caps with the band. He took the band from Danny Blind in 1995. Ruud Krol, a defender as well, wore the band 45 times, taking over from a certain Johan Cruyff in 1977, when JC retired as international.

Ruud Gullit comes next with 41 caps with the band, taking it in 1986 from Bennie Wijnstekers. Ronald Koeman wore the band 33 times, while before he took it – in 1987 of his rival Ruud Gullit.

Other names in the skipper top 10, are Gio van Bronckhorst, Puck van Heel, Cor van der Hart, Edwin van der Sar and Harry Denis.

Oranje in the Johan Cruyff Arena against England… hours away and a debut for Koeman in a full house.

The total balance between England and Holland is in favour of the English. The Three Lions won 12 times, and lost eight. Ten times both nations drew. The last match was at Wembley, in 2016, which ended in a win for Oranje with goals by Narsingh and Janssen.

The last time England was guest in Amsterdam, in 2009, Bert van Marwijk was the coach in a friendly ending in 2-2. With goals by Kuyt and Van der Vaart.

Kluivert scoring the 4-1 for Holland in a loss in 1996, but securing Oranje’s progress.

The last win by England on Dutch soil was in 1969. A team with Cruyff, Van Hanegem, Mulder, Israel and Muhren lost 0-1.

Justin Kluivert could be the ninth son of an international to make his debut. Ryan Babel will be the most experienced international in the young Oranje. The Besiktas forward played 46 caps and is the older player in the squad, with his 30 years.

The other father-sons: Martin Koeman and sons Ronald and Erwin Koeman. Martin only wore the orange once. Wim van der Gijp, also 1 cap, and son Rene van der Gijp (15). Johan Cruyff’s huge shoes couldn’t be filled by Jordy but he made it to the National Team anyway. Jan Mulder was a famous striker in the JC era and his son Youri played the same role. Just like Danny Blind and Daley Blind are almost carbon copies of each other. Steven Berghuis’ dad Frank – or Pico – played 1 cap for Oranje. Then there was Jan Everse SR and Jan Everse JR and lastly Nigel de Jong who’s dad Jerry played 3 international games for us.

The Oranje staff: keepers trainer Patrick Lodewijks, assistant Kees van Wonderen, Ronald, assistant Dwight Lodeweges and fysiology coach Jan Kluitenberg

The infamous England – Holland in 1993, when the 0-2 loss meant that England missed the World Cup in the US. Koeman scoring the first.

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Analysis: Why Oranje Fails….

Yay! The poisonous chalice is empty! Now all we need to do is live through that ratchet World Cup and we can start anew. VI Pro is doing us all a huge favour publishing very good and insightful stuff on Dutch football. I will borrow their insights for you in the coming weeks.

This article was published by VI Pro and explains exactly what I tried to say many times but haven’t been able to express as well as the man quoted in this article. The original article zoomed in on Gini Wijnaldum. But the context applies to the whole national team.

And the man to shed light eloquently on our woes, is not Louis van Gaal. It’s not Johan Cruyff, or Wim van Hanegem or Frank de Boer. It’s a guy most of you won’t have heard of: Pepijn Lijnders. In case some of you wonder how to pronounce his name: in English you would spell it like this: Pepine Lineders.

Who the hell is Pepijn Lijnders? Read about it here

The introduction anecdote is about Wijnaldum and Liverpool FC.

The Reds have been practicing a different system in the run up to the West Ham game. The 4-3-3 will be replaced by a tweaked 4-4-2 to stop the ongoing defensive issues. Wijnaldum got injured in the CL match, so Henderson and Can are supposed to play the holding roles in midfield. But Henderson gets injured on the day of the match. Milner, multifunctional, is picked as his replacement, but does he have the legs still, for this role?

Liverpool’s medical team comes with surprising news though. Wijnaldum is fit to play! Jorgen Klopp doesn’t hesitate. He picks Gini for the Henderson role. Wijnaldum did travel to London with the squad but didn’t take his football boots as he wasn’t supposed to play at al… And without having had a minute of training in the new system, Wijnaldum plays the West Ham game, the full 90 minutes, as if he never played in another system his whole life. He is very neat in possession, with Can, he shield and guards the backline and coached and talks to his team mates. Wijnaldum is seen as a key player in Klopp’s Liverpool.

And how different is all of this at Oranje? Wijnaldum seems lost. Like a University student trying to find his way at Primary School. But he can’t make sense of this once so familiar environment….

It’s time to listen to the man who works with him daily. Liverpool assistant coach Pepijn Lijnders.: “Gini is terrific in running and moving. But he needs to have clarity where to move to.”

So, we have four different NT managers and Gini played with seventeen (17!!) different team mates in midfield in different systems and in different roles since that summer in 2014.

With Daley Blind, Gini is the only constant factor in the ratatouille that is the Dutch NT. In this context alone, it’s not strange that Wijnaldum can’t flourish. If the farmer would plough his soil everyday, seeds won’t get the chance to grow.

These are the players Gini played with since the WC2014: Nigel de Jong, Wesley Sneijder, Daley Blind, Leroy Fer, Jordy Clasie, Davy Klaassen, Jonathan de Guzman, Davy Propper, Ibrahim Afellay, Riechedly Bazoer, Marco van Ginkel, Kevin Strootman, Tonny Vilhena, Jorrit Hendrix, Stijn Schaars, Bart Ramselaar, Marten de Roon.

Pepijn Lijnders mentions this lack of consistency as the first reason why there is now flow. “You can’t judge and compare players without the context. Everyone yaps about “lack of quality” but I disagree strongly. What lacks, is stability and leadership. Players need two things: clarity and confidence. And these two elements were lacking.”

He goes on: “The lack of consistency is or was dramatic. in the coaching staff and in the squad. Continuity and a clear match plan to play the opponent in the key moments in the game are highly important factors. Maybe the most important aspect. This is how you go from eleven good players to a very good team!”

