The Dutch School – the ongoing debate

A topic that has been discussed here many times. And will be discussed many times too. In essence, that is what this blog is about, isn’t it? And under Van Marwijk’s reign, we debated this, as we all felt Bert’s way of playing – no matter how successful – was not paying hommage to the Clockwork Orange of yesteryear.

Bert taught Oranje to play business like. He brought grit to the team. Or better still: he brought “Team” to the team… Suddenly, egos of the likes of Van der Vaart, Van Persie, Sneijder, Robben were able to play together. And with destroyers like De Jong and professionals like Van Bronckhorst and Van Bommel, Bert was able to bring the winning ways back to Oranje. And truth be told, in the qualification series, we played attacking football too. Only at the World Cup, we got stuck in playing “German”…

Although I will never forget the quarter finals against Brazil, for sure. In what some will call a mediocre series of games, that was a real high point.

So, the Dutch school suffered under Van Marwijk. Left footed right wingers? Slow build up from the back? Limited Boulahrouz playing right back? Two holding mids?

But with good old LVG on deck, people could be fooled into thinking that Louis would bring the Dutch School back.

The players enjoyed putting a hungry mouse into Van Gaal’s underpants

But has he? Will he?

Profile descriptions? Robin van Persie can only play deep central striker? Nigel de Jong centrally against Andorra? Four defenders against Andorra?

Louis van Gaal, by the way, claims to be told by the Federation to play with one holding mid. “But, if we don’t get the results, I am supposed to adapt. And if you look at the Belgium game… We lost because we made too many personal mistakes. No system can prevent that.”

Van Gaal doesn’t forget the personal elements in this whole discussion. “I was able to play dominant football with Ajax in 1995, because my wingers (Overmars and Finidi) were able to play like midfielders if we lost possession, and like wingers if we had possession. If players lack that fitness, you can’t play like this.”

This was also the reason why Nigel de Jong, Rafa van der Vaart, Greg van der Wiel and Ibi Afellay were left out of the squad for Belgium. Van Gaal deemed them not fit enough.

Frank de Boer

Let’s see what Frank de Boer (Ajax), Ronald Koeman (Feyenoord), Gertjan Verbeek (AZ) and Rene Meulensteen (Manchester United) have to say about it.

Does Dutch Football still have a unique position in the world?

Koeman: “The Dutch school is very much alive. Dutch players are being developed really well and scouts from all over the world are scavenging on Dutch youth parks. Our way of thinking about football is pretty specific. We are pro-active, we don’t play what I call response-football. Look at Borussia Dortmund-Ajax for the CL recently. They have more quality on every position and probably twice the money Ajax has, but they allow Ajax the ball. At their own turf!”

De Boer: I was a typical example of a Dutch School defender. I was a left winger in the youth system and being transformed to defender. In our case, we have 60% ball possession per game, so defenders need to know what to do when they have the ball.Typical Dutch beliefs. Defenders need to be able to do more than defending.”

Gertjan Verbeek: “It’s genetics too. We are an adventurous and entrepreneurial people. It’s how we are. Loud mouths too. Have an opinion about everything. The only concern I have is the age at which top talents leave the country. Their development stops too early. Adam Maher is a top talent. But he still have years of learning to do. If he’d now decide to make a big money movie to – say – Benfica, he’d suddenly lose his development. Parents are being worked on by agents… It’s not a good development. Altidore told me. He left for Europe at a young age. Started in Spain. Couldn’t impress. Was loaned out to Turkey, to England. Didn’t work. When he doesn’t score, they sell him. They don’t analyse it, work with him… He told me that AZ is the first club that focuses on his strong points, his weak points… And then I hear from Bas Dost what he is going through at Wolfsburg. The first weeks he was sick every day from all the running and working. If Magath would work in Holland, at least five players would put their hands up and say: Coach! Why the hell are we doing this??? And then you better have a good story to tell…”

Always happy go lucky Gertjan Verbeek

Meulensteen: “As I’m working abroad, I have a different view. If you want to be unique, you need to be able to see it in the results too. Otherwise you can be unique by dressing up as clowns too. And the results of Dutch clubs in Europe are…non existent. The last success was 10 years ago. The results of the Dutch national team have shielded that a bit. We do have our own identity. We do develop lots of very creative players. Unique players. Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, Van der Vaart and coming up a couple of wonderful youngsters too. But Holland now only develops great attacking players, while in the past Holland also delivered superb defenders: Krol, Suurbier, Israel, Hulshof, Mansveld, Spelbos, Jaap Stam, Rijkaard, De Boer, Koeman, Blind… Where are these guys??”

