In 1606 the Dutch vessel the Duijfken contained the first Europeans to set eyes on the continent of Australia. Over the next 100 or so years other Dutch mariners would accidentally bump into the western coast of Australia on the way to their colony of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). These mariners never thought to colonise Australia and instead left that to the British. So even though Australia was referred to as New Holland for a while the culture of the land was very much Anglo. Hence as Australia grew as a nation and a football playing nation the predominant influence was the British culture & methodology. Australia’s football cultures was based on the British way and for years and years Australia played to a very English system for very little return – one World Cup appearance in 1974.
Fast forward to 2005 and the Australian National Football team – the Socceroos – were still carrying the scars of past qualification campaigns under a British system. Back then billionaire property tycoon Frank Lowy took charge of the FFA and decided that it was qualification for the 2006 World Cup or bust. He then sent out his considerable resources to find a man that could lead Australia past 32 years of qualification heartache and into the World Cup. That man that was Guus Hiddink (pictured above) who combined his PSV role with that of managing the Socceroos. We all know the rest; Australia beats Uruguay in a play off to make the World Cup and then performs admiringly in Germany to make the 2nd round before narrowly losing to Italy. Australia fell in love with ‘Aussie Gus’ and so began the ‘Oranjefication’ of football in Australia.
Guus left after the World Cup but his legacy was his Assistant’s Rob Baan & Henk Duut who stayed on with the FFA and oversaw a revolution in the Australian system. Suddenly the British system was out and the Dutch way was in. They developed a new national curriculum, advocated adopting a default 433 style for all Aussie teams and shipped in any two-bit Dutch coach that wanted to come Down Under. Even at grassroots level the five & six year olds started playing ‘Small Sided Football’ in line with their Dutch counterparts and we became New Holland all over again. Another Dutchman, Pim Verbeek, also guided Australia to the 2010 World Cup although his style could only be referred to as ‘anti-Dutch’.
Those in Holland started to cotton onto this and after the wave of Dutch coaches coming down ended the next wave was Dutch players coming to play in the all new, all shiny A-League. Since its exception in 2006 the A-League has welcomed 17 Dutch players amongst its 10 clubs. This number in itself isn’t that impressive but when you look at that other great football frontier – the MLS – it’s only had 12 Dutch players despite starting a full decade earlier than the A-League. That being said let’s take a look at some of the hits and misses of Dutchies playing in the A-League
Maceo Rigters – Rigters made a name for himself with the Dutch Under-21 side that won the 2007 UEFA U/21 Championships and made a big money move to Blackburn on the back of this tournament. Several years later he made a much trumpeted arrival to Gold Coast United who themselves were a flashy side from the glitter strip. Rigters unfortunately looked like he spent too much time sampling the great night life on offer on the Gold Coast and after playing 1 season with them was never seen on a football pitch again.
Marcel Meeuwis – After a decade playing in the Dutch and German leagues Meeuwis decided for a new adventure and played the last part of last season with Melbourne Heart. Unfortunately his adventure was short-lived and after playing only 6 games for the club his contract wasn’t renewed.
Andwele Slory – Another one who was much heralded at Youth level and who earned a big move to Feyenoord at a young age, Slory eventually made his way to Adelaide Utd. He played 11 largely anonymous games for the Reds before deciding that he had no further passion for football and retired.
Stef Nijland – Much in the same light as Rigters and Slory, Nijland was a former child prodigy who signed young for PSV and whom big things were expected. His career since has been a litany of loan moves, the most recent of which was with the Brisbane Roar (a club which itself has Dutch migrant roots). Rather than bringing his Eredivisie skills to the A-League Nijland was largely used as a substitute and had 10 uneventful appearances for Brisbane before returning to Holland.
Luckily there have been more hits than misses as the following list highlights:
Viktor Sikora – Sikora was, at the time, the best credentialed Dutch player to come to Australia having won 6 full caps in Oranje. He had 3 good seasons with Perth Glory and ended up playing more than 25 games and was a good contributor for the team before injuries eventually caught up with him.
Bobby Petta – a former Celtic legend, Petta joined Adelaide Utd in 2006 and became a mainstay for the side. He then became the first Dutchman to play for 2 A-League sides after a short stint at Sydney FC in 2009.
Sergio van Dijk – although Sergio is more Indonesian than Dutch these days, he did make a name of himself initially in Holland. van Dijk scored 50 goals in the A-League for first Brisbane Roar and then Adelaide Utd before scooting off to Indonesia.
Youssouf Hersi – Hersi’s early career prospects were blighted by injury and hence he didn’t quite live up to his potential. However a move to the newly founded Western Sydney Wanderers last season has revitalised Hersi who was one of the key players for his side in their fairytale run to the Premiership. Also made the end of season A-League All Stars side
Patrick Zwaanswijk – The consummate professional Zwaanswijk eventually moved to the Central Coast Mariners in 2010 to have one last adventure before retiring. After starring in his first season with the Mariners he decided to stay around and 87 games and 11 goals later he is a club legend after scoring the winning goal in last season’s Grand Final. Now retired, Zwaanswijk has joined the coaching staff at the Mariners.
This season we will see the following Dutchmen in action in the A-League:
Marcel Seip – Central Coast Mariners
Rob Wielaert – Melbourne Heart
Orlando Engelaar – Melbourne Heart
Youssouf Hersi – Western Sydney Wanderers
Pascal Bosschaart – Sydney FC
There’s a few more rumoured to be on their way Down Under as well which will see the continuation of the Oranjefication of football in Australia.
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