And the worst part is: it doesn’t seem all this swirling and swaying hasn’t ended yet. Dick Advocaat hopefully moves on after these friendlies. And the new coach will have to find a way to create a winning team for the Euros 2020. Which means the shuffling about hasn’t ended yet. Lijnders: “Everytime you point one finger to one player, four fingers point to the collective. Problems are never the result of one player, but the result of a failing collective. A simple example: it makes a huge difference if a player needs to defend a space of 10, 20 or 30 meters on the pitch. The bigger that space, the bigger the chance he’ll make an individual mistake. But it all starts with the positioning of the whole team.”

Individually, Wijnaldum is not a great defender. Not at Liverpool, not at Oranje. He doesn’t have the positional smarts of Matic (Man United) to excel in interceptions. Nor does he have the duelling strength of Kante. Put Wijnaldum in a big space in a badly organised Oranje and he looks more and more like the 17 year old Number 10 of Feyenoord: hard working, dynamic, but also wild and without control. That is the Wijnaldum we see in Oranje: a lost footballer in a team without a plan.

But, Wijnaldum has all the tools and ammo that make his so perfect for top football. He has tremendous legs and is extremely disciplined. Ask Wijnaldum, like Van Gaal did in the WC2014, to track his direct opponent for 90 minutes and he will. As if his life depends on it. Wijnaldum hasn’t played for seven months due to injury at that stage, but Van Gaal picks him to make his 5-3-2 work. Since then, the only game in which he excelled was the friendly in June 2016 when his role is to press forward in the Number 10 role. When there is a structure and he has a specified task, Wijnaldum can impress. And this will definitely apply to Strootman, Klaassen, Clasie and many other players who tend to disappoint in the orange jersey.

Lijnders summarizes: “Gini is a wonderful runner. But you need to make it clear to him where and when to run. Everything starts and stops with the distances between the players and the right shape of the team. Clarity amongst the players. So they know what they have to do, and what they can rely upon from their mates. If we practice this time and time again, quality pops up. The individual development will move up. The joy and confidence returns. We never lose a single minute at training to work on this. Our strength, as Liverpool, is this aspect in combination with energy and pace. But you can say this about Napoli, Man City, Bayern, Chelsea…any modern football team. A top team without energy and pace is like driving a Ferrari without fuel in the tank.”

Wijnaldum was on the radar of many big clubs already when he was 14 years old. His family didn’t allow him a big move, where his mates succumbed for the financial carrot. He stayed at Feyenoord until the Rotterdam club needed to sell him to survive financially. Fer and Wijnaldum’s fees saved the club but Gini remained in the Eredivisie. And when he finally did move to Newcastle, Jorgen Klopp and Maurizio Pochettino immediately recognised his skillset for the top level. Both did all they could to persuade the midfielder to move to their club. Both coaches love aggressive pressing play and both needed a catalyst in midfield. Spurs decides to stop the bidding war with Liverpool and Klopp was the victor.

At Liverpool, Wijnaldum is given a speed course defending. Jorgen Klopp: “At Liverpool, no one is responsible for one opponent. Everyone is responsible for everyone.” In other words: all positions need to be taken, all the time. It doesn’t matter by whom. Wijnaldum: “Klopp is very clear about his ideas. And I picked it up quickly. It’s actually great fun to play in a team like this. And when the ball is on the other side of the pitch, I don’t even watch my direct opponent, because I know we pressure the ball so well, that we’ll have it back in no time.”

And all this happens at Liverpool in a playing area on the pitch which is never more than 25 meters. In the Klopp model, Wijnaldum isn’t so much the man who wins the ball back, but the man who ignites the fires. Lijnders: “Exactly. The team wins the ball, preferably as high up the pitch as possible. So Gini doesn’t play man to man, he is responsible for the covering of passing lines and he takes the initiative to push up and forward.”

Pepijn Lijnders and Jurgen Klopp

A good example, against West Ham. Fernandes wants to dribble forward with the ball and it’s Wijnaldum stepping up around the middle line to put pressure on the West Ham player. He has two options, go for the short pass or play a long ball. If he picks the short pass option, two or three Liverpool players will be ready to corner the West Ham player. He decides to play a long pass, hastily, which sails over everyone into the safe hands of Mignolet. The stats won’t show the work and contribution of Wijnaldum, but no one at Liverpool needs statistics to understand Wijnaldum’s value in the team.

But the minute he strolls into Hotel Huis ter Duin to join the Oranje squad, the value of the midfielder diminishes as Oranje lacks all these patterns. In the Premier League, he’s responsible for a zone and passing lines. In Oranje, he is responsible for a direct opponent. Lijnders thinks this is not necessarily a problem. “He is a top pro and an intelligent player. The only change for him, is to change his focus.”

Wijnaldum himself: “Klopp alway says: it’s not the best players that win the title. It’s not the best team that wins it, but the team with the best plan.”

And there is the problem. A plan, that is exactly what Oranje has been lacking since the World Cup 2014. Since Wijnaldum made the move to Liverpool, he only scored one goal for Oranje: against Liverpool. Pretty poor for a player whose strength is to penetrate the box at the right time. This strong suit of the midfielder is well hidden in Oranje.

Whenever Wijnaldum changes from red to orange, he shoots less, he is less often in the opponent’s box, he passess less and creates less opportunities. Lijnders: “That is such a waste. Gini is a quick passer. Always ready to press and ready to switch the play. But, when he has less options, like any player, he becomes predictable and loses his strength. He is such an amazing pass & move player, has eye for the forward pass and is very solid in possession. Jurgen Klopp has a lot of faith in him.”

Lijnders and Wijnaldum

Strootman, Memphis, Robben, they’re all the victim of the poor positioning game of the Dutch national team. The bad positioning results usually in square balls instead of depth. Robben is forced to dribble against multiple opponents. And the more the defenders play square, the easier it is for the opponent, even the weaker ones, to keep their shape.