Is playing with one holding mid and a left footed left winger and a right footed right winger, is that the Dutch School?

De Boer: “No, for me it’s wanting the ball, wanting to dominate, wanting to attack. Whether you play 4-2-4 or 4-4-2 or 4-3-3… That depends on the players at hand. AC Milan played Dutch style football with 4-4-2. Wasn’t bad to look at. And Dutch teams and players have this naturally. We played AA Gent once, with Ajax and it’s was in Belgium. We were 0-1 up and they didn’t attack us. They didn’t press. Blind and I could pass the ball hundreds of times to each other, they simply didn’t put pressure on us at all. It’s culture, isn’t it? We had a Brazilian national team striker at Ajax once. Marcio Santos. Great player. Lovely bloke. But whenever we lost the ball, he’d track back. Without thinking. It took a long time to explain to him, that he needed to commence the forward pressure, immediately.”

Ronald Koeman couldn’t find another employer and had to settle for Feyenoord…

Koeman: “That is a system question and that depends totally on the material at hand. If you don’t have great wingers, but you have great midfielders, you adjust to these players at hand. They key objective is winning. The strategy then is: have the ball, dominate, attack. The tactics are depending on the players.”

Verbeek: “I think you need to find the right system allowing you to use your best quality players. I think it’s a disgrace that Huntelaar can’t play if Van Persie plays. No one in his right mind would put Huntelaar on the bench. It is ridiculous. It’s all about improvising and using what is at hand. Look at Michels in 1974, using Haan as defender. And knowing that his team would push up, wanting a goalie with great footballing skills. That is Dutch School. Or take Johan Cruyff, with this tactical prowess. Using Stanley Brard as left winger at Feyenoord instead of Vermeulen.Cruyff played central striker, but dropped to midfield to distribute the play and allow midfielders like Neeskens or a winger like Rep to penetrate that space… That is the Dutch school. Tactical smarts supported by technical brilliance.”

Meulensteen: “I think those “system debates” are utter bollocks. I heard that Van Persie can only play as the central striker? What an insult! It’s bullshit, and Van Persie proves that every week in Man United, creating as much as scoring. He can play everywhere! That is how we use him. He drifts to the wing, to midfield… That is not Dutch school but it’s being rigid. The system is supposed to serve your best players. If this system in Oranje doesn’t allow Huntelaar and Van Persie together in one team, than the system sucks.”

What is the future of the Dutch School?

De Boer: “We will never lose this mentality. The Dutch supporters simply won’t allow it. Do you think we get applause if we win a game after scoring 1-0 and then playing the game out? They’d throw chairs at us…”

Rene Meulensteen and his boss Sir Alex

Koeman: “I think it will only go better in the future. The financial limitations make that clubs will become more creative. The 1987 revolution Johan Cruyff started at Ajax, which resulted in Van Gaal’s success team in the early 90s was the result of financial stress. And at Feyenoord, great prospects come through, because there is no money to buy. Somehow, this is a wonderful stimulator.”

Verbeek: “Funny that Koeman should say this. They sell Vlaar and El Ahmadi and suddenly Feyenoord signs Pelle and Verhoek and some other mediocre midfielders while they could have allowed the youth to play more…. Hmmmm…. Funnily enough, some clubs make totally wrong decisions like this. I heard some clubs have scrapped the youth prospect team to save money. Wrong!! Now there is no platform for the ones close to the big team. Would I sign for such a club, as a talent? Of course not! Clubs need a long term strategy.”

