Football robben

Published on November 24th, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta

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Parochialism and passivity – the crisis in Dutch Football

🕓 Reading time: 3 minutes

A failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup sees the Netherlands as a country starved of fresh ideas, but with no desire to seek new ones

Holland no longer plays total football.

The days of Johan Cruyff are past. Brilliant Orange, Clockwork Orange have had their salad days.

The other sides have imbibed the Dutch system, rehashed it to suit the modern times, and reaped benefits. Germany for instance. Or even Chile during the Copa America 2015.

Yet, Holland is stuck. A strong, in some ways stagnant, defence, aided by rapid counter attacks, that kept becoming les and less rapid with every birthday Arjen Robben celebrated. Now that the 33-year-old has retired from international football, fresh ideas and fresh legs are both hard to come by.

The problem lies within, and a stubborn disinclination to look outside.

Netherlands is a small country and a beautiful one. It is liberal, prone to welcoming foreign ideas, a trait that comes from years of trading across the seas.

Yet, there is an infuriating trait that dogs the Dutch organisations, especially when the average age of the decision makers increase into the more intimidating levels.

If there is an established process, it is very difficult to change it. It can be really frustrating.

This writer has worked as a consultant in Dutch companies, big ones and small. He knows exactly how difficult it can be.

Dutch organisations can be inward looking.

From a creative outfit that revolutionised age-old methods, they can quickly turn to a brand of parochialism associated with a small country, where important people know each other and suffer from the we-know-each-other-and-we-know-all-there-is-to-know syndrome. There is an expression in Dutch which captures this. Ons-kent-ons.

And that is precisely what seems to be wrong with the state of Dutch football.

Why else would a federation appoint a 70-year-old Dick Advocaat as coach when Danny Blind was removed? Especially when it is fairly well known that Jorge Sampaoli was interested in the job?

Sampaoli had built upon the Dutch system in his own coaching methods. It was under him that Chile had won the Copa America in 2015.

But Advocaat was chosen. A 70-year-old given the responsibility of breathing new ideas into an increasingly rusty machinery.

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A typical example of looking inward and refusing foreign ideas. And as a result, the side which had been the runner-up in 2010 World Cup was eliminated from the 2018 version.

The Dutch game keeps suffering from this inward-looking ailment. They refuse to look beyond their own associates, and reject international ideas and innovation.

The whole system of the KNVB is controlled by a group of friends, mostly former footballers who played together. Van Gaal, Blind and Advocaat all played together for Sparta Rotterdam in the early 1980s. It is difficult to squeeze an idea past this defensive human wall.

Advocaat named his natural successor, his assistant … Ruud Gullit. A bona fide great in his own right, Gullit hardly has credentials as a winning manager. But Advocaat and he have spent more than three decades engaged in various forms of associations. Ons-kent-ons striking again.

The problem runs deep.

Ajax, the most important club in Netherlands, openly operates on the ons-kent-ons system. When Cruyff took over the club in 2011, he made it a stipulation that only ex-Ajax footballers could be appointed in leading positions. It did not help the fortunes of the side.

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It was only when Peter Bosz came in, a man who played for Vitesse, RKC Waalwijk, Toulon, Feynoord,  NAC Breda but not Ajax, that the players became superfit and graduated to the Holland School 3.0, something the Germans had already improved upon much earlier.

But he is gone. Bosz now coaches Borussia Dortmund. Ajax is once again under Marcel Keizer, an ex Ajax player.

It is a system of inbreeding, inward-looking, almost incestuous and unhealthy.

It needs overhauling, it needs fresh imported ideas, it needs change.

Netherlands is a beautiful country with a romantic football heritage. And it evolved because of fresh thinking. A severe injection of fresh thought is required at the current juncture of crisis.

 

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About the Author

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Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and the author of Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets @senantix.



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