Lijnders sees that Wijnaldum is at his best when he can trust his intuition in the turn-around situations at Liverpool. “We have a very tight organisation with Liverpool, with lots of movement around the ball. Add the talent of our players and we can give colour to the game in specific moments. This is where you need practice practice practice. To create the circumstances in which our talent can blossom. And that is exactly what Oranje needs. Speed is the result of movement. By having options. Through spaces being opened up. Timing. By picking the right spot to move into, there are more options for a player on the ball to pick the pass. Unpredictability is the result of movement. There is no easy way to do this. It takes practice practice practice. That is the only way.”

A very hopeful analysis and conclusion. When Oranje can start to build a new team with a solid plan, we will be able to see the Wijnaldum of Liverpool, the Memphis of Lyon, the Quincy of Spartak and the Dost of Sporting…


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Brave Oranje leaves sour taste….

Well, it’s over. No World Cup. Usually, qualifying for a  big tournament leaves a lot of potential for posts, but this new low we hit will also offer up heaps of opportunities for discussions… So expect more posts soon!

We will obviously honour the great Arjen Robben here (future posts) and we will analyse the sorry state of Dutch football too.

Some words on the Sweden game and the direct impact of the failure to qualify…

We were offered one last opportunity to do it. We had to score 7 goals versus Sweden. Apparently, Sweden scoring 8 versus Luxembourg was deemed “impossible” but three days later, Holland scoring 7 against Sweden was thought to be possible (by Dick Advocaat). The old sly fox didn’t come off too good out of these 5 games, I don’t think. But he was right the second time: it was possible to score 7, but sadly we didn’t really believe in it.

We “only” scored two in the first half, but for people who saw the game it was clear that we definitely could have scored four (Tete!). And when you go into half time with 4-0 on the board, surely 7-0 would have been possible!

Luck did leave us in this qualification series. It’s been mentioned before, but the disallowed goal vs Sweden in Match #1, the fumble by Strootman, the misjudgement by Stekelenburg vs France, the Lloris mistake vs Sweden, the absentees vs Bulgaria away, the tactical mistakes by Advocaat (France away, Bulgaria at home, Belarus away), it all was too much to overcome.

NL sweden


But, you do make your own luck and therefore also your own bad-luck. It seems we didn’t have the belief and the iron will to make it happen.

The first half vs Sweden was a positive to build on towards the future, but also left a very bitter taste. Why couldn’t the team play with this conviction and mentality away vs Bulgaria? Or away vs Luxembourg?

Many questions to be answered…

I do believe we have talked ourselves into a big depression in Holland. With the lack of talent of the level of Vaart/Sneijder/Van Persie/Robben it seems the whole football world was resigned to the fact we were not good enough anymore… This is a mistake. It’s not true. Yes, it’s true that we lack super talents and world class players, but we all know that you don’t need world class players to qualify. Does Sweden have a Sneijder or Robben? No. Does Iceland? No. Switzerland? No!

We could and should have qualified despite not having top notch talent.

We might not have won the world cup in Russia, but we should have been there at least.

Myth #1 – Holland doesn’t have the quality players

Well, this is simply not true. A cheap excuse for not qualifying. It’s true that we lack the talented generation this time around compared to the 1974, 1988, 1998 and 2010 tournaments, but we should compensate this with mentality, team tactics and work rate. Back in 2010, our defence copped a lot of criticism. This time around, it seems we have ample options for the last line (De Vrij, Van Dijk, Blind, Ake, De Ligt, Hoedt, Karsdorp, Kongolo, Janmaat, Tete) but maybe less so in midfield and upfront.


Nathan Ake and Karim Rekik

Myth #2 – Blind needed to leave, experienced success coach Advocaat is needed to rescue the nation

Well, Blind couldn’t be faulted for the result vs Sweden away. Holland didn’t do too badly vs France at home but failed miserably away to Bulgaria. The decision to sack Blind as a result was a knee-jerk decision. Made in panic. I do admit that Blind probably shouldn’t have been given the job in the first place, but with him in the role and on a journey with the group, sacking him was disruptive. Clearly, there was no successor, there was no plan B. The whole trajectory of replacing Blind was a public display of incompetence. Hans van Breukelen blundering through the process, with him lying about the Ten Cate appointment and the KNVB ending up having to plead with Advocaat to please take the role. There were no other options. Koeman said no. Ten Cate pulled out. Van Gaal wasn’t interested. Adriaanse wasn’t interested. Dick’s minimal objective was to win four games (Luxembourg, Belarus, Bulgaria, Sweden) and hopefully get a result vs France. But winning 4 and losing 1 would have still gotten us to Russia. We all though. Well, we did win 4 but didn’t score enough. And we did lose against France, but with too many goals conceded. Tactically, Advocaat’s approach left a lot to be desired. He didn’t do too badly, but he definitely didn’t make the most of it. The Bulgaria and Belarus games were simply not good enough. Lacking conviction, lacking a tactical plan, not enough tactical changes during the game, resulting in disappointing results. When Sweden beat France, it was clear that goal difference would be key and Dick failed to even realise this. The France away game being the absolute low, when we were 2-0 down with 12 minutes on the clock and no response from the bench. We conceded two more…

Dick now came out with quotes saying “We already lost the qualification before I started” and “Sweden is playing like a team in a firm and clear system. Holland should be doing this too”. WHAT THE FFFF??


I get sick of those sort of statements. We were still in it when Dick got appointed. We needed to concede less (France, Bulgaria and Belarus: that’s 4 goals too many!!) and maybe go for a draw vs France away? Why play 4-3-3 with Sneijder in midfield??? Stupidity.