Meulensteen: “The thing is, Holland has a lot of benefits over other countries. We have a flat country, so pretty good amateur fields for the youth. And the clubs are relatively close so the best talents will play each other often. This is different in for instance, France. The best talents of Marseille hardly ever play the top talents of Paris or Strassbourg. On the other hand, amateur clubs in Holland are folding. And the focus should change too… the youth, they dribble a lot while in the seniors, it is all pass and move. At Barcelona, Messi gets to dribble. Whenever. While Xavi, Iniesta and Pique are the only other ones who can dribble with the ball. The rest needs to pass constantly. This is law. We have the know-how in Holland to develop like this. We need to use the Wiel Coerver method in the youth and deploy the Johan Cruyff philosophy when they get older. Those are the two key visionaries Holland brought forth. Coerver and Cruyff. And both have been systematically ignored by the Dutch Football Federation.”

Willem van Hanegem, Wiel Coerver and Johan Cruyff

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  1. This Article is AMAZING , Jan 🙂 . KEEP IT UP , love this kind of articles about dutch tactics and dutch football school .

    I like de boer quote a lot : “We will never lose this mentality. The Dutch supporters simply won’t allow it. Do you think we get applause if we win a game after scoring 1-0 and then playing the game out? They’d throw chairs at us…”

    I’m Sure we will win a trophy very soon . we almost never had a problem with talents , it has been always about luck and Mentality .

    and as Verbeek said , I hope the new dutch generation learns from the previous one .

    we had a very good young team with plenty of talents in 2007 , and they won the u-21 EC , but look at them now ..

    drenthe , babel , rigters , donk and Zuiverloon . All of them left the Eredivisie after the tournament and now they can’t get to the Oranje squad .
    Castignos , Bruma and Van Aanholt and Ola john are the same case .

    I hope the new guns ” Maher , Clasie , Strootman , De vrij , fer and Indi ” stay till they become mature enough .

    Kuyt is perfect example imo .

  2. What are great read… Thanks Jan!!

    I too have concerns like Verbeek about players moving abroad to early I think they need to halt this as much as possible.

  3. So far we have success in qualification. Let’s see if we can do well in friendly vs better opponents like Germany and Italy. Don’t forget Bert has very good record in qualification, then almost win the WC. He failed Euro. LVG has to prove at the WC tournament. He has better club record than Bert but at national level he has not achieved anything yet.
    LVG plays 4-3-3 but still 2 holding midfields. He just tweaks a bit. In these days it is difficult to play 4-3-3 with one holding midfield, unless the whole team moves together as one unit, no gap, and all players pressure opponents when losing ball control, and start passing and moving when they have the ball. Ajax and other Dutch clubs use to be able to compete in Europe. Now, not anymore. When Dutch club can compete in CL then perhaps we have better hope that a Dutch club can win Europa or CL.
    I do not worry that Oranje lack of talents. The only worry is how talents are developed and given time to develop. “We need to use the Wiel Coerver method in the youth and deploy the Johan Cruyff philosophy when they get older. Those are the two key visionaries Holland brought forth. Coerver and Cruyff. And both have been systematically ignored by the Dutch Football Federation.”
    Not everyone agrees I guess but it helps Barca and Spain, didn’t it?

  4. Well Cruyff hasn’t been ignored but his demands perhaps are just too much…but maybe that’s what it costs to succeed.

    According to Robben is not retiring.

  5. Excellent article, Jan–as always. It is interesting to read the comments from the various managers/coaches, and how they respond to your question. They are not united in their opinions, and each, I think, has a piece of the reality of the situation. Muelensteen is especially insightful.

    Here is how I see the “now” of Dutch football.

    1. van Gaal is a good national team coach. It is fun to see the return of the 4-3-3, and the enthusiasm of the players for it.

    2. Young players are being developed, and that is critical.

    3. The Dutch are not deep in talent. The “good old days” of the ’70s and ’90s will not return until more and better talent are developed–if even available.

    4. The World Cup of 2010 was an aberration for the Dutch, a tournament in which their reach did exceed their grasp (and talent!), yet they almost won it all! However, 2012 was also an aberration–they are not that poor at this sport! It was partly a return to reality, and partly a lack of effort and enthusiasm. Too many players started to believe their own press releases, and the coach was “uncovered” for the mediocre skill which he has and had.

    5.For now, “we” have a world class coach, a disorganized KNVB and a group of merely above average professionals who will compete well against average opponents but will not compete successfully against the better teams of the world. The Dutch will return to prominence if they can find one or two players with exceptional talent, at least four excellent defenders (easier to create than strikers and midfielders) and a commitment to traditional Dutch football. I look forward to that day!

