Onefootball talks to Michiel Jongsma on the state of Dutch football and why the nation is facing a decline in their footballing fortunes
Dutch football has lost the progressive outlook that made it so successful in the past and has been overtaken by other nations according to Michiel Jongsma, a Dutch football expert and writer for BeNeFoot.com.
Speaking to the Onefootball podcast, Jongsma lamented the new generation’s conservative approach as well as the turmoil that has engulfed the national team and seen fans question the direction of Dutch football, both on a national and international level.
The steep decline of the Dutch national team has come as a surprise to many and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Finalists at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Dutch team finished bottom of their group at the European Championship two years later and most recently, failed to qualify for the latest edition of the tournament in France last summer.
“The Dutch have a reputation for being quite progressive in general as a people,” says Jongsma. “In terms of politics we have kind of lost that edge already, but in terms of football we now definitely have as well.”
That progressive mentality has been lost because Dutch football is too content with living in the past while their rivals overtake them on and off the pitch.
“There has been such an arrogance, justified for a long time as well, in Dutch football culture,” he admits. “But over the last 10-15 years we have just been surpassed by so many nations.” The continued arrogance, through underwhelming performances have meant that Dutch football has stagnated.
Germany, believes Jongsma, is a perfect example of a country that has learned from the Dutch mistakes. Faced with their own crisis in 2004 after a group-stage exit at the Euros in Portugal and two years before their hosting of the 2006 World Cup, they “saw what [the Netherlands] did right, improved what [they did wrong], while the Dutch were just standing around, looking proud of what they had achieved.” Germany has gone on to reach at least the semi-finals in each of the last six major tournaments.
Last week Ruud Gullit spoke to the Guardian and described Dutch football as a mess. According to Gullit Dutch football “still thinks they know everything”, priding themselves on the 1974 World Cup and 1988 European Championship (when Gullit led Holland to victory).
Jongsma is in full agreement with the Dutch legend: “It is truly astonishing when you look at how conservative and to an extent, dumb, Dutch football culture is at the moment.”
“We have an idea of what beautiful football should be; it’s a 4-3-3 with wide wingers,” he continued. “With a footballing midfield and we’ll basically shy away from balance because we can all chip in, in different positions.” Jongsma is talking about Totaalvoetbal, brought to prominence after the Dutch performances at the 1974 World Cup and widely regarded as the most entertaining way to play football.
Instead, this free-flowing style has been replaced by a conservative possession-based game that Jongsma describes as incredibly stale. “The belief is that those possession numbers will win you the game rather than shots on goal, and that has been a big problem at the moment.”
Many in the Netherlands have called for change but there is no consensus as to how or where those changes should be implemented. National team coach Danny Blind has come under fire after recent performances but maintains that he will not resign. In fact, there has been change within the Dutch FA, perhaps too much for its own good. After Blind’s appointment his assistant, Dick Advocaat, left suddenly for Fenerbahce while his replacement Gullit lasted only four days after falling out with technical director Hans van Breukelen.
This instability at the top has had effects on the national team as well as the Eredivisie. With no clear direction, and, at least by Dutch standards, an unnatural approach to playing the game, a talented squad is struggling to beat “a vastly inferior side [in Sweden]”, says Jongsma. Added to that is the fact that “the nurturing of young talents is not as good as it once was” and the young talent that is coming through – and that still exists in the Dutch system – is not able to make the step up to the level that is required of them.
Jongsma feels there is an element of “feeling sorry for ourselves” that is holding back Dutch football and that financial capability should not take all the blame. The main argument is often that the Eredivisie cannot compete with the bigger leagues in terms of finance. While that is absolutely true, Jongsma compares the Netherlands, where the number of people registered as footballers (whether professional or not) is one of the highest in Europe, to other nations with similar financial constraints.
“To an extent Portugal should be a good example [of smaller nations achieving more with smaller budgets],” he argues. “[Portugal has] both their league teams in order, and the national team did quite well this summer.” Jongsma. The fact that other nations such as the Czech Republic and Belgium, nations with less financial means and citizens than the Dutch, have managed to overtake them shows that money or relative population size is not the main issue here.
“But somehow we feel we can just blame it on England because they have so much money and we’re so sorry for ourselves,” finishes Jongsma. In fact, the problem goes much deeper and it may be a while yet before we see Dutch sides playing beautiful football again at the highest level.