And Holland should be playing a firm system in the future? What bullshit! Holland has been playing in a firm 4-3-3 all the time! And it’s Dick’s role to implement that system. That is what he was paid for. It’s as if the chef of a restaurant where 12 people died from food poisioning says “maybe the next chef should try bring in some more hygiene”. Pisses me off.

In hindsight, I think it’s clear that without the two conceded goals vs Bulgaria and Belarus and without the two late goals conceded vs France, we only needed to win 3-0 vs Sweden…. That was very possible.

Myth #3 – This is part of the cycle, we will be back on top soon!

No we won’t. It’s not about waiting for a new Robben or Sneijder to get up. The scene has changed a lot! Sheer talent is not enough. As Iceland and Sweden and other nations demonstrated, and as we can see week in week out in the big competitions, it’s not just about talent and skill. It’s also about physical strength, mental strength and tactical smarts. We need to quickly sort out our big issues in training intensity, in scouting, in youth development and coaches’ development to be able to compete. Just compare Frenkie de Jong (20 years old!) with Dele Alli (just turned 21) and you know enough. Frenkie looks like a kid. Dele looks and plays like a man. Frenkie is not a starter for Ajax, Dele is a starter for Spurs for 2 seasons already.

blind sweden

Daley, strong as central midfielder

So, until we have our act together (will take years of course) we need to quickly make some “tough” decisions to forge a team and a game plan that works in today’s football world and with our current players at hand. The developments in international football are quite clear: the role of the wingbacks, the role of the deep lying playmaker (Cesc, Matic, Pirlo, Vidal, Kroos), the role of the false #9. And in order to play a role internationally, it seems our clubs will need to – probably – lead the way. Bosz did it with Ajax, last season in Europe, and it worked. Gio and Feyenoord are experimenting with it (win over AZ without central striker) and I’m convinced Cocu is working on new tactics with PSV. Cocu is also abandoning the model with the static #9 (Luuk de Jong)  and is playing more in a 4-3-2-1 model with dynamic forwards (Lozano, Bergwijn, Locadia) to have more movement up front.

I was horrified to hear that Dick left the door open for the KNVB to appoint him as the new national team manager. We don’t need him. We don’t need the old guard anymore. We need new blood.

It’s key that the KNVB board of directors in conjunction with the new general manager (Eric Gudde) appoint a strong Technical Director soon. Fred Rutten would be my ideal candidate for the job. He ticks all the boxes. And with Rutten in place, the next step will be to appoint a young, astute national team manager. Someone like Joachim Low 12 years ago. Some people even think Low would be the right man for the job. I don’t think so. He would probably even laugh at the job (he gets paid 6 times what our NT manager gets), but a Dutch Low-type manager (the Low 12 years ago, I keep stressing) would be the right option. Erik ten Hag would be my candidate.


Fred Rutten

I would also check if Rene Meulensteen (ex Man United) would be interested in becoming part of the team, with a focus on player development and coach development maybe with someone like Wim Jonk.

The final step, we do need to have a man in charge who can overrule the club interests. It is high time we develop a competition where all the pro clubs can bring in their B-teams. At this point in time, clubs like Feyenoord do not have the option to have their Feyenoord 2 team play competitively. It’s a disgrace. And we also need national youth competitions where the top of the crop from the south can play weekly matches vs the youth of Ajax, Alkmaar, Groningen and Heerenveen.

Myth #4 – The Future is Bright

YES! This is no myth. It’s Truth #1. The future is bright. We do keep on developing players with vision and skills. But we need more than that. So the foundation is there, it’s the way we develop the talent that is in need of a thorough revolution.

In the past decades, every nation was keen to come to Holland and learn and listen. Today, they laugh at us. They don’t listen anymore. They know enough. And they’ve integrated our way of working with what they themselves did right already. So the Germans now develop players with great skill and vision, but they also have that iron mentality and physical strength. It’s time we start opening up and learn from what they (France, Belgium, Spain, Iceland, Germany) do well. And come down from our high horse and be humble and integrate the missing elements from the game into our protocols.


Frenkie de Jong

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The moment of truth for Oranje….

In 5 days we’ll know. Whether we’re out of the World Cup or whether we are still hanging in.

It’s been a while, since Oranje missed both an EC and a WC. Tension is rising and the Dutch media (and people) are edgy.

Dick Advocaat has not made the ironclad impression we are used of him. At PSV, his earlier stints at Oranje, the Sunderland escape, the Zenit successes… The headstrong and confident sly fox has been slipping up since taking over from the much maligned Blind and his current choices also result in frowns all around.

Against France, he failed to make defensive changes when we were 2-0 down and without a hope in the world. The search for a late goal resulted in two more goals conceded with the known impact on goal difference. After the match, it appeared as if Dick was unaware of the goal difference importance. His gamble to hope for a Van Persie moment of brilliance also didn’t work out, with the Fener striker out with a knee injury.

Against Bulgaria, with 25 minutes to go, again, Dick failed to make changes. This time, offensive changes were needed as every goal counted and we could have gone for a 5-1 win, for sure.

arjen dick

Surely, Dick is now fully aware that every goal scored counts, but after a courtship of Klaas Jan Huntelaar, the Ajax striker saw his name omitted from the squad. Dick didn’t believe in too many central striker and he opted for Janssen and Dost, with either Babel or Locadia as the pinch hitter. Babel deserves his call up for me, but Locadia only impressed once this season with his four goals vs an unlucky FC Utrecht.

And now Dost is sidelined thanks to a practice injury to the knee, Huntelaar would have been a great option B for the striker position. Too late.

I personally believe we have one defender too many (Veltman?) and we are one forward/midfielder short. Locadia won’t be the Oranje saviour. I would personally always selected Sneijder, if he’s fit. The fact that he hasn’t played for weeks… Against France, I would not have used Sneijder (but would have opted for a 4 man dynamic midfield of Vilhena/Van Ginkel/Klaassen type players. But against Belarus, surely, Sneijder could be of use for the last 25 minutes? The opponent getting tired, bring in Sneijder and let him play his passing game. His corner kicks and free-kicks will always be threatening. I’m convinced he doesn’t need weeks of match-play to hit a dead ball.

