Louis van Gaal has almost exactly one more year to prep his squad for the World Cup. Will the No. 5 of the FIFA Ranking have a chance in high heaven to win the World Cup? How strong is this Oranje.
A wonderful VI Magazine analysis, added with a splash of Jan insights.
Van Gaal is an optimistic man, normally. Who will always see chances for his team. His team is the absolute leader in the current Group D of qualifications, hasn’t dropped a point and is practically certain to go to Brazil.
But the same Louis van Gaal says his team is not yet good enough to go for the title. The ambition announced by the KNVB is to finish in the top 4 at the World Cup. One year into the qualifications, Van Gaal claims this is too ambitious and considers talking to the KNVB about this. “I would be a surprise if we win it. I don’t think we will. I can mention eight nations with better odds.”
Let’s analyse the squad and see where we stand.
– Creativity, the ability to take opponents on one on one
These players are the big magnets. The players for whom fans pay the hefty price for a ticket. Clubs open their war chest to sign these lads. The Big Guns. Examples are Messi, C Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Reus, Balotelli, Iniesta, Cavani, Suarez, Bale… These are the lads who can make the difference at the highest level, under the most pressure, in the smallest of spaces. Holland has always had players like this. Cruyff, Rensenbrink, Bergkamp, Van Basten, Roy, Vanenburg, Ronald de Boer… We have demonstrated in the qualification games that we have a number of players who can do it at that level. The Narsinghs, Schakens, Mahers… But can they do it at the highest level? Doubt is justified.
We know Arjen Robben can. He belongs in the list above. Robben, injury prone, somewhat older… The only one at world class level. The afore mentioned Narsingh and players like Elia, John, Maher….they might have a good day… But they will also have a bad day…. That is part of their development. Even players like Neymar and Reus can’t bring it every game (yet).
Apart from Robben, we have Robin van Persie, who does not have that one-on-one dribble skill like Robben or Messi, but he definitely brings a lot of creativity in the box. Robben and Van Persie. That is the score on this topic.
Sneijder’s backheel vs China
– Goal scoring
We scored 20 goals in six games. Only three nations in Europe have done better: Bosnia Herzegowena, Germany and England. Top nations like Spain, France, Portugal and Belgium have more difficulty scoring. The Dutch goals were made by Van Persie (5), Lens (4), Van der Vaart (4), Martins Indi (2), Schaken (2), Huntelaar (2) and Narsingh (1). Siem de Jong, Robben and Sneijder added some friendly goals to it. A good wide range of goal scorers and we have goal scoring capabilities in attack, midfield and defence. Statistically it can be shown that Oranje creates a good number of opportunities on top. And we always did. The Dutch develop pretty good strikers and we had several generations with amazing forwards ( Cruyff/Van Dijk/Rep/Jan Mulder, Van Basten/Kieft/Bosman, Kluivert/Nistelrooy/Van Hooydonck, etc), but what do all the stats mean against nations like Hungary, Estonia and Andorra? Can we do it against the top nations. This year, we had three real tests: Belgium, Germany and Italy. In these three games we scored three goals and we conceded five. We have a phenomenon in Van Persie (we need to make sure he stays fit), a box killer in Huntelaar and players hovering around central striker position who can score goals but sometimes run cold ( Robben, Vaart, Sneijder, Siem de Jong, Maher). Bas Dost, Van Wolfswinkel and Luuk de Jong can still develop into goalscoring machines at the higher levels they now are, but it seems Louis should invest a bit more in his relationship with Huntelaar.
– Position play
Oranje demonstrated the perfect positioning play resulting in a goal in the last game of the season, against China. It’s the 66th minute when Sneijder repossesses the ball. He finds Van Persie. The striker dribbles a bit and passes to left winger Robben, who pulls the ball back on the coming man, Sneijder, who scores nicely with a backheel. This goal had class, smarts and all elements of a good cooperative team. Quick passing, good running, no egotistical moves. Effective and efficient. And Oranje showed many goals like this in the last year. Our team does not depend on one tactic or on set pieces. it is clear that Van Gaal’s work with positioning play has paid off. He has managed to play more pass-and-move while introducing more and more new players. Where Van Marwijk relied on two strong defensive mids and put emphasis on defensive skills over build up skills, Van Gaal seems to switch Nigel de Jong for a more football player type like De Guzman or Clasie. Whenever Oranje has possession, we have so many tactically smart players on the pitch (Van Persie, Sneijder, Van der Vaart, De Guzman) that we are almost always able to create a man-more situation. Even against strong opponents. In South Africa, in 2010, it was visible already against Brazil. In the first half, we played with De Jong as holding mid and we couldn’t make the play. In the second half, Van der Vaart came on and Oranje got the upperhand. Same with the game this season against Germany, early in the campaign. Oranje was nervous and a bit afraid. We didn’t do well. But against vice Euro champ Italy, later in the season, we demonstrated our gogme, our wits and our prowess. It’s not all perfect yet. Against China, against 10 men, it took until Sneijder came on to allow the ball to run smoothly through the ranks.
