What now for the Dutch?
The international mid-week break really had one or two high-profile surprises in the mix. None more so than the 4-2 thrashing the Netherlands suffered at the hands of their not-so-endowed neighbours Belgium. This hasn’t been the first time the country that brought us Tintin have upset the Dutch applecart though. In USA ’94 Belgium defeated the Dutch 1-0 and then drew with them 0-0 four years later in France ’98, not to mention that famous 5-5 draw in late ’99. But wait, this was only a friendly right, so why should this defeat be of any significance?
With the appointment of seasoned coach Louis Van Gaal last month, I have really had to look at the Der Oranje from a certain perspective. What I have been wondering since then is where is this Dutch team going? The cracks were exposed at Euro 2012 (obviously). But even when things went well under Van Marwijk, they were accused of playing ugly football. Even I would admit that that pragmatic version of the beloved “Total Football” that took them to the World Cup Final was a far cry from the sexy teams of the late 90s. No need to lament on the Poland/Ukraine tragedy, Van Marwijk has already called it quits. Enter Louis Van Gaal, Champions League winner with Ajax in 1995 and two-time La Liga winner with Barcelona in Spain.
What about his international credentials though? I would forgive a lot of fans for being unconscious of the fact that this is indeed his second stint as national coach. His first spell came after Frank Rijkaard resigned after the Euro 2000 debacle. The mission was to qualify for Korea/Japan.
Van Gaal’s first tenure immediately took a turn for the worst as a 2-2 draw with Ireland and a 2-0 defeat to Portugal both at home, saw the Netherlands in dire straits from the off. A year later, they drew in Porto then managed to lose 1-0 at Lansdowne Road to crash out of the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup. How does any coach fail to reach the World Cup with the likes of Davids, Kluivert, Van Nistelrooy, Cocu, Overmars, Van der Sar, Hasselbaink, Makaay and Van Bommel? Seemingly the flaws in Van Gaal’s management style were there to see years before.
When he reached the pinnacle of the European game with his native Ajax, he left for Barça in 1997. He was transformed into a coach who believed that he knew it all and cast aside anyone who did not share his views. The once-unassuming coach from Amsterdam became convinced he was a demigod.
The four matches against the Portuguese and the Irish were influenced by costly decisions from Van Gaal. For instance, with a man advantage against the Irish in the last 32 minutes in the fate-sealing 1-0 defeat, he brought on Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink giving the Dutch four strikers and Gio Van Bronkhorst, but no-one to supply the forwards after Marc Overmars and Boudewijn Zenden were replaced. After the defeat Van Gaal stated that he evaluates himself everyday and came to the conclusion that he made no mistakes; his players lost their heads. So after being a fixture in the international game since 1988, Holland would miss the 2002 World Cup.
That was 11 years ago however obviously those events bear no relevance to the current team right? Van Gaal has had a successful spell at Bayern Munich recently which shows that he still has the tactical nous required. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if the KNVB made the right decision after the 4-2 humiliation in Belgium. It is still early days yet and just because he failed at one qualifying campaign for the World Cup doesn’t mean it should happen this time. However after Euro 2012 it could not be more evident that the team needs to be overhauled.
Holland have played in three World Cup Finals winning none; including that famous upset in 1974. They have also come close with teams to rival the 1974 and 1988 generations; most notably in France ’98 and Euro ’00. Not to mention numerous near-misses sprinkled in between. They have employed a coach who was responsible for their last failure to reach a major championship, and have lost in his second debut in charge. There is also the lingering issue of over-sized egos and ageing legs in a superannuated Dutch team. So again I wonder: What now for the Dutch?