DOST knie

His leadership off the pitch will be missed too. He’s been our talisman for so long and Oranje’s true skipper.

Another player I’d like to see asap, is Frenkie de Jong. Maybe not as a starter, but this kid has something unique (like Sneijder). His first pass is always vertical and he has the balls to play with risk and pizzazz.

According to the media, Cillesen will start. Janmaat and Blind will be full backs and Hertha’s Karim Rekik and Virgil van Dijk are the central defenders. The midfield will consist of Vilhena, Propper and Wijnaldum, with Robben/Janssen/Babel up top. As you know, Strootman is out.

I can see this work. Robben and Babel will keep the central defenders busy allowing Janssen to roam. The full backs will provide the wide option, like Blind demonstrated versus Bulgaria and like Janmaat does where ever he plays.

Wijnaldum will play in a controlling way, like Vilhena, with timed runs into the box. Propper again, will play the false striker behind Janssen.

I believe a 0-4 win will be possible, but the circumstances aren’t great. The team lacks cohesion, confidence is brittle and we lack options (Dost, no Huntelaar, no Sneijder). And it’s cold in Belarus. Very cold.

If we score in the first 20 minutes, we can get to a 0-4 or better score, but if it remains 0-0 for a long time, we might have to keep the fingers crossed for a 0-1 win.

janssen francde

It’s tempting to believe that Luxembourg will contain Sweden (in Sweden) but it’s wishful thinking. Normally, Sweden will win this game with at least 3 goals difference. And don’t think France will slip up again. Won’t happen.

There is one thing I’m uncertain about. The rules are not that clear. Once the group games have been played, the results against the worst nation will be scrapped. Including the goals. If that is Belarus – which makes sense if Holland beats them with good numbers – the goals will be taken out of the equation. Sweden scored 8 goals vs Belarus. Which means we will have a better goal difference than Sweden, provided we beat Sweden coming Tuesday. Which is also not a cert, by the way.

But this does mean that we need to look at the different scenarios, because Luxembourg could also be the last in the group. We took 6 points from them, while Sweden drew against them. We will lose more points in this case.

I am not sure if this is all correct, so I’m open to your comments.

But even if we end up second in the group, we could well be the worst second of all. In which case, we won’t get a chance to go to the World Cup. Otherwise, we do get this play-off game and we’ll most likely get an opponent of strength (Italy for instance, or Portugal). Qualification is still a long way out.

robbe promes

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Sneijder, Robben and Van Dijk symbols of Oranje

While part of the attention in football land is going towards all the new signings, the Neymar transfer, Man United’s ambitions, Bayern’s poor performances and other irrelevant matters, the Dutch fans are following the non-news around a number of important players for Oranje. Sneijder, Van Persie, Janssen, Cillesen, Wijnaldum, Van Dijk…

Robin van Persie is very welcome in Rotterdam. Feyenoord would love to bring the gifted left footer back, in Dirk Kuyt style. Van Persie wouldn’t mind the role of mentor, in a Feyenoord that lost a lot of experience. Sure, they signed some exciting young talents, but with Elia, Kuyt, Karsdorp and Kongolo gone, quite some know-how left. Van Persie would be the ideal new leader of the team, in which only El Ahmadi and Brad Jones can be considered seniors. Feyenoord lost quite some goals too, with Kuyt and Elia and the low-scoring Feyenoord in the pre-season could do with some guile in the box. But Fener is keen to keep Van Persie in Turkey, and the former left winger does not have a “Kuyt-clause” enabling him to return.

Vpersie fener

Wesley Sneijder has another challenge. He is a free agent, but wants to play for LA United. Their season only starts in 2018 so Wes is looking for a good “in-between” club at level, to keep his Oranje spot secure. FC Utrecht, the team from his hometown rejected the courtship. Erik ten Hag is not keen to have a player for only half a season, let alone the wages pressure which come with Sneijder. For similar reasons, Ajax has stated it won’t need Sneijder’s services, what with the many midfield talents around. Nice might be the only club with some level that is keen to sign him on a one year deal. Sneijder is currently training privately.

With Ter Stege in Barcelona still on prolonged holidays, Cillesen has been impressing in the pre-season games for the Catalans, but when the German returns, Cillesen will most likely be relegated to the bench. Benfica is courting him to allow him playing time in the World Cup season ahead, but it’s unlikely Barca will let him go.

cillesen barca

In the meantime, Ruud Gullit is reminiscing about his career. He is not very active as yet as assistant coach. Apart from sharing his concerns re: the Oranje key players, he’s currently doing the rounds as a public speaker. The former Oranje captain, the only one to raise a trophy in the jersey, is comfortable in the spotlights. Former figure head, people magnet and eternal optimist. “I used to be known as the Black Tulip,” he quips. “Nowadays, I’m more like the Black ATM….” Referring to the alimony checks he’s paying monthly (four ex-wives). Ruud has been downsizing ever since his private issues, and even lives in a modest flat in Amsterdam. “I used to be on the top of the mountain, now I’m wandering below. And I like it. This life is better. I used to travel everywhere, but never saw a thing. I used to meet 1000s of people but never knew anyone. Now, every day I meet people, lovely, friendly, warm and interesting people and I can make a connection. I always get inspired meeting interesting people.” He’s the most iconic player we have, except for Cruyff and Van Hanegem. He was a living symbol of the 1980s. Reggae artist, anti-apartheid activist, a figure-head across the globe, the idol of a generation.

ruud 88

Van Basten loathed his fame and adoration, Gullit revels in it. In his home, he has quite some memorabilia. A small version of the European Cup, a picture with Nelson Mandela. He is all life, and loves telling anecdotes. “Did I tell you that story of Barry Hughes, at Sparta? Louis van Gaal was his captain and Van Gaal was already a semi-trainer. When they played NAC, they were behind at half time. Van Gaal was furious at half time and said to Hughes: “Coach! It’s a mess out there. You need to do something now!” And Hughes said: “You’re right son. You see it well. I’m subbing you!” And he smiles that big smile. He was always relaxed. Never a moment of stress. His team mate and room mate Carlo Ancelotti couldn’t sleep before a big match. Ruud would go to bed straight after dinner and snore the night away. “I’d say to him, Carlo! What the hell man, why stress out. We are going to play a football match tomorrow! There’s nothing better man!”

