NETHER GIVE UP: THE DECLINE AND RESURGENCE OF THE DUTCH NATIONAL TEAM
Being a Netherlands football team fan is like a roller coaster ride. It consists of numerous ups and downs; obviously ups are sweeter and downs are sour. A country that produces world-class players who always seem to never cross the finishing line. In this piece, we take a look at the inconsistency of the Dutch football team, their sudden decline in recent years and finally the start of their resurgence.
The flying Dutchmen have always been one of the strongest competitors not only in European competitions, but also at World Cup level. They have reached the semi-finals or further on four occasions, but have only won one major championship, which was the European Championship in 1998. Even though they have not faced much success, the Royal Dutch Football Association has produced and supplied quality players around the world. From the golden era of Johan Cruyff to young players like Frenkie De Jong, Matthijs De Ligt and Justin Kluivert, there have been numerous players who have played and are playing in top clubs around the world.
Quality players but inconsistent results
Around the mid 2000s, the Dutch team saw a number of new young talented players coming to the national team such as Arjen Robben, Rafael Van Der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Robin Van Persie. This seemed to be the start of the new golden era of Dutch football. The team consisted of an exceptional combination of seasoned players and young fresh legs. But they still showed inconsistency in their tournament results; from finishing 3rd in the 2004 Euros, they only reached the Round of 16 in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Even after showing inconsistency in tournaments, a lot of opponents still feared the Dutchmen because of their quality and creative players. This negative trait of inconsistency, has been quite dissatisfactory for the KNVB. Most of the time the reason has been that the managers are not able to provide the desired results and the board of directors constantly changing them again and again.
At the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the world saw a very dominant Dutch side maintain a 100% record during qualification. In the World Cup, they scored 12 goals while conceding only 6. They beat the tournament favourites Brazil in Quarter Finals and Uruguay in Semi-Finals. But ultimately, they lost to a star-studded team of Spain in the final. This tournament was a huge boost for the team and for the Dutch football association. It seemed like they were stronger than ever before.
The World Cup happiness was short-lived in the 2012 Euros where they lost all three group matches and were knocked out of the tournament while scoring only 2 goals. This was a huge blow for the Dutch Football Association and the same routine of sacking the manager followed.
After a bad show in the Euros, they bounced back stronger in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Louis Van Gaal picked a young 23 member squad with an average age just below 26. Only 7 players were of the age 30 or above. They started the tournament in the most emphatic way possible. They defeated the mighty Spain 5-1 and the world was surprised by such a win. Overall, they scored 15 goals and conceded only 4 in the tournament. They finished the tournament on a high note by securing 3rd place by defeating the host Brazil in the play-off. In this tournament, both Van Gaal and the players were immensely praised for tactics, playmaking and domination on the field.
Start of decline...
After the World Cup, Van Gaal ended his tenure to focus on managing Manchester United and again a new manager came in. This is where the difficult period for the Dutch national team started. During the 2014-2015 Euro qualifiers, the Dutch team was ranked 3rd in the world. But they made a mockery of the qualifiers and finished 4th in their group with only 4 wins. The Dutchmen were outplayed in a number of matches against lower-ranked teams. This performance was not only disappointing but embarrassing for the players and the association; and ultimately, they could not qualify for the 2016 Euros.
The next goal for Dutch football was the 2018 FIFA World Cup. This seemed like a new mission to regain their confidence, but they failed. They tried hard to qualify, but they finished 3rd in their group and lost the 2nd qualifying spot on goal difference. This was another shocking result for the Dutch Football Association. Furthermore, another problem they faced at this period of time was the increasing age of their star players and the demoralizing environment around the national team.
By 2018, players like Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, Klaas–Jan Huntelaar had reached their mid-30’s and were slowly losing their touch in football. On the other hand, the young players weren't showing enough maturity. The period from 2015 to early 2018 has been considered by many as the darkest period of Dutch football. The team was not able to qualify for major tournaments and also not able to provide desired results in international friendlies.
The team's catastrophic collapse was as a result of an imbalance in the team. Star players had passed their best and the younger players weren’t performing on the international stage. But as they say “tough times teach you valuable lessons”. The whole team and association worked hard and saw increased maturity and passion in young players. This enabled them to perform better and finally saw some bright light by achieving the runners-up spot in the inaugural Nations League.
How did the Dutch become stronger?
With most of the star players retiring from the international team, the focus needed to be shifted towards the young talent who would lay the foundation for the new era of Dutch Football. The football experts know how good KNVB is in terms of player training and development. They have a close-knit system, which invest a lot in youth football. At a young age their nurturing process to become exceptional players is established. From day one they are taught how to work hard and translate it into success against each and every team.
This is one of the reasons why Dutch players not only play for big European clubs but also contribute heavily to their club’s successes. Through such motivating culture in Dutch clubs and at National level led to the rise of young players such as De Jong, De Ligt, Donny Van de Beek, Steven Bergwijn, Denzel Dumfries and many more. Furthermore, through their exceptional player development process players like Memphis Depay, Virgil Van Dijk, Quincy Promes, Georginio Wijnaldum, Ryan Babel and Daley Blind have stepped up and improved their game. The maturity of young players and the improvement of the senior players has shown a glimpse that the Dutchmen are almost back to business. This combination had resulted in their 2020 Euro qualification.
In football, there is always going to be a dark phase for any player, club and even for the national teams. But KNVB did not get demoralized from weak performances but rather they analyzed their players, improved the mindset and made important changes where it was necessary. Now you can say that the flying Dutchmen are back from the dead and ready for the fight.
My Personal XI
The Dutch team has good talent and experience but they still need to increase their squad depth as soon as possible. They definitely need backup options for striker, right-wing and left-back. The depth in the national team is not much as compared to their rivals. The team suggested below with a classic 4-3-3 formation looks very competitive on the field for the Euros next year.