These are miserable times for Dutch football. The failure of the international XI to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, compounding the misery of missing out on Euros 2016, has been mirrored in the club game, where for the first time since 1998/99, no Dutch side will feature in the latter stages of European competition.
Indeed, such has been the slide in competitiveness of Eredivisie teams that from next season only the champions will qualify for the Champions League.
To add insult to injury, they will no longer enter the competition at the lucrative group stage. Moreover, from 2019, the Dutch cup winners will no longer automatically qualify for the Europa League groups.
Managers and players are also in the doldrums. There are currently no Dutch managers operating in Europe’s big five leagues, and where once the cream of Dutch talent graced the squads of Europe’s giants, now their exports are too often found toiling at the likes of Brighton, Huddersfield and Swansea.
The January transfer of PSV Eindhoven’s Jurgen Locadia underlines the fall in the stock of Dutch players – moving from the league leaders in the Netherlands to a side struggling in 16th place in the English Premier League.
The Seagulls paid €16 million for the striker, who has scored nine times in 15 appearances for PSV this season. Manager Philipp Cocu didn’t want to sell – but knew that financially his club weren’t in a position to turn down Brighton’s offer.
But that’s the modern game – the best team in Dutch football unable to compete with a Brighton & Hove Albion hepped up on massive injections of Premier League TV money.
But the show must go on. And one man working hard to re-establish Dutch credibility is the aforementioned Cocu whose PSV side lead the Eredivisie by seven points from Ajax.
After back-to-back titles in 2014/15 and 2015/16, ‘the Farmers’ finished a disappointing third last season. However, 47-year-old has regrouped and reshaped his squad after losing a number of key players from his title winning sides.
PSV’s season got off to an inauspicious start, however, with an exit in early August from the Europa League. James Rowe, a Dutch football expert with the excellent www.Football-Oranje.com, feels that the impact of that stinging disappointment helped spur Cocu’s men on domestically.
It was a massive shock for the club to be eliminated in the Europa League qualifying rounds. And the consequences were felt immediately with influential midfielder Davy Propper being sold (also to Brighton) to help fill the financial void.
But the European disappointment appears to have galvanised PSV to go out and mount a title challenge.
Doubtless, the lighter workload and more time for Cocu to impart his ideas on the training pitch haven’t hurt either.
According to Rowe, Cocu is evolving as a coach. Still a pragmatist at heart, the former Barcelona player is encouraging his side to play with more freedom than in previous seasons and with more attacking verve.
For Rowe, pacey 22-year-old striker Hirving Lozano and midfielder Marco van Ginkel are PSV’s standout performers this season.
Lozano, signed from Mexican side Pachuca in the summer, hit the ground running and is the league’s top scorer with 12 goals.
And such has been the influence of van Ginkel that despite being on-loan from Chelsea, Cocu has made him captain.
He’s the driving force in midfield and has weighed in with an impressive 10 Eredivisie goals from the middle of the park.
However, PSV’s greatest asset is Cocu; the man they can least afford to lose. And while the back-to-back league titles, PSV’s first in seven seasons, announced Cocu’s arrival as a manager, its perhaps their 2015/16 Champions League campaign that suggests he may the country’s top managerial talent.
PSV lost out on penalties to a formidable Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the competition that season but they were the first Eredivisie side to emerge from the group stage in eight years.
In the continent’s peripheral leagues, winning domestic titles may be laudable for a manager, but it’s punching above your weight in European competition that’s most likely to set you apart.
If Dutch football is to regain its credibility, then Philipp Cocu is perhaps the Great Orange Hope, the manager most likely to buck the troubling trends of recent times.