Netherlands View: Dark Days for the Dutch

After finishing second and third in the last two World Cups, things were looking up for the Netherlands. The relatively easy group stage to qualify themselves for the upcoming European Championship wouldn’t be that big of a problem, but it proved the exact opposite. Dutch football analyst Martijn Hilhorst asks why?

The Netherlands are known for revolutionising football starting with Rinus Michels who introduced the well-known ‘Totaal Voetbal’ style of playing. The philosophy was brilliant in its simplicity; creating space for the masterminds of the team, while adaptability was also a key factor.

After several ups and downs, in 2016 we are arguably in one of the worst periods in our football history. For the last couple of seasons, Dutch clubs have been battered internationally, and not even by the Barcelonas and Madrid’s of this world. No, by clubs such as Steau Bucaresti, Red Bull Salzburg, FC Differdange and I could keep going, but let’s focus on the impact this had on the Dutch national side.

As we know, the Netherlands won’t participate in the upcoming European Championship and that’s an enormous surprise. The odds on the ‘Oranje’ not qualifying from a group including Czech Republic, Iceland, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Latvia would have gone through the roof. Yet the Netherlands won just four of out of ten matches. The sadder part of that abysmal record is that those four wins came against Kazakhstan and Latvia.

Analysing the downfall, many are to blame, especially both coaches Hiddink and Blind who’ve been making mistake after mistake both on and of the pitch. The dependability on Arjen Robben was troubling to say the least. Our golden boy single-handily led us to the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup and being our saviour, it seemed we had nothing to worry abot for the following Euro qualification. As surprising as Manchester United under Louis van Gaal: Robben was struggling with injuries, only playing four of the possible ten games.

My honest opinion is two factors have been highly influential in the downfall of Dutch football: arrogance and stubbornness. We are not the best side in the world, but we trying to play like one, attempting to dominate while it’s sometimes not always the right call.

Secondly is the stubbornness to play a certain style (4-3- 3, lots of ball possession and not taking any risks) which has made us fail. PSV Eindhoven are the exception to the rule. Being both humble and realistic, PSV made it to the last sixteen of the Champions League, unfortunately eliminated on penalties against Atletico Madrid.

The upcoming friendlies (Ireland, Poland and Austria) are a bitter pill to take. All of them are going to the European Championships, while we Dutch have no one to cheer for. Coach Daley Blind is at a crossroads; will he play with five at the back to do some damage control or will he play in the usual 4-3-3? He did oot for a 5-3- 2 against Wales back in November and the general consensus is that he will do the same in these games.

When it rains, it pours. The Netherlands have been taking huge hits the last couple of months and getting through the upcoming friendlies unscathed would be the logical (and right) thing to do. Everyone involved wants this dark period in our footballing history closed as soon as possible.

The Oranje still have the quality to defeat countries such as Ireland, Poland and Austria, but not losing at this stage will be the main objective. That kind of negative football won’t be beneficial to Ireland’s preparation for Euro 2016. In a group with Belgium, Italy and Sweden they need to counter-attack and the Irish won’t be able to fine tune that particular style against an Orange wall.

Martijn Hilhorst works for Opta in the Netherlands and loves to write, talk and analyse Dutch football. Follow on Twitter: @MartijnHilhorst

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