Despite the dreads, the reggae career, the friendship with Mandela and his anti apartheid stance, Ruud never felt black. He never felt to be from Suriname. “I’m from Amsterdam. I feel like someone from Amsterdam, not Suriname!” Ruud’s mum is white as can be. “I never experienced racism. I was a good player, that will have helped, yes, but even though I know racism exists, I never personally experienced it.”


Ruud’s open personality was not always his friend. He met many people who were out to “get” him. Or to take advantage of him. “I think I did deal with people who were out to screw me. But you know what? If I wasn’t who I was, I would never have met all the good people I met. I value that more than the loss I experienced by these bad people.”

Ruud has ongoing issues privately. His former Italian wife Cristina Pensa has recently put a claim in for all Ruud’s future earnings at the KNVB. Another chapter in a private life full of court cases and alimony obligations. Ruud is not happy with all that, as he wants to avoid “negative emotions”. “I was always most happy in tough times. It’s always a learning process, how do you deal with it. I am quite spiritual. I believe in fate. Not in coincidence. Complaining won’t help. I have a great life. I’m proud.”

It’s another 28 days until the key match vs France and Advocaat and Gullit still don’t know what their ideal squad will look like. Next Tuesday, the pair formally starts after summer reces, but Dick and Ruudje will have been working hard already trying to assess who will be part of that chapter. They have enjoyed watching all the pre-season games, from tournaments from the US to Hong Kong. “The clubs make it harder now. They don’t want to release their players. We will get our players on Monday before the match. Tuesday is the first real training day. Wednesday, we travel to France to play on Thursday. And on Sunday, we have Bulgaria. It’s not ideal. I know all nations suffer from this, we’re not alone, but it’s not ideal,” says Dick Advocaat.

dick hesje

Still, the team manager is not unhappy with some of his players. He saw Cillesen playing excellent against Real Madrid, while Stekelenburg at Everton also impressed. Wijnaldum picked up where he left off with Liverpool and Janssen seems sharp in the pre-season for Spurs. In Italy, De Vrij, Hoedt and Strootman play their games while Promes already found the net for Spartak. The move of Klaassen, Karsdorp and Kongolo will also please Big Dick. Kongolo started well in the Super Cup game against Paris St Germain but Rick Karsdorp is recovering from a knee operation. In Dick’s plans, a compact Oranje needs a playmaker Sneijder to release world class Arjen Robben. But Sneijder’s future is not sure, he’s not first choice at OGC Nice at the moment. And even Robben, our only star, is not fit yet and hasn’t really played a competitive game. And Robben seems key in the game plan vs France. Advocaat and Gullit saw the B-team of France play England of the pitch, recently. Coach Deschamp can field three equally strong teams with ample quality. What Holland can do against France, basically consists of the intelligence of Sneijder, the class of Robben and otherwise our mental strength and fighting mentality. Virgil van Dijk will be key in the latter aspects. But the tall defender, despite being coveted by all major EPL clubs, hasn’t played for six months now and trains individually, waiting for a transfer that might not even happen. So Sneijder, Robben and Van Dijk – key vs France – form the symbol of Oranje these days. Will they or won’t they show up?

Sneij Rob




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Weak Oranje does the job: secure 3 points

I knew the day had to come. The day that Memphis got (some of) his mojo back. It would have been unthinkable that a lad with so much talent would just waste away. Yesterday, Danny Blind needed him. And told him “Memphis, I need you to make a difference!”. And he did.

Earlier on, when Blind was questioned for selecting Depay, he said he trusted his talent. After the Luxembourg game, he added: “I’m not surprised by his turn today. He’s training well. He still has it. I think the difficult time at Man U has made him better.”

It was all about Robben’s return. The 32 year old super winger was missing in action for Oranje for a year (to the day). Our talisman was needed to turn Oranje’s self doubt into swagger. And he does and he did. Whether it was in interviews, press conferences or just that all important difficult look on his face when stepping out of the players’ bus. Robben brings professionalism. The Bayern man was alive in the first half and could have scored 2 or 3. That it was him to break open the score was not a surprise. Passing the ball with his gifted left foot past the goalie. Klaassen had tried it before, Sneijder had an attempt, it was crowded, hasty and nervous. But whenever Robben had the ball, it was all pure class.

arjen scoort lux

A little muscle twitch in the final stages of the first half, however, saw Robben walking off with a grimace on his face. The former Groningen man wanted to keep on going, but the Oranje medical staff advised against it. “Don’t take the risk!”. And he listened. Wesley Sneijder had a tough match too. He was struggling with the abysmal pitch and couldn’t put his stamp on the game. Danny Blind: “I felt the need to go play with two real wingers. Taking Robben off (Berghuis) was a disappointment for us and Arjen, but I wanted to bring Memphis for Wesley to have a better positioning on the field.”

