By: Karl Tippins
Being wise after the event is easy. If you’re on the receiving end of the wisdom, it’s annoying as well. There is, however, some inevitability about the questions that will be asked about the Dutch decline on the international stage.
Following an at times surreal 3-2 home defeat to the Czech Republic last night, the Netherlands failure to qualify for Euro 2016 was confirmed. Turkey’s late 1-0 win at home to Iceland made the result academic anyway, had even the Dutch won they would have still been eliminated.
The humiliation is made worse given that the Euros have never been easier to qualify for as a result of the expanded tournament format brought in by UEFA for next year’s edition. While Iceland’s fortunes on the international stage have been on the up for a while, and the Czech Republic and Turkey are solid teams if lacking the star quality of the past, the Dutch were still expected to qualify with something to spare, especially as they were the 3rd placed team at the 2014 World Cup.
That World Cup should represent the beginning of the inquest.
For a team and a country that still likes to pride itself on “Total Football,” Brazil 2014 was anything but. Louis van Gaal set up the Dutch team to play a pragmatic, at times ugly style of football, soaking up pressure then hitting teams on the break through star players Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin van Persie. The
Dutch drubbing of Spain in their opening fixture of that tournament made the world sit up and take notice, but they never at any point really set the World Cup alight through their own quality.
Was expecting the same team to get to Euro 2016 easily expecting a little too much?
The answer is a resounding no.
However, after a successful World Cup playing this pragmatic style, Guus Hiddink took over and immediately set about restoring the team to playing in its “traditional” manner of wanting to dominate games. It just didn’t work out.
To point the finger at van Persie, Sneijder, and Robben would be unfair. All three may be ageing but are still all in their early 30’s, with Robben in particular still terrorising defences for Bayern Munich.
The real problem with the Dutch seems to be the lack of star quality coming from the next generation. There are good players throughout the squad in various positions, but which of them look like they’re going to be stars in years to come? At present, the Dutch cupboard looks extraordinarily bare, while nearby the Belgian rise and the rate at which academies in that country are producing players is demonstrating exactly what the Dutch should be doing.
All that said, if Danny Blind, or another manager if he decides he didn’t want to continue having taken over from Hiddink in July of this year and failed to engineer a quick turnaround in performances and results, were to jettison the three star names, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
Come 2018 and the Russia World Cup they will all be approaching 35, and it would be a huge concern if the team were still reliant on these three players by then. Maybe the time is right for a fresh start, even if that means some years of hurt on the international stage. With a World Cup qualification group that includes France and Sweden, with only the top two qualifying or making the play-offs, getting through that is by no means a given.
It is perhaps unfair to say the Dutch should have seen this coming, but there definitely needs to be some cold thinking, and maybe some tough decisions made, if this Dutch disaster isn’t to become a prolonged spell in the international wilderness.