    1. I appreciate your candor and realism. But I would argue that Robben and Van Persie are truly exceptional talents. Injury prone true, but when healthy two of the more dynamic players in the world.

      I would also argue that Huntelaar, Sneijder, and Van der Vaart are more than just above average players. Their accomplishments throughout their careers and the fact that they are all still under 30 seems to indicate that there is more in the tank from all of them.

  6. great article. Love how Verbeek calls out Koeman for buying mediocre players to stand in the way of young talents, when it was being forced into using the youngsters that made Feyenoord do so well.

  7. good article. I have to agree, I think RvP can work on the left wing and he does drop deep. If Alex Fergusson can make RvP and Rooney work, I can’t see why Hunter-RvP don’t work.

    1. ajax man, looking soo promising, counter attack goal man city 1-0 sucks

      yes very interesting the way these guys think, we must stay focused on long term futures, with economic woes of the european union amongst other things outside of “dutch clubs” control. We can be in store for a shift of balance back to belgium, holland and the richer nations before the founding of the european union if rumours are to be true of a split in currencies. All dutch teams can do is focus on one thing, youth, youth players are a great commodity,

  8. 3-1 !!!!!!!!!!!!!! ajax ajax, ajax!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    first we hit manchester city with some good ole dutch kickboxing by siem de jong, then moisander hit them with a molotov cocktail, and now eriksen provides some danish dynamite!

  9. anybody know total cost of Ajax team vs total cost of Man City team ? .? ………….!

    also, anybody else feel Meulesteen has become a bit anti-dutch after all these years in England ?

    1. It would have been better for Ajax for RM to win because it would put us at only one point behind second, with that team being Dortmund, whereas now second place is three points ahead of us and the team we have to catch is Real Madrid.

  10. Great article Jan!

    I’m afraid that I have to agree with some of the other posters here and say that working in England too long tends to soften one’s brain. Probably he just knows that his boss is reading all of Jan’s posts for new ideas…. 🙂

    Results are great, but if you must go miles into debt or in the case of Spain borrow so much money from your banks that the government needs to bail them out – then sorry – you’ve way over-paid for your team. Today’s result only reinforces my conviction that the best teams are trained – they develop together, and the core of the best teams is always home-grown talent.

    At this point it seems impossible for Ajax to make it out of the group – but wow – wouldn’t it be wonderful if they did!!


  11. Great article Jan, keep up the good work as always.
    For me, Dutch School is/has been in decline for two main reasons, one is the lack of capital/money available to Dutch clubs (cliche but true in all aspects). Current football consist of two groups, big spenders Vs Small spenders (club staying true to their ideology e.g Arsenal), but the latter is losing a lot of ground and history is not enough to be on par with the big spenders.
    I don’t blame small clubs entirely, I think UEFA and even FIFA as governing bodies have their fair share of the blame (I know their is a new system coming up and hope it will bring some change.
    And finally, Spain and especially Pep Guardiola (I think) have somewhat degraded Dutch Football. Its dutch flavor but at a higher level. Barcelona is an Ajax but with huge purchasing power, it will be hard for dutch clubs to catch up. And for those talking about the huge debts that the Spanish clubs have to endure, deficit is normal in all businesses even the US government suffer deficits. But as a business entity, Madrid and Barcelona will continue to be intact regardless of crisis. If they enter into bankruptcy, then a huge businessman (internally or externally) will just scoop in and buy the club. (case closed) Can’t say the same for Dutch clubs.
    Closing, AJAX AMSTERDAM!!!! they really kicked some *ss yesterday

    1. I don’t think any intervention is good for football. by making rules that so far have proven to not work, they will have to keep making new rules to try and stop the teams from doing what they have been doing. Smaller teams need to stop complaining so much and find ways to be successful

      In Major League Baseball (USA) complaints are made constantly about the new york yankees and their 200 million payroll, and yet in the world series (final) the two teams there are 80 and 70 million in payroll less than what the yankees paid, and one of baseballs worse teams this year the boston red sox paid out 170 million, furthermore another team (oakland athletics) with the second to last payroll had one of the better seasons, made the playoffs, and beat out a rival (los angeles angels)who was paying 100 million more than them. My team The miami Marlins won the world series with one of the lowest payrolls in 2003, and this year with a 118 million payroll finished dead last in baseball.