So, the two veterans who were supposed to lead Oranje to success were subbed and two question marks were brought on. And it was Memphis in particular, who took the game by the hand foot. And head. As the little mercurial forward scored his first goal (Oranje’s second) with a C Ronaldo like header on a cross from his ManUnited buddy Daley Blind. The second Memphis goal was a free-kick. After many failed attempts to hit the target from a setpiece in the famous George Best jersey, he finally got it right in an Oranje shirt.

gini memphis

At that time, Luxembourg was already done for. The minions defended like..eh… lions and in particular their goalie had a field day, refusing the likes of Robben, Klaassen and Wijnaldum earlier in the game. The 0-1 was supposed to have come earlier, so Oranje could work on the goal difference. But the goalie and his ferocious defenders – aided by a horrible pitch – stopped Oranje from opening the flood gates. And when we finally got the 0-1, a bad judgement call by Joshua Brenet got Luxembourg on the score sheet. Stekelenburg was able to thwart Man City twice from the spot, but Maxime Chanot did the job: 1-1.

They key for Oranje was to win. And they did. We hoped to see more goals, more flair and more flow but the circumstances were not helping. A bad pitch, a mixed up line up, ferocious defending and a good goalie didn’t help. The Oranje performance was well below par, but with the three points in the bag, it gives some breathing space to the Oranje staff to try and get things right. And Arjen Robben will definitely be at hand to help.

During Holland – France in March, when he wasn’t playing, he was seen debating the tactics with the technical staff during the match. Against Belgium, when Holland was forced to play 5-3-2 with Wijnaldum playing right wing back, again, there was footage of Robben moving in to talk to Hoek and Blind about what was going on. Robben might be our playing captain/coach… He is also the man who reaches a top level whenever he’s fit and shows the confidence and aims for the level we fans are so longing for.

robben sneijder

Arjen Robben, after the match: “I’ll be honest with you, I was a bit shocked when I saw our level today. We were not good. Stray passes, not enough movement, bad decision making. Not what I’m used to and definitely not good enough. We will need to improve. A lot!”

There were mitigating circumstances of course. For starters, Luxembourg parking the bus. Secondly the pitch was dramatic. Thirdly, we played in a new line up yet again, with two debutants as well. I also believe that a goal in the first 15 minutes would have helped. Now, we scored late and 8 minutes later, Luxembourg got their penalty, lifting their spirit.

Joshua Brenet had mixed feelings. “I am happy with Memphis’ two goals. Otherwise I would have felt like shit. I’ll thank him for this. I don’t think it was a penalty though. It happened outside of the box. He didn’t it smartly. Ran across me and then slowed down so I would bump into him. Then he went down as if he was shot. The ref saw it differently. He said I pulled him down. That didn’t even happen! But that guy did it smartly and I was fooled.”

Bast mist luc

Bas Dost is another player with mixed feelings. The Sporting striker is known for his ferocious fighting mentality and self criticism: “Listen, I’m happy. Of course. This is a team sports and our team won. Great, but I would have wanted to do better. I really wanted to score and be important. I can do much better than this. But, sometimes the ball doesn’t get to you and you need to work for the team.”

Just like Luuk de Jong is not good enough for Oranje’s aspiring top level, the same applies for Bast Dost. He is just a good super sub. It’s surprising that Danny Blind still doesn’t want to use Robin van Persie in games like this. He’s smart, experienced and has the quality – like Robben – to decide games with one action. The return of Robben showed a similar approach by the Oranje players as we saw with Argentina-Brazil a couple of days ago. All balls on Robben! And with Argentina: all balls to Messi! Sneijder was isolated on that left wing and I think if we want to utilise Sneijder he should play on the #10 position. I can imagine Blind will play 5-3-2 or 4-5-1 vs France away, but against Bulgaria and teams like that, surely Sneijder can play as shadow striker behind Janssen?

oranje lux

Ramselaar was breath of fresh air. His movement, workrate and forward thinking is needed in this midfield. With Wijnaldum, Bruma and Van Dijk, he was the one of the positives.

Wijnaldum has become a real workhorse in his current role (just as with Liverpool), a long way from his trickster game when playing for Feyenoord as a dreadlocked Gullit wannabe. The spotlights are less on him now, but his role is invaluable. Daley Blind played a mediocre first half but with Memphis in front of him, the ManU player could combine more and penetrate. His cross was the assist for the 1-2 and he also put Memphis one v one with the Luxembourg goalie. Marten de Roon was watching Oranje vs Belgium in England, on the couch, but made his debut late in the Luxembourg game. Pretty proud to mention that he is the first player of my own old amateur club ASWH to reach Oranje! (Started at ASWH, left for Feyenoord youth and then Sparta Academy. The rest is history)

de roon

De Roon: “I got chills when the coach said I had to prepare to go on. It’s a dream come true. When I went to Feyenoord I hoped to reach the top. Some players go the direct route. I had to go via Sparta, Heerenveen, Atalanta and now Middlesbrough. I don’t care. I played 3 minutes in Oranje and I’m happy as can be. The coach did give me some homework. He said I need to be a bit more domineering. Asking for the ball, not just destroying and passing into others. He believes I can do much more in possession. I know this, he’s right. I will work on it. This experience is fantastic and I long for more.”

Danny Blind was realistic: “I know we didn’t play great, but the circumstances weren’t ideal. Missing around 10 players never helps. And Luxembourg has gotten better through the years. This is their best team ever. You don’t win 0-7 just like that anymore. I think we could have scored earlier and if you then score the 0-2 in the first half, you can play yourself to more in the second. But we didn’t take the chances and one mistake puts them back in the game. It has an effect. Luckily we did the business in the second half, and we have the 3 points we needed.”



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Oranje on record run vs Luxembourg

The Dutch need the three points against Luxembourg. Period. All the other story angles are fluff. There is a record to be had as well though. Oranje has won 9 times in a row from Cyprus and Hungary before and can do the same with Luxembourg now. We played each other 16 times in history. With 13 wins for the Orange Lions.  Twice, the Dukes won. In 1963 Luxembourg beat Holland in De Kuip, 0-1. The last victory they had over us. The last two games we played against them though, we only scored once in every game too. In the 2008 Euros qualifications, under Van Basten, we won at home thanks to a Mathijsen goal and in the home game, it was Danny Koevermans who got us the goal and famously, Edwin van der Sar even played for time in the home game, to get the needed win across the line.