Narsing, John and Maher. The new breed…
– Depth / Speed
The ability to penetrate behind the back four of an opponent. Every top team has at least one player with that skill. Spurs has Bale and Lennon. Real Madrid has C Ronaldo. Barca has Dani Alves, Pedro and Messi. Bayern has Robben, Ribery and Muller. Dortmund has Reus. The big Rondo, where players pass and move the ball swiftly until one of the ten field players can make the run. It takes timing, it takes speed, and it takes a player (at least one) to play the pass.
Oranje has Robben and Lens. Narsingh has the quality too, but is still an uncertainty. From midfield, the running man (Strootman/Van Ginkel/Fer) should be doing it and from the back only Daryl Janmaat/ Van Rhijn have the ability.
Whenever Oranje plays with Sneijder/Vaart/Maher, this ability is less apparent as these players want the ball in their feet. On the other hand, these three are all capable of giving the killer pass, as is Van Persie, De Guzman or Clasie. It seems the development of Fer (Norwich), Van Ginkel (Chelsea) and Strootman (Roma) will be key to give Oranje that edge.
It has to be said that your back four has not excelled in giving that killer pass. Heitinga and Vlaar demonstrated a good pass at Eredivisie level but have yet to convince at the highest level. Willems has the guts to play it, Blind has the vision to play it and hopefully BMI and De Vrij the skills. But we have yet to witness it.
Robin van Persie and Huntelaar can both be seen as specialists in the air. Huntelaar is more the Kieft/Houtman header. Excellent timing, courage and strong muscles. Speaking of courage, who can forget the header against England. Where Klaasjan gave another meaning to the expression “eating dirt”. Robin van Persie is more of the Van Basten style header. Van Persie heads the ball like he plays football with his left. With class, with pizzazz and with vision. Van Persie can place a ball with his head like most others can with their foot. We saw him score pretty amazing header goals this season.
Van der Vaart, Robben and Sneijder all scored important header goals (Vaart at Spurs, the other two at the World Cup vs Brazil and Uruguay) but can’t be seen as experts. Jeremain Lens even got word from Van Gaal that he should be working on his heading skills. And he immediately scored a freak header from outside the box. Both the De Jong bros are strong headers, with Siem having added value in the way he senses where to be when the ball comes. An uncanny sixth sense for position. Van Wolfswinkel and Dost are not typically good headers, and neither is Maher. We do have aerial threats from midfield in Leroy Fer and Marco van Ginkel. The former being a real specialist. Strong jumper, good timing and tremendous courage. Van Ginkel is a strong athlete as well, but technically not a great header of the ball. Strootman, equally tall, is a remarkably weak header however. The two full backs are weak in the air, but the center backs (Heitinga, Vlaar, Martins Indi and De Vrij) are all pretty solid in the air.
The young and the new: RVP, Blind and Janmaat
– Ball winners / toughness / will to win
During the WC 2010 people criticised the two defensive mids De Jong and Van Bommel but when you ask players, you will always here the same : they love playing with Nigel and Mark. And they hate playing against them. And their role in 2010s Oranje was vital. They were the lock on the door and kept the team afloat when it didn’t flow. And the reality is, during a major tournament there is always at least one bad game. Every strong nation has players like these, to hold the fort. Spain has Xabi Alonso and Busquets. Brazil has Gustavo anD Paulinho. Germany has Schweinsteiger nand Khedira. Argentina has Gago and Mascherano. In Holland, Bommel and De Jong are absent. Van Bommel retired, De Jong has a long-term injury. De Guzman is now the man of choise for Van Gaal but his strength is build up. Not the destroyer role. Strootman, Clasie, Fer can all play on that position but none of them seem to have the grit of the two guards we use to have. In the Eredivisie, even Van Ginkel, Maher and Afellay played those roles but at the international level they would be too light.
In Van Gaal’s philosophy, taken from the Total Football text book, the whole team will need to be able to repossess the ball, Barca style. Gone are the days in which Sneijder/Van der Vaart could observe how Bommel/De Jong chased the ball. Tactical smart, will to win and physical fitness are the three players called up to replace Mark and Nigel.