      Money doesn’t make success, developing youth, and finding talent, even hidden gems makes you successful. And finding ways to win over the other teams. The real issue is with referees, and the choice to not use video replay on important issues, With all that money uefa couldn’t afford to put some referees who are watching situations arise and in 30 seconds can make a decision real quick, i wouldn’t mind 5 to 6 minutes of added time if i knew that the penalty kicks are legitimate, and the offside was really offside or that the goal be disallowed for being offside

  12. Does Dutch football still have a unique place in World Football you ask?

    Anyone see Ajax absolutely play Man City out of Amsterdam today? It was brilliant. The Dutch league may now be a feeder league because they don’t have the financial means to keep up with the big leagues but they still produce world class talent and their systems/philosophies are carried out by their young talent. That was such a great match to watch! The only problem is most of the side isn’t Dutch.

    Another example of Dutch football still being alive and well is greatest club side especially the last 5 years FC Barcelona. Without Dutch football and Cruyff taking it to Catalunya neither Barca or Spain would have acheived the success they have.

    Nobody wanted Oranje to switch to 4-3-3 more than me but I respect BvM a lot more for not doing it now (although I don’t agree with his old-timer selection process). In order for us to play the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 you have to produce certain role players. We don’t have a Koeman, De Boer, Staam, Puyol, Pique, Busquets that we can depend on in the back. Players who can break up opposition attack and quickly transition into our own. This takes away our freedom. Next we don’t have a Xavi/Pirlo in midfield. Sneijder and VdV were able to play in the middle of the park but now are hellbent on playing #10 behind a striker so they can score themselves. Strootman/Clasie/Maher are still very young and can be molded and look the closest to to this type of play maker position but the way they play for their club shows that Strootman/Clasie may just be the next v.Bommel and Maher is the next Sneijder/VdV. Great players yes of course! But not players to play a 4-3-3 with.

    Sorry long post I know!!
    I have a deep admiration and love for the Dutch philosophy of football but as Verbeek said you play with the system that best suits your players. For now the 4-3-2-1 is it. But we don’t have to be boring and “German”. We can still play with pace and flare as long as we put the most creative players in those positions. And with this formation you play with a v.Nistelrooy (Huntelaar) finisher not a AMF/Winger-Forward (v.Persie)! So tired of seeing that.

    1. Food for thought. I think that’s what BVM saw in Willems that made him to rush him onto the NT: the potential to transition with such pace to attack from the back.

      Bruno has certainly had his moments on the NT. We’re all hoping beyond all hope that Douglas becomes the kind of player you’re talking about.

      Midfield? We really have loads of potential, and a coach who gets it. And there’s also Leroy Fer…

      4-2-3-1 still makes a lot of sense for WCFinals, if not qualifiers. It’s all about defense.

  13. Problem with Hunter is he’s not very useful during the buildup so it feels like you’re playing one less of a player during your attack up until you reach the penalty area which is where he is most dangerous. RVP on the otherhand can do it all. But i do agree that RVP and Hunter can play together – RVP with a bergkamp type role.

    1. @Jalphino,hunter is a bit of static type striker..but rooney is a runner and also a good finisher.thats why robin-roony works.If kuyt had the skills of Rooney or fabergas,he would have had a combination of the century with Robin…i am pessimistic over this hunter-robin idea..may be with more running striker it is possible..

  14. Been following you for a long time mate – Think this one is up there with the best if not THE Best article you have done !! Love it ! My Arsenal got beat by 2 Dutchies and the commentator goes HUNTELAAAAAAHHHH then AFELLAAAAAHHH – But the Ajax game more than made up for it.

  15. My beloved Ajax great win!! Let’s hope Twente & PSV can make it a dutch hatrick tonight in the Europa league and if its not to much to ask Sporting win with van Wolfswinkel and Schaars goal, Monchengladbach win with a de Jong goal, kuyt double for Fenerbache, Newcastle win 1-0 Krul clean sheet and Anita with the winner… That sounds about right!!

  16. Dick Advocaat asked if LvG is a warmer person to be around. “Louis will be happy to hear that. I find it bullshit. We’re not so different.”
    LOL 😀

  17. What do you think of Siem de jong , guys ?
    he was very good yesterday , scored a nice goal .
    I was very optimistic about him few seasons ago ” wow , the new philip cocu ” , but it seems he didn’t develop as expected .
    is he Oranje material ?

