Yes, this weekend it will most likely happen, after 18 years of drought. Sure, in 2002 we got the UEFA Cup and we won some national cups, but the title…the best of the country, access to Champions League… A historic year for Feyenoord for sure!
But, we do need to open this post with some words for Ajax. They have seen it all suddenly start to gel together. A bit late in the season giving Feyenoord the lead from day 1 up until the end. But Bosz had to take its time and is laying the foundation for another football miracle. Maybe… Fingers crossed. Who’d expected a Dutch club to reach the finals in a European competition? Earlier this year even, experts on telly and in the Voetbal International magazine repeated their mantra: “We will never have a European champion ever anymore!”. Well, they could well be wrong. In a demonstration of joyful, adventurous football, Ajax brushed aside the likes of Standard Luik, Celta de Vigo, Schalke 04 and hopefully Olympique Lyon as well. So bring on Man United!!
It might well be an even better result than Feyenoord’s title! Although the away game in Lyon might well be more difficult than we all hope…
But we’re allowed to dream, right? Ajax and Feyenoord in the Champions League next season! You’d almost want to ask Ajax to lose their next domestic match just to make sure Feyenoord gets in the CL and Holland can build up their points internationally…
And interestingly, it seems the National Team is in dire straits, mostly due to screw ups at KNVB level, but the clubs seem to have contrarian performance levels. PSV’s season was not great, but only last season they impressed at CL level (and won the title to boot). With youngsters like Karsdorp, Berghuis, Vilhena, Kongolo, Kluivert, Van de Beek, De Ligt, Bergwijn, Ayoub, Brenet, Hendrix, Tete and many others, our future looks quite bright, thank you very much. Add the internationals like Depay, Hoedt, Ake, De Roon and we don’t have too many reasons to be depressed.
Feyenoord deserves their party on the Coolsingel in Rotterdam, where a crowd of 100,000+ people will cheer the champions again. Last season, a dress rehearsal was executed with the National Cup (the pinecone) as the trophy, this year it will be a Shield.
Here is why:
The majority (75%) of clubs winning the winter title will go on and win the actual title.
Experience from Kopenhagen
Kasper Dolberg might well be the new superstar striker in Holland with his stoic and ice cool play under pressure. Only 18 years old and destined for greatness. “He is a tremendous prospect,” says his compatriate Nicolai Jorgensen. He is not a prospect. He’s a man, 2 meters tall almost. And he has a string of titles behind him already. “I wasn’t here for those 18 years, so I don’t know what happened. But I’ve learned that if you’re not Bayern Munich, or PSG, you need to fight every match to get the result. And the foundation you lay before the winter. Go into the winterbreak with a lead, makes all the difference. It doesn’t need to be beautiful, but it needs to be strong. When you play bad, you still can and need to win.”
In the season 2001/2002, Feyenoord won the UEFA Cup after having to exit the CL competition. Van Hooijdonk quipped: “This is a good thing. We will never win the CL but the UEFA Cup….”. He copped criticism for those comments. Pierre wasn’t motivated enough. But he was right. Feyenoord was able to win the UEFA Cup. Sometimes, not having to deal with midweek European games can have an advantage. Feyenoord’s exit from the Europa League after beating Man United might have been a blessing.
Ajax’ fields a team with an average age of 21 years. Exciting! But also inconsistent. It’s the norm in Holland, where Utrecht, AZ, Twente and other clubs use youth to build on. ADO Den Haag is the only team “older” than Feyenoord but the experience of Brad Jones, Dirk Kuyt and Karim El Ahmadi proved to be pivotal.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst won a prize in his first season. Finishing third and winning the cup would be regarded as a top performance for any coach, let alone a newbie. And Gio had to deal with a losing streak of seven games, a period he survived, partly thanks to Dick Advocaat. There is no shame in that. He’ll win the title in his second season which starts a nice series maybe for the former Barca star. The CL title next season? Any coach who is responsible for a season with the most goals scored and the least conceded in the history of the club deserves utmost respect.
“It took too long, it will never happen anymore”
Contrarian Co Adriaanse always used this particular statement, when confronted with bad odds for his team. “If it has taken so very long, it just means it’s just around the corner… Statistically, the chance of it happening will increase, not decrease.” AZ and Twente won the title recently, so surely Feyenoord can do it.
