The Ideological Problems in Dutch Football

So, just over a year after finishing third at the World Cup in Brazil, the Dutch national side have failed to even make the play offs for Euro 2016, finishing ahead of only Latvia and Kazakhstan in their group.

The team have been a shambles ever since Guus Hiddink took over from Louis Van Gaal after the World Cup in the summer of 2014, and changed from Van Gaal’s 5-3-2 to a “traditional Dutch” 4-3-3.

Things arguably got even worse when he was replaced by Danny Blind, who managed to take the side out of the play off places, giving them no chance whatsoever of qualification. Despite the constant mistakes throughout the qualification campaign, both managers as well as the KNVB insisted that the Dutch have to play attractive, attacking football, and this has led to the national team’s demise writes Fin Crebolder.

The Netherlands’ two best World Cup performances since the ‘Totaal Voetbal’ side of the 70’s have come in 2010 and 2014. The Oranje finished second and third respectively at these World Cups, and it’s no coincidence that the two most successful teams the nation has seen in a very long time both did achieved this by taking a more pragmatic approach in terms of style. It’s no secret that at both of these tournaments, the Oranje squad was not particularly strong, and both Bert van Marwijk and Van Gaal acknowledged and addressed this.

In 2010, Van Marwijk set his team up in a structured 4-2-3-1, with Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel sitting in front of and protecting a relatively weak backline, never venturing forward and allowing Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to work their magic going forward.

This was very effective, but not hugely popular in The Netherlands, with many complaining about the aggressive style of Van Bommel and De Jong, who committed many fouls, particularly in the final against Spain.

Due to the unpopularity of the style, the KNVB requested that Van Marwijk played more attractive football, and in an attempt to do so, the World Cup runners up crashed out in the group stages of Euro 2012, although other factors also caused this.

In 2014, promising midfielder Kevin Strootman was ruled out of the World Cup finals through injury and Van Gaal, seeing that his absence left the midfield too unbalanced and the defence too unprotected, changed from a 4-3-3 to a counter-attacking 5-3-2 for the World Cup, adding an extra centre back to the defence and putting Arjen Robben up front with Van Persie.

This proved highly successful, with the formation producing a stunning 5-1 victory over Spain in the opening game. Although the team were never quite as scintillating again, they managed to finish 3rd due to Arjen Robben’s quite incredible form and some more excellent tactical decisions by Van Gaal. However, the KNVB clearly weren’t satisfied by this style of play, and chose Guus Hiddink over the excellent Ronald Koeman to replace Van Gaal as the former vowed to make the team play the “Dutch school” style of football again. The rest is history.

Whilst these pragmatic approaches did have their drawbacks, such as the current generation gap being created partly due to Van Marwijk’s approach that failed to introduce youngsters into the national team, the fact is that they created two of the most successful Dutch teams ever. However, the KNVB have managed to neglect this completely and continue to insist on the national team playing a traditional and Dutch attacking 4-3-3.

This insistence stems from fond memories of the Dutch side of the 70’s, with Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff revolutionising Dutch football and creating a legacy and style that both clubs in Holland and the national team strive to follow. It’s all well and good sticking to your nation’s traditional philosophy by trying to play beautiful football, but the current squad are not good enough to do this and still get results. In their (rather depressing) attempts to play Totaal Voetbal, they have instead achieved totaal failure.

There is an age old question in football; What is better, a beautiful loss or an ugly victory? The Dutch have traditionally preferred the latter, and whilst I agree with this, with the current squad the Dutch have two options: An ugly loss or an ugly win? That’s a no brainer right? Bruno Martins-Indi is not the next Ronald Koeman, Gini Wijnaldum is not the next Clarence Seedorf and Bas Dost is, and I can’t emphasise this enough, most definitely NOT the next Marco Van Basten. Yes, this is a shame, but the nation needs to accept it and accept that compromises must be made to find a way to be successful with this squad. As a matter of fact, Louis Van Gaal has already found a way to be successful with it, and the KNVB rejected the man who could continue and build on this success, in Ronald Koeman.

The Dutch need to stop living in the past and allow the 1970’s to be a beautiful memory for the time being. Ajax have retired the iconic number 14 of Johan Cruyff rather than run the risk of Yaya Sanogo playing in it.

Most filmmakers do not write a sequel to a truly great movie, instead leaving it be for the world to re-watch and enjoy. Artists don’t attempt to re-paint the Mona Lisa and risk tainting a great and iconic image, but instead simply admire it’s beauty.

I love Totaal Voetbal as much as the next Dutch fan, and I have no doubt that it’ll one day return in all it’s glory, but until then, we must compromise, make do with what is available to us, and wait for that fateful day.


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