Dutch pon­der to­tal ‘flop­ball’

The Phnom Penh Post - - FOOTBALL - Jan Hennop

DUTCH foot­ball fans are in mourn­ing af­ter the once mighty Oranje failed to qual­ify for the 2018 World Cup, plung­ing the in­ven­tors of “to­tal foot­ball” into a col­lec­tive bout of soul-search­ing.

Not even two goals from re­tir­ing leg­end Ar­jen Robben against Swe­den could save the stut­ter­ing Dutch foot­ball ma­chine, which now has the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of fail­ing to make it to two ma­jor foot­ball com­pe­ti­tions in a row.

Af­ter Tues­day’s match, sta lwart Dutch cap­tain Robben an­nounced his retirement from t he na­tiona l team – mark­ing the end of an era which saw him and other top Dutch play­ers such as Wes­ley Snei­jder, Robin van Per­sie and Rafael van der Vaart threaten to win t he sport’s great­est prizes.

Yet al­most ex­actly two years ago to the day, Hol­land got their first nasty sur­prise when a 3-2 home de­feat against a 10-man Czech Repub­lic saw them fail to qual­ify for Euro 2016.

On Tues­day evening, the “melan­choly at­mos­phere was com­plete: the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia will be with­out the Nether­lands, the No2 in 2010 and the No3 in 2014”, the au­thor­i­ta­tive daily De Volk­skrant said.

Dy­ing of shame

“I am dy­ing of shame be­cause of the Dutch 11,” wrote columnist Hugo Borst in the Al­ge­meen Dag­blad daily tabloid, be­fore adding that the team has “lost its cre­ativ­ity and daring”.

“No other team in the uni­verse is play­ing as wide and back­wards as many times as the Dutch,” he said.

“In­stead, the ball should be go­ing hard, straight and for­ward, pure and sim­ple. Play­ing wide and back­wards are done by av­er­age foot­ballers lack­ing self-con­fi­dence,” said Borst.

Marco van der Heide, a for­mer pro­fes­sional player at SC Cam­buur and foot­ball com­men­ta­tor, agreed.

“I think our big­gest weak­ness lies at the tac­ti­cal level,” he said. “There are ex­treme dif­fer­ences in how we are do­ing things here and how it’s done out­side the Nether­lands.”

“For in­stance, in the Nether­lands we con­tinue to de­fend by cover­ing op­pos­ing play­ers, while most other teams, in­clud­ing smaller coun­tries, now use the prin­ci­ple of zonal defending.

“This means cover­ing ar­eas, rather than play­ers, which makes a