The concept of Deja-Vu seems to be lost on the Dutch.
After an emphatic second place finish in the 2010 World Cup, the Oranje didn’t make it past the group stages of the subsequent European Championships. This time around, a surprise third place finish in Brazil, has been followed by an even more dire fallout. Qualifying for the subsequent European Championships went from being expected to a pipe dream, in a matter of a year.
Even as the Dutch scratched their heads trying to figure out what went wrong, they failed to realise how far they have fallen, and there are three main reasons why.
The novelty has worn off
The Golden Generation that The Netherlands rode on during 2010, turned into a band of entitled complainers, who were stuck in their own methods, refusing to adapt. With Marwijk unceremoniously disposed, the Dutch brought in the only man they thought would instil a semblance of discipline in them– former Dutch manager, Louis van Gaal.
Having surprised everyone, including himself, by guiding AZ Alkmaar to an Eredivisie title, the KNVB were willing to give the former Bayern Munich manager another crack at the job, after a dismal attempt in 2000. The manager did exactly what was expected, as he cleared out a massive chunk of the team, throwing his weight behind internationally untested youngsters like De Vrij, Martins Indi and Daley Blind. The system worked to near perfection, as The Netherlands waltzed through their qualifying group, to make it to the group stages of the 2015 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Without midfield pivot Kevin Strootman, Van Gaal made one of the biggest gambles in his 20 year managerial career, by abandoning the classic Dutch 4-3-3, plying an unorthodox 3-5-2 in its place. Van Gaal made the best out of a side that had 6 first team players with less than 10 caps each, as he surprised everyone, again, by taking The Netherlands to the brink of a second successive final.
The system was promptly abandoned by his successor Guus Hidink, who sacrificed the element of surprise that had served Netherlands’ youth so well, prompting an inevitable collapse in order. The novelty associated with the 3-5-2 formation, was abandoned the minute van Gaal went to Manchester, forcing The Netherlands to return to their former predictable style, yielding inconsistency.
The Managerial ‘plan’ has come undone
Following a surprise campaign in Brazil, Louis van Gaal contented himself with the knowledge that his legacy with the Oranje had been repaired. The KNVB too felt that they had a solid plan to move forward as they planned for Guus Hiddink to manage the side till EURO 2016, with his assistant Danny Blind taking over from there. The Dutch displayed an immense amount of confidence in their four-year plan, giving the rest of the country a feeling of real organisation with a sense of sustainable development.
Their plan fell through, dramatically.
Hiddink lasted just eight months, wherein the Dutch team went from seemingly dominant to being in complete disarray in nearly the blink of an eye. Systems were changed, old orders were restored and the players seemed utterly unable to cope.
Fans then started screaming for a change, and demanded that Southampton boss, Ronald Koeman, be given the manager’s mantle. It wasn’t difficult to see why. Much of Van Gaal’s success in Brazil was owed in large part to the good work done by Koeman at Feyenoord. The 3-5-2 system which the Dutch flourished under was a product of Koeman’s tactics, which employed most of the same youngsters that performed for the national team. The likes of De Vrij, Martins Indi, Jaanmat and Clasie were all part of Koeman’s Eredivisie winning Feyenoord side, and proved to be a vital cog in Dutch midfield throughout the tournament.
The great oversight involved in not appointing Koeman was surprising, to say the least. When Hiddink’s management proved abysmal, the Dutch continued with their initial plans by bringing in Danny Blind, a whole year before he was supposed take the reigns.
The idea of ‘scheduling’ is extremely risky in the modern game, as it gives current managers a deadline to deliver within, while pressuring his successor to do even better. While bettering Hiddink’s poor record for the Dutch seemed easy, Blind has remarkably dug a deeper hole for the Dutch, leaving them on the brink of elimination.
The ‘Old Guard’ is vanishing without adequate replacement
An unexpected bonus that Van Gaal didn’t count on, was the balance struck between Netherlands’ older generation and their newer one. The Dutch front three consisted of Van Persie, Sneijder and Arjen Robben, with over 300 caps and 90 goals between them. Supplementing them, were the unexpected talents of Blind, Depay and Wijnaldum, who gained a priceless amount of experience, both training and performing with the first team.
Fast forward a year ahead, and that balance seems to have dissipated entirely. Van Persie is looking like a shadow of the forward he once was for The Netherlands. Wesley Sneijder is stifled in the middle of midfield, while new captain Arjen Robben still reels from recent injury. Furthermore, the absence of a midfield general in the form of Nigel De Jong is sorely evident in the Dutch line-up, as new boys Davey Klaasen and Jordan Clasie are yet to master the physical side of the game.
The sheer quantum of imbalance reached its crescendo in Turkey, as the Netherlands were broken to pieces by the Turkish counter-attack, leaving their own home fans gunning for Blind’s head. The shortcomings in defence were outdone by those in attack, as Memphis Depay’s lethal crosses did not meet a single proper finish, despite being laid out on a silver platter.
It hardly comes as a surprise, that Netherlands’ young guns and old guard cannot see eye to eye. A system set up by one manager, based on another’s was completely abandoned after his departure. The system itself brought the best out of The Netherlands and was foolishly disbanded to return to a style that had run its course. If the new charge is truly to cement its place, it needs to recognise the achievements of many more players, lest it is run down with its failing stars of yesteryear.
The Dutch need a systematic approach to their team, and not one that glorifies the past. They have some of the most promising starlets within their ranks, who require experienced tacticians to reach new heights, not inexperienced caretakers. While the idea of producing from within is a noble one, the Dutch must throw preset notions out of the window, if they have any chance of returning to the top.