Why is the Dutch national side failing?

One has to be of a certain age to realise how good the Netherlands national side was during its purple patch in the 1970s and the 1980s.

They were often deemed to be the best team in the world and their famous approach to the game oozed grace and flair; a style that captured the imaginations of millions but the lack of substantial success let them down.

Despite the deficiency of that remarkable success, bar the European Cup triumph of 1988, the Oranje has gone down in the annals of time as being one of the best ever.

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Their successes of the years gone by though, makes many wonder as to what transpired during the times when the golden era strolled past them and the fans had to grace the new era.

In fact, it’s a question that many ponder upon when the Dutch side falters in any international tournament and very often before that.

It certainly is sad to see the demise of a nation that pioneered the concept of Total Football, but their failures have become rather usual sights too.

The very fact that the Oranje are struggling to qualify for the upcoming FIFA World Cup of 2018 doesn’t come as a surprise anymore.

With four games yet to be played and Dick Advocaat’s men are currently at the third spot in a qualification table that is a topped and seconded by Sweden and France respectively.

Bulgaria, who managed to beat the Netherlands in the qualifying game back in March, are at fourth and are just a single point behind the Dutch.

Qualifying from how things stand doesn’t seem too big an ask for a side that is known to be a giant of the game, but judging by the extent to which they have fallen, people won’t be surprised to see the Netherlands not take part in the footballing extravaganza in Russia.

The manner in which they didn’t make it to the Euro 2016 was abject.

Losses to nations that rank below them in the FIFA rankings is always an embarrassment to a nation that boasts of clubs that thrive on producing a conveyor belt of youngsters every single season.

It’s the lack of their proper usage that has brought Dutch football to a halt. If it can’t be called ‘proper’ usage, then deeming it to be ‘timely’ usage has been an issue .

When Louis van Gaal guided them to a third-placed finish in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the team consisted of nine players who aged over 28, with five 30-year-olds and one 33-year-old in Dirk Kuyt in there.

Out of the five 30-year-olds, four were Robin van Persie, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, who were vital cogs in the wheel for van Gaal.

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There was hardly the presence of a youngster who was coming through the ranks at the club and the presence of experienced and aging individuals was used to put into place a system that was very unlike what the Dutch are known.

It was unattractive, in the first place, and used the pace of Robben in wide areas to drive the attack forward.

And while we can’t criticize the system for being dull, once should not blame Van Gaal for not picking enough young players with exceptional technical abilities as well. After all, that is another place where the problem lies.

The great late Johan Cruyff, in his famous autobiography ‘My Turn’, emphasises on how Dutch football takes pride in having technically adept footballers in the side; players who can operate in a variety of positions due to that and thus, fit into the Total Football philosophy.

Players like Cruyff himself, Ruud Gullit, Johan Neeskens and many others had versatility and technicality as the most important aspects of their style and this made them inch-perfect to play the high-pressing style that the nation played.

Cruyff believes that the presence of technical ability is what makes players stand out, no matter how good the opposition is.

This was a made the most important tool of developing players, when he joined the Ajax ranks as a coach in 1985.

He made sure that the players were intelligent, knew how to manage spaces and were exceptional on the ball.

That formed the basis of the players that came through the ranks at Ajax and clubs like Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven also drew inspiration from the same.

A lot of players that were produced under Frank de Boer were technically sound, be it Manchester United’s Daley Blind, Tottenham Hotspur duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld or Ajax skipper Lasse Schone himself.

On the other hand though, many weren’t. And as things stand, many players still aren’t.

And due to that, one can’t really blame Van Gaal for hanging onto the older players to somehow grind out results, rather than preferring to use technically good young players to play attractive football and garner results.

That, automatically, makes a side inferior when coming up against the top dogs of world football.

They are more intelligent on the pitch and seem to understand the game in a more slick a manner than the Dutch.

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What, according to Cruyff was a constant source of annoyance, was the control of external forces at Ajax. These forces cared little about the well being of the club and were more interested in filling their coffers.

Cruyff hated the politics that had ended up surrounding the club and it isn’t as if his love for Ajax died due to it, he stopped contributing directly to what went on there.

The philosophy that he had imposed, after drawing inspiration from Rinus Michels, had been engulfed by the presence of people who hardly cared about it.

Quite often in board meetings, he used to be the only one who understood football and had played it, leading to an isolation of sorts.

Cruyff wanted people who saw the game from a perspective that was similar to his own and people who viewed the game from the pitch rather than from the boardroom.

While things changed in 2016, when Edwin van der Sar was appointed as the general director at the club, the lack of the willingness to impose the Cruyff-esque philosophy was.

With Marc Overmars now the technical director, there is the presence of people in the board who know the game from top to bottom, unlike those who hardly knew anything about it during the Cruyff times.

This has made the top three clubs of the Netherlands falter, leading to a decrease in the quality of their output in European competitions.

It was after as many as 21 years that Ajax played in a European final when they locked horns with Manchester United in the Europa League final.

The Amsterdammers did reach the final, but Feyenoord, under Giovanni Bronckhorst, won the Eredivisie after a 17-year long wait, and that clearly suggests that the competition is on the rise again.

PSV won the title for two consecutive seasons before the previous one.

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Ajax sides of past won the European Cup thrice back in the 1970s and that, in itself is suggestive of the lofty standards that the club and the players had.

Feyenoord themselves won the title back in 1970. The players aren’t good enough to compete against the best teams in the continent.

And if one notices the manner in which Germany have gone about their business since winning the World Cup in 2014, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that Jogi Loew has tried to smoothen the transition after the likes of Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski have hung up their boots.

He has made sure that the nation doesn’t hark back to the older players to emerge out of the transition that could have kept the side stuck up in it, much like the Dutch.

In the recently concluded Confederations Cup, Loew selected a side that hardly consisted of any stars, be it Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil or Manuel Neuer.

Players like Leon Goretzka, Timo Werner, Niklas Sule and Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno were handed the opportunity to feature.

Almost all of them impressed as Loew used the tournament to hand a lot of exciting youngsters the chance to stake their claim for the World Cup.

It is likely that a lot of them will feature in the extravaganza next year.

If only the Dutch had players who were good enough and the structure of the clubs was as good as it was during the golden era, their performance in the prominent tournaments would have been more impressive than it is.

The Author

Kaustubh Pandey

20, Football Writer, CalcioMercato, ThePeoplesPerson, EPLIndex, VAVEL, InsideFutbol. Aspiring Football Journalist. The game's not about life and death, it's something much more than that.

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