Continued from Part-3
David Winner’s book on Dutch football is aptly titled – “Brilliant Orange: The neurotic genius of Dutch football”. This is the modern land of Joga Bonito. The land of daffodils, the land of windmills, and the land of total football.
Total Football, the Dutch trademark..
Ever since Rinuus Michel revolutionized modern football, Holland has been the torch bearers of beautiful football. They have approached games with a mentality to play well; results have been a secondary agenda.
Total football’s basic idea was how each player would perform his role to perfection. It was a team game in it’s entirety. When going on attack, the Dutch would look to exploit the open spaces as much as possible, playing the ball in all directions, stretching the opponents defence and their midfield. The exact opposite thing was done when they were not in possession – they stayed as close as possible to an opponent attacker – squeezing the space, as much as possible.
From right: Johan Neeskens, Cryuff & Johnny Rep
This can be widely considered as the nascent stage of pressing football, but while the AC Milan or Watford teams used pressing as a defensive tactic, Holland and Ajax used it for offensive purposes. This is what made Dutch teams so attractive.
Rise & fall of the golden generation of late 80s:
The Dutch have a long history of struggling together; they fought against nature to reclaim their land from sea. It is this social mentality of binding together for work that influenced their play. Rinuus Michel couldn’t land a world cup with his Total Football team of 70s, but he had built up an exciting team by the late ’80s. Ajax, possibly the best producer of youth players in the world, played a big part in this.
Koeman scores a penalty against West Germany in Euro 88 semi-final
The team that won Euro’88 was not as attractive as Cryuff’s team, but they were more effective. Leading from the front was striker Marco van Basten. If he was not slowed down by chronic injuries, van Basten might have turned out to be the greatest striker of all times. His club record reads 218 goals in 280 games. He top scored for Holland in Euro’88, scoring a memorable goal in the final. Backing van Basten was Ruud Gulit – a no-nonsense striker. Centre-backs Ronald Koeman and Frank Rjikaard played high up the field, supplying the attackers. Koeman was arguably the first defender who was famous for his set-piece delivery.
Heavily tipped for the 1990 World Cup title, the European Champions made a meal out of their group league games, drawing all three. Second round saw the renewal of one of the bitterest rivalries in world football – Holland versus West Germany. In an ill-tempered match full of controversy, the Germans took the spoils. Gullit and Rudi Voeller were sent off after a shameful spitting incident, which in a way summed up Dutch football. They are talented, skilled and probably a better team than their opponents, but they rarely win trophies because of their arrogance and lack of unity. In every World Cup or Euro, the Oranje start off well, but invariably, squad tension develops that destroys the team spirit. The Dutch are also poor penalty takers; another reason for their knock-outs.
From left: Gullit, van Basten, Rjikaard, in AC Milan jersey
In Euro’92, another Dutch player rose to the occasion. Being strong and skillful, this guy played as a support striker. His finishing was as good as anyone and his through balls were delightful. His composure earned him the nickname of “Ice Man”; he was Dennis Bergkamp. Holland avenged their loss to Germany in the World Cup’90, in this Euro, beating them 3-1. However, penalties came back to haunt them, as after an even match with Denmark, they lost out in semi-finals when van Basten missed his spot kick.
The team in USA’94 was a team in transition. The ‘Old Guards’ of 1988 needed to be replaced, but not enough young players were available. Holland didn’t impress in the group stage and lost to Belgium. In the knock-out rounds, their form took off. Veteran Rjikaard led an exciting team. The de Boer brothers – Ronald and Frank – made intelligent runs. They were supported by a fleet-footed and quick-witted winger Marc Overmars. Dennis Bergkamp took on the goal-scoring duties up front.
They saw off a gallant Irish side and came up against Brazil. Taking advantage of a slow Ronald Koeman, Brazil raced to a 2-0 lead in the 2nd half. Bergkamp, who hit a header against the crosspiece in the first half, created a goal out of nothing. Taking a long throw he dribbled past three Brazilian defenders and followed it up with a cool finish. Aaron Winter made it 2-2. Despite the brilliant fight back, Holland was destined for another heart break as Branco’s brilliant free-kick clinched it for Brazil.
Ajax conquer Europe & reignite Dutch enthusiasm:
A year after the world cup finished, a mini-revolution was taking place in Amsterdam. Luis van Gaal had constructed the most important club team in recent history. Ajax’s fabulous team that won Champions’ League in 94-95 didn’t lose a single game in their domestic league or UCL. Their run included a 5-2 thrashing of Bayern Munich, at Munich. And it was a brilliant team with future stars Van der Sar, Reiziger, Blind, de Boer brothers, Seedorf, Davids, Kluivert and Overmars. Each of these players became integral to Dutch football in the 90s. This was truly a brilliant team; each player was capable of doing the little things that is so much needed in total football.
Dennis Bergkamp, a lynchpin for Dutch attack in 1990s
The Dutch team that went to Euro’96 had all these players and they were coached by Guus Hiddink. So why didn’t they win the title?
Welcome to the ugly facet of Dutch football – while they are beautiful on the pitch, off-field they are an ugly lot. The Dutch society is well known for its open mindedness. Cryuff’s gang is often described as a bunch of free spirited hippies off the field. Dutch society is also very open when it comes to matters of race. The first black player played for Holland in 1960; Viv Anderson did it for England in 1978. Ajax’s team also had Surinamese players like Davids, Seedorf and Reiziger.
It has been alleged that Ajax had a separate pay structure for black and white players, which led to a division among players. Most players had left the club when it reached the Champions’ League final in 95-96. It is said that this animosity crept into the Dutch camp in Euro. A picture released during Euro showed the black and white players eating at separate tables. Edgar Davids was sent home in the middle of the tournament.
