Feyenoord, Janko & the worst team in Holland

by Thomas Watt

Just nine short years ago, Feyenoord were one of the finest teams in Europe having won the UEFA Cup. Less than six years ago they were still amongst the best sides in the Eredivisie, and regular competitors in Europe. Even last season there was a credible fourth placed finish for De club van Zuid. This year there is a very realistic threat of relegation for the first time in their history.

Coach Mario Been maintains that there is no chance of relegation, swearing that “I am sure we will stay up. Feyenoord will never be relegated”. These strong words came back in November, in the wake of the club’s now infamous 10-0 destruction at the hands of traditional title rivals, PSV. After a vote of confidence that appeared far more heartfelt than the cliché suggests, there was an assertion that things could only get better.

While the humiliation of the PSV result had taken its toll on Feyenoord’s reputation, it initially appeared to have also had a galvanising effect. Having won just one game in the ten matches preceding the match in Eindhoven, Been’s side were victorious in three of the next eight, losing just twice at AZ and Groningen. The same signs of fragility were apparent – particularly in Ricky Van Haaren’s generous own goal equaliser that handed a desperate Willem II a point – but an improvement in performance and attitude seemed to signal that the darkest days were behind them.

Since the return of the Eredivisie from its winter hibernation, it appears as if Feyenoord’s progress has stalled once again. Ajax were far more comfortable than their 2-0 Klassieker victory last week suggests, while Leon Broekhof plundered an 88th minute win for De Graafschap at De Kuip on Saturday. The prospect of a trip to title chasing Twente (say that quickly three times!) will hardly be of encouragement to Been ahead of a potentially era-defining clash with Vitesse in a fortnight’s time. Feyenoord currently sit in 14th position, just four points above a relegation playoff place and just two ahead of Arnhem.

What went wrong? Years of financial mismanagement left Feyenoord with a dearth of experienced players, and debts of anything between £30m-£40m, forcing the current over-reliance on the famous youth policy. The average age of the midfield this season is just 20 years old, and while the club have undoubtedly unearthed potential superstars in Luc Castaignos and viral video sensation Georginio Wijnaldum, their tender years are ill suited to the attritional war they now find themselves in. The pair have just thirty eight years between them, but are the only players at Feyenoord to have scored more than two goals this term. To further underline the problems , the De Kuip side have yet to win away from home this season.

Still there is hope. The only automatic relegation place in the division is being fought over (if that is the right word) by two of the worst sides in recent Eredivie history. Willem II actually managed to win this weekend, with a 1-0 victory over Vitesse being their first in twenty attempts this season. Remarkably, the three points put them within another victory of VVV, who have garnered just four points in their last thirteen league matches. Clearly, there is having a terrible season and then having a terrible season.

Eredivisie Elsewhere

At the opposite end of the division, PSV have picked up where they left off, winning 3-0 at VVV thanks in no small part to the ever improving Jeremain Lens who scored one and set up another. The Eindhoven side sit one point ahead of Twente, who seem to have put an uncertain final two months of 2010 behind them, by easing past Heracles and besting Groningen, scoring seven goals in the process. Six of which have come from behemoth Austrian striker Marc Janko.

Ajax’s title aspirations were given yet further setback as they were comprehensively beaten for the first time under Frank de Boer. Utrecht hosted the Amsterdam club, and ran out 3-0 winners, strengthening their case for the UEFA Cup playoff spot. There were wins for Roda JC and Den Haag, while NEC’s Belgian striker and Asterix sound-a-like Bjorn Vleminckx scored his sixteenth goal of the season, and ninth in ten games, in the 2-2 draw with NAC Breda.

Author Info

Thomas Watt

Thomas Watt

I'm a writer on football, music and films. I write mainly about Scottish and Dutch football, and have done pieces for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent as well as regular STV column. I used to live outside Utrecht, but now stay near Edinburgh.

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4 Responses

  1. Rob McDonald says:

    I remember reading, somewhere, that VVV were a good side who played kamikaze attacking football. Are they just rubbish? Also, quite sad at seeing Feyenoord struggle so comprehensibly. Always a shame to watch a former European stalwart struggle simply down to financial difficulties.

  2. Stephen Fallows says:

    It’s sad to see such a European heavyweight fall into such times, although the club being in £30-40million debt seems nothing to the ridiculous amounts we hear about in “The Best League In The World”. Even Portsmouth, not a big team by Premier League standards were reported to have got to over £100million.

    Does this mean that clubs are regulated financially better in mainland Europe and they are forced into such states having to rely on youth, rather than being allowed to just carrying on spending like nothing wrong, as happens over here.

    This could almost be the start of a new club, having to go through the worst to start afresh, such as lower league clubs have over here (most recently Chester). Although they are obviously a much bigger team, the academy of such a club should produce players which at the very least can be sold on to put them on a better footing, and then go from there.

    I hope Feyenoord stay up, but maybe the demise of a big club, might just scare other teams around Europe and make them realise that somewhere the big spending has to stop and to be more realistic.

  3. Eredivisielife says:

    Having had the misfortune to witness both at first hand this season I can confirm that VVV are just rubbish but not half as bad as Willem II!! Feyenoord won’t get relegated unless there is a minor miracle as Excelsior can’t buy a win and moneybags Vitesse are almost as bad as the three below them.

    Having said that Feyenoord must be feeling the pressure with such a young team, shown last Saturdy when two of their players (Wijnaldum and de Vrij) left the pitch in tears after another late defeat.

    The problem for Feyenoord may be next year if their bright young things do leave. Castaignos is off to Inter, Wijnaldum may end up at Liverpool and a couple of the others including captain Leroy Fer can’t be expected to hang around for much longer.

    I think the saga will continue……..

    Great article keep up the good work

  4. Feyenoord is a classic example of mismanagement. After K2 (Kuijt and Kalou) left, everything went downhill. Ruud Gullit was hired as manager and he made some expensive and inexplicable transfers. Feyenoord also hired lots of fading, aging players on high wages (Landzaat, Makaay) and internally they are a mess (see Leo Beenhakker’s firing/resignation).

    And they keep banging about how young their squad is when in fact it isn’t really. Wijnaldum is young in age (20 years) yet has 4 years of Eredivisie experience. Christian Eriksen from Ajax is younger and less experienced yet nobody is saying how young he is.

    For Feyenoord to go out of this mess they need to sort things out internally first. Then use those young talents and slowly close the gap to the Dutch top. That is if they can keep their talents. De Guzman already left on a free, Castaignos signed for Inter and who knows how long they can keep hold of Wijnaldum and Fer.

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