    1. yeah man remember he was playing central striker, now he’s in midfield and he makes these smart runs, he’s for sure oranje material, i don’t see him starting eleven though, not yet, but he could be.

  18. congratulations, Jan – i have also been following longtime (2006?) your articles, read almost all of them and consider this one is probably the best.

    congratulations to ajax. it was really great

  19. Siem de Jong, van Rhijn, and Vermeer were the three best players for Ajax last night. de Jong was the most active I’ve seen him in midfeild, and I loved how the Man City defenders had no idea what to do with him and Eriksen constantly taking turns making runs into the striker position.

  20. Terrific win for Ajax. Van Rhijn was MoM in my book (followed closely by Vermeer, Eriksen, De Jong). Playing Eriksen nominally as the forward striker was brilliant strategy from FDB, straight from Cruyff/Guardiola…Didn’t Cruyff once say something along the lines of playing the English is easy. They always play with two big strong central defenders, so you play a small quick CF (think himself, Messi) a little bit withdrawn, and you can pull them out of position all game long…Hats off to all of Ajax though, their movement, passing and willingness to run was a pleasure to watch.

  21. nicely done Jan. Interesting quotes. I never get tired of discussing this system. It’s truly the most exiting football in the world. Maybe what FDB is doing now at Ajax can result them winning the CL in 4-5 years time.

  22. Siem de Jong was awesome yesterday! His vision to distribute the ball and runs and shots. He has improved a lot since the last time I saw him. Hardworking and humble he is very likable.

    Van Rhijn was great too. Very exciting youngster.

    I do find Vermeer to be responsible for the first goal. Seemed like he thought it will go wide and so he pulled back his outstretching arm.

    1. Vermeer probably could have saved that first one, but he did keep us in the game with some immense saves. IMO he’s one of the best reflex keepers there is

  23. alll the good work Ajax did last night is erased by a shambolic performance from PSV against Aik Stockholm and a harsh result for Twente losing 3-0 to Levante after being raped twice by the referee

  24. @Rami: It’s not erased for Ajax’ fans 😛

    But Yes Rami how can PSV draw Aik Stockholm!?!?!?!?!!!. Why was Narsingh on the bench? I think he has demonstrated he is great I really don’t know what Advocaat is thinking…I hope it’s just for rotation.

  25. It’s been said already but how much I’d love if teams like Ajax could keep its star players.

    Imagine AJAX: Vermaelen, Heitinga, Wiel, Van Rhijn, Anita, Ibra, Vaart, Sneijder, Nigel, Suarez, Babel, Emanuelson, Stekelenburg, Maxwell, etc…





    1. FdB said it like Cruyff – Kompany and Leskot would EAT our set strikers so forget that plan.So we played with 3 floating strikers and eriksen was the messi (cruyff). Man City lost the plot totally and must say slick passing by Ajax in tight situation must have bedazzled them too. Yes Siem was the best that night – but they were ALL the best. Rio Ferdinand waxed lyrical over van Rhijn. and altho not outstanding Babel again worked his ass off -on and off the ball. he still has a LOT of pace but I still put him well behind Narshing – Lens – Elia on Oranje list.

      1. Agree on Babel, worked very hard, but lost some guts he used to have. He had the space to take the ball down the wing numerous time but he decided not to. Hope he improves with time and games at Ajax

    1. I don’t mind that he doesn’t come to Ajax. I like a competitive league which is why I don’t care that Ajax isn’t going out of it’s way to buy all the Dutch talents like PSV does. The reason so many Dutch players leave the league so early is that it’s not competitive enough for them. van der Wiel stayed around and he got lazy because he got board.

    1. He played very solid. In the first half a bit lost,it took him some time to get going and once he did he made some good runs. He rarely lost the ball,you could see his good vision in glimpses and he almost scored a goal in the second half-his shot was blocked and went near the post.

      1. Thank you Petrovic , great news 🙂 .
        Hopefully john will regain his spot in jong Oranje , and who knows , he may make it into the Oranje squad .

        For me he is a real player , more talented than Narsingh imo .

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