Koevermans pre lux

Luxembourg is seen as a football minion but they managed to be despicable in this WC series. They lost against Bulgaria in injury time, only lost 1-0 at home vs Sweden and got the draw vs Belarus! Former Willem II and RKC Waalwijk striker Joachim already has 3 goals to his name.

Jeffrey Bruma remembers the name, vaguely. Different than Griezmann, Gameiro, or Berg and Guidetti. But still a danger. Is Bruma capable of keeping his concentration vs Luxembourg: “Well, this away game will be different than the France or Belgium fixtures of course. Now it’s us who need to make the play. But we’re still Oranje. We are obliged to beat Luxembourg and we will!”.

The Belgium press was clear, after the Holland – Belgium derby. If Belgium could get two players in their team from Holland, they’d pick Van Dijk and Bruma to replace their modest players at the back, Kabasele (Watford) and Ciman (Montreal Impact).

v dijk bruma pre lux

Van Dijk and Bruma turn into a fine pairing at the back. “Well, if Stefan de Vrij is fit, it will still be a battle for a spot,” says Bruma. “But I did play every game under this coach. But I believe in competition. We need to fight for our spot, and I want to make it hard for the team manager.”

The former Chelsea prospect has 24 caps now, but his debut was already back in 2010. Finally, he believes he can be a mainstay. “I came from far. I had to miss a couple of tournaments. Even with Young Oranje. But I will always fight to come back. Same with Wolfsburg. I had a weak start but competed and battled and I’m back at level. I know that mentality is the key.”

Bruma played 11 internationals with Van Dijk at his side and is comfortable. “We do have a good click, on and off the pitch. He’s in the EPL, I’m in the Bundesliga. We both are up against top strikers every week. Luxembourg might be a minion, but watch it. They do have players who are with Schalke 04, Gent, Olympique Lyon, Metz… The time that these guys couldn’t play is over. Joachim is not an amateur. But even without Janssen and Lens and Schaars… we’ve got Robben back. And when Robben is on the pitch, you feel more confident. And the opponent knows what time it is, you know what I mean. They’ll always fear him. He alone can decide matches.”

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Joel Veltman and Marten de Roon

Lens would most likely not have played against Luxembourg. Which is why the Fener winger opted to go for a full match vs Belgium, despite not being 100% fit after a hamstring scare. And after  1 hour of play, the former PSV man got injured again. With the Turkish club furious for the risk Danny Blind took on him. There’s even talk that Blind ignored Dick Advocaat’s wishes to get back at him for leaving Blind high and dry as assistant coach, when he chose the money over loyalty. Danny Blind: “I heard these accusations too and it’s rubbish. I spoke to Dick and he told me Lens had an old knee irritation from his Sunderland days. I told him I wanted to use Lens vs Belgium and not against Luxembourg, and Dick was like “fine”.”

lens pre lux

Arjen Robben is happy to play against Luxembourg. It’s almost exactly one year since his last cap for Oranje. Robben: “I recently heard I have missed almost as many games due to injury as I have played. Incredible. But I’m happy to be fit and hope to stay fit for a long time. Every time I get injured I have to dig deep to come back, but when I do return, it feels like I’ve never been away.” The Bayern star shows confidence with his feet and lips: “It’s not about winning vs Luxembourg for me. It’s about winning with lots of goals. It will help us to create more confidence and moral support from the fans. It was painful to see so many empty spots in the Arena vs Belgium. We need to do better and against Luxembourg we can not allow them to breath even. Grab ‘m by the throat and keep on working them.” When asked if a 10-0 was possible, Robben laughed. “Well, those days are over. Not because we are not capable but the football dwarfs are not that easy to beat anymore. The gap between top and second tier is getting smaller and smaller.”

What does remain a big difference between top and second tier is the quality of the pitches. The Luxembourg pitch was used for a rugby match mere days ago and looks like a potato field. Robben: “We knew this and went a day early to check it out. We’ll be fine.”

virgil pre lux

Danny Blind: “We know the pitch isn’t great, but that will never be an excuse. You simply adapt. You can’t keep on wishing things to be different. It is how it is and we deal with it. We like a pitch that allows for nice passing play, but if it’s not like that, we can’t hide behind that. We’ll deal with it.”

Daley Blind will most likely play his 41st cap for Oranje and will join his dad Danny on the list of most capped internationals. Danny Blind made his Oranje debut against Luxembourg, interestingly enough. Other players to make their debut against the minions are Clarence Seedorf and Pierre van Hooijdonk. Marvin Zeegelaar could well be another one. For Sneijder, there is also a nice record up for grabs. Two actually. He played 125 caps for Oranje and is on his way to beat record international Van der Sar (with 130 caps). Should Wes score against Luxembourg, this would be the 25th nation he will score against. Only Huntelaar and Van Persie are ahead of him on this list.

blind 2 prelux

In the final presser before the game, Bind said he’d return to 4-3-3 for the Luxembourg game. “They will let us have the ball. We will dominate and attack and we’ll do so with three offensive midfielders.” The coach hasn’t released the line up but it seems that Dost will play for Janssen, Robben for Lens and Ramselaar will make his full debut in place of Schaars. It’s also highly likely that the weak Veltman will be replaced by Joshua Brenet, who is a much more attacking option on the flank.

Should Holland win vs Luxembourg (oooh… exciting!) it will jump to the 2nd spot in the group. Blind: “It was disappointing that Sweden couldn’t hold on to the 1-1.  We would have had a good view on the lead in the group. But, whatever France does, we simply need to win our games. And we’re all very aware.”

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