– Tactical Discipline
Jupp Heynckes said recently that the biggest strength of his Bayern was their unity. Gone were the days of Robben and Ribery being the stars while the rest of the team did the work. Everyone does the work: even the Robbery couple. It was exactly this discipline that got Oranje in the WC2010 finals and the same lack of discipline that got us egg on our face in 2012. Does the current Oranje have “it”. The problem is: we can’t tell until we are tested. And we have not really been tested in a real match yet. Taking a look at Jong Oranje in Israel, it is clear to see how hard it will be for the youngsters to step up. We played nice matches against Germany and Russia when the circumstanves were good. We have a good spell against Italy, but when the Azuri scored, our spirit vanished. Van Gaal’s influx of debutants and youngsters will have affected the “team building” process. His captain-policy was a bit of a mishit (Sneijder and Kuyt both lost their standing this summer). Both Sneijder and Kuyt responded with great disappointment on that fact. The list of players that might have felt put down by the Team Manager grows. Van Persie was the first to be told he wouldn’t start, quickly switching roles with Huntelaar, who now must feel abandoned. Van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong, Ibi Afellay, Maarten Stekelenburg. This is quite a gamble. Sneijder and Stekelenburg could well bounce back but for Sneijder and Huntelaar it might be too late. It’s almost as if experience is a dirty word, since 2012. But Israel 2013 has taught us that youth isn’t everything. As for tactical smarts, Dutch players are universally admired for their vision and coaching and practice in Holland is always tactical. Young players like Blind, Clasie, Fer and Maher seem to be able to read the game and take the opportunities presented.
“Louis leave the gangsta rappin’ to me, ok bro?”
– Defensive Headers
Oranje only conceded two goals. Spain and Belgium are as tight. Only Switzerland (vaults) and Russia (gulags) do better with only one goal conceded. Holland is well organised when losing the ball, but with the young and experienced back four and the fact that both De Vrij and Martins Indi lack the ruthlessness of Vidic, Terry and Silva, to name three, it is logical for Van Gaal to add some midfield length to the mix. Janmaat and Blind are not natural headers of the ball. Against opponenents with a strong airforce, Van Gaal might pick Van Ginkel or Fer over Clasie/De Guzman, purely to support the last line of defence. Being developed purely in Holland, it is clear that the current defenders lack some grit. Martins Indi being exposed in Israel (as was Van der Hoorn, now at Ajax) and De Vrij was humiliated a couple of times in the Eredivisie even. Janmaat and Blind like to find the footballing solution. Pieters might add some power to the back four, as could Vlaar. The latter misses the footballing skills and the speed of execution – maybe – but his physical power is an asset. Heitinga can’t be ruled out either. A good header of the ball, but in need of a new challenge.
– World Class Goalies
Germany has Neuer. Brazil has Julio Cesar. Italy has Buffon and Spain has Casillas (and De Gea and Reina). Holland doesn’t even have a number one… Stekelenburg lost his spot (after a tremendous WC2010 and a poor EC2012 and a poor season at Roma). He might do a “Sar”. Edwin van de Sar drowned at Juve, made a comeback via Fulham and became one of the greatest. In top form Stekelenburg is world class. At the moment, Van Gaal is mixing it up. Krul had a go until his injury. The latter had an abysmal season with his club, while Vorm and Vermeer have class but it is not yet World Class.
– The Coaching Staff
Van Gaal has everything one needs to be a Top Coach. Experience, ambition, tactical smarts, communication skills (towards the players that is), a modern method (video analysis) and loyal assistants. Blind has been around and is a walking football encyclopedia while Kluivert is seen as a top coach in development. The latter has a great report with the players. But there are some weaknesses. Van Gaal’s relationship with the media is strained at the best of times. He tends to use players as pawns. Youngsters don’t mind too much, but the likes of Van Persie/Robben/Sneijder don’t like to be manipulated. In the past Van Gaal’s ego has forced him to make stupid tactical decisions ( Reiziger as left back, bringing 2 extra strikers vs Portugal when 0-2 up) and his track record as a club coach shows he can’t work anywhere longer than one season without ending up in drama. The man’s will to become a success on the World Cup Stage could be a blessing for us, it could also be a curse.
Van Gaal said a month ago that he saw eight other candidates with better options to with the title in Brazil. He was most likely referring to Spain, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Italy and maybe even Columbia and Belgium… He will also see England and France as outsiders. Van Gaal is a realist. He assesses Oranje’s strength well. We do have tremendous weapons, but also some vulnerabilities. We have one year to work on those, although the onus is less on Van Gaal and mostly on the question marks in the squad to develop well. In summary: the Feyenoord back four + Clasie, Daley Blind, Leroy Fer, Kevin Strootman, Marco van Ginkel and the goalies.