You win the title in Deventer
You win the title against the small clubs. And there are more and more small clubs in Holland. Feyenoord took four points against the two major rivals. They can win against any Dutch opponent. Feyenoord lost against Ajax, but that can happen. They also lost against relegated Go Ahead Eagles from Deventer. This clearly shows that Feyenoord’s only real opponent which they need to overcome, is themselves.
“It starts with belief,” is what Kuyt said when he returned to Feyenoord. Kuyt felt lonely at times, last season. But still, he stood on the balcony with the national cup. When he shows the shield this season to the fans, he’ll go down in history as the man who helped Feyenoord believe in itself again. Kuyt didn’t drop in quality this season. It is the rest of the team that made a step up. And Kuyt is annoyed when he doesn’t play, but he’s also very happy inside to see players like Toornstra stepping up and rising above their usual level. Gio, Elia and Kuyt almost won the World Cup only 6 years ago. These three know, you can only win as a team.
Feyenoord does not depend on one player. Kuyt doesn’t need to play. Vermeer can be injured for a year. Van Beek can be absent for a season. And if Jorgensen doesn’t score and Kuyt doesn’t play, Toornstra or Vilhena or Elia will find the net. Hell, even El Ahmadi scores goals this season. And if it doesn’t work with Van der Heijden or Botteghin, Michiel Kramer is brought on to force a winner in the dying minutes.
Just like in 1993 and 1999 this Feyenoord is clearly a team of mates. When Tonny Vilhena’s mum died, the team had difficulty focusing on promptly lost their next competition match. No coincidence.
We probably haven’t seen the best of Feyenoord. Elia and Berghuis have not played together that often, as they both suffered from little knocks and injuries. When they both swing, anything can happen. Away vs AZ in Alkmaar, both players were present and showed how powerful they can be with their specific qualities.
Feyenoord looks German at times. You only’ve won against them when you can see them drive off with the players’ bus. The number of times Feyenoord overturned a losing scoreline can’t be counted on one hand. They can get knocked down, but they get up again! It’s an un-Dutch thing and something the other clubs and particularly the NT might take some samples of….
Usually the Brazilian players are there to impress, to swoon and to entice. Neres now at Ajax, Romario at PSV, Neymar at Barca, Coutinho at Liverpool… Matches you win thanks to forwards, but titles and tournaments are won by the defenders. And Feyenoord started to move up the ladder when Eric Botteghin was a starter. The most undervalued cog in the machine.
Feyenoord can even get better when awareness about their capabilities grows. Toornstra: “I’ve seen many players in my time, but in this team at Feyenoord there is no cocky behaviour, no ego, no arrogance. But we do have that feeling of “We are Feyenoord! We are invincible!”. When we won the cup we said “and now the title” and we led since day 1 in the Eredivisie and are still on top.”
The Goal keeper
You win the title thanks to the goal scorers but definitely also thanks to the goalie. Every home is built on a foundation stone. The UEFA picked Brad Jones as the goal keeper of the Europa League group stages. He has been around. Watched the big lads do it from the dressing room at Anfield, playing with Alonso, Suarez, Gerard and…Kuyt. He keeps Hahn and Vermeer out of the starting line up, two goalies who’d probably be starters at any other club in Holland.
Feyenoord season tix distribution heatmap of the Netherlands
The media, the experts, the officials, the fans….
Usually the media try to approach football from a neutral stance. Sure, Sjaak Swart wants Ajax to win everything. Van Hanegem and Boskamp want Feyenoord to win everything. But all the usually more objective pundits support Feyenoord this season. “They deserve it!”. Even the head honchos at the KNVB – much to Ajax’ chagrin! – have expressed to “be happy for Feyenoord to win it”. Johan Derksen predicted it months ago already and the fans…well the fans… the biggest club in the country has The Legion behind them. 35,000 Feyenoord fans traveling to an away game in Arnhem. Where do you see that? The support of the media and the many supporters will carry Feyenoord to the title.
The biggest cynic to ever play for Feyenoord and who coached the club later, Amsterdam born Rinus Israel, finally sees the glass as half full. “It might just happen this season…”.
Results from the past do not guarantee any result for the future