Hiddink lost control of the dressing room. There was a great deal of bad blood between Seedorf and Frank de Boer. All this resulted in an insipid show as Holland lost 4-1 to England in group games and barely scraped to next round. They lost to France in next round. Again, in penalties.
Near misses & the bane of penalties: When World Cup’98 arrived, the players had matured and there was a more professional attitude in the squad; these two years from 1998 to 2000 were Holland’s peak years. They swaggered through the group stages where they were held by Belgium, but trounced Korea 5-0 and let in a late goal against Mexico to draw 2-2. They saw off a technically brilliant Yugoslavian side in round-2 with a late Davids goal. In the quarter finals, they faced off against Argentina. The South Americans were on a high after beating England in Round of 16. Holland and Argentina played out the best game of the 1998 World Cup in Marseille. It was a game between two attacking sides; two sides who played to entertain. The end to end game burst into life early on, as after a typical move, Bergkamp hit the crosspiece. In the 12th minute, Holland took the lead when Bergkamp rolled over a delightful little header in the path of an advancing Kluivert, who made no mistakes. Argentina equalized a few minutes later. Chances continued to flow thick and fast, but it was the Ice Man who made the difference in the 89th minute. Chesting a cross from deep midfield, Bergkamp adroitly turned across Ayala – one of the best defenders in 1998 – to calmly slot the ball home. The simplicity with which the difficult move was executed , made it even more unbelievable.
Another penalty shootout heartbreak awaited the Oranje; this time it was against Brazil. Holland dominated the match from start to end, but the Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel was in god-mode that night. After this, the dejected Holland even lost to Croatia in the 3rd place play-off.
Holland hosted the Euro in 2000 and Rjikaard took over from Hiddink. As hosts, they were one of the favorites and in the first round, they even played like one. They effortlessly topped a group containing France, Denmark and the Czechs, winning all three games. Yugoslavia was demolished 6-1 in the quarter-final as Kluivert scored a hattrick.
Italy awaited the red-hot Oranje. No one really expected the Azzuris to trouble the rampant Dutch. The home crowd was further bolstered, when Italy right-back Gianluca Zambrotta was sent off in the 34th minute. That forced Italy’s hand, as they crawled back into their dreaded Catenaccio defense. For 120 minutes, there was only one pattern. Holland attacked and Italy defended. Cannavaro, Nesta, Iuliano and Maldini setup an impenetrable wall. Worse, even the goalkeeper Francesco Toldo was playing like a superhuman that night.
Holland had their chances; they got two penalties in the regulation time. Kluivert hit the post once and Frank de Boer saw his effort saved by Toldo. Holland once again headed for the torture chamber of penalty shootout. Yes, the pattern remained unchanged. Totti converted his penalty, after an audacious chip past a hapless van der Sar. Holland, despite dominating every single game they played in Euro’00, was knocked out.
Dutch football in the 21st century – Brilliant football with no end product:
Luis van Gaal was brought on for Rjikaard, after the tournament. The eccentric coach made numerous errors as Holland shockingly failed to qualify for Korea-Japan, in 2002.
They put on a decent show in Euro’04; they finally won a penalty shootout as they knocked Sweden out in the quarter-final. In the semi- finals, they lost to hosts Portugal. For three consecutive tournaments, the Dutch lost out in the semi-finals.
In the 2006 World Cup, they safely negotiated their advance from a group of death. However, they lost to Portugal once again, in an ill-tempered match, strewn with cards.
In Euro 2008, Holland had assembled another bunch of gifted youngsters. Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Dirk Kuyt and Wesley Senijder supported Ruud van Nistelrooy. This time they found themselves in another group of death, with world champions Italy, France and Romania.
Ruud van Nistelrooy celebrates a goal in Euro 2008
The Dutch were once again at their brilliant best, they romped past a hapless Italian side 3-0, which was the worst defeat Italy had suffered since the 4-1 loss to Brazil in 1970 World Cup final. France was demolished 4-1 and Romania dispatched 2-0. Holland faced their old coach Guus Hiddink’s Russia in quarter-finals. This time, Russia did to Holland what they had done to other teams in recent past. They stretched the Dutch defense to its limit and shredded it to pieces with some sublime football. After 120 minutes of football, Russia won 3-1.
In the on-going World Cup in Africa, the Oranje have been efficient, but unspectacular. A 2-1 win over Brazil in quarter-final was one of their best ever victories. Now Uruguay stands between them and the finals. What makes Holland the lovable nearly men ?
So why has Holland underachieved till now? Considering the strength of their teams, they should have won at least two World Cups till date. One reason is their lack of unity, as already mentioned. Off-field tensions often spill over in the field. The Dutch game is based on inter linking of the players, any weak link in the chain can cause havoc in their pattern.
Second reason is their achilles’ heel – penalty shootouts. This actually has a larger cause; the Dutch simply don’t have the winning mentality. They are more like artists who create an exquisite art, but never manage to sell them for the right price. They cannot win by hook or by cook; this has been their problem.
Thirdly, they are often very arrogant. As Winner puts it in his book, the Dutch players often think they have a divine right to win games, just because they play better football. Often, after taking the lead, they don’t push hard for the 2nd goal or go defensive. Instead, they try to school their opponents using their better technical skills. They often assume they have won games, before actually winning them.
Despite their failings, the Dutch have never changed their style. They haven’t cared about winning, for them playing attractively has been much more important and they have stayed true to their style.
Over the last two decades, just like their fans and their typical jersies, Dutch football has also been bright and radiant. They are the neo-exponents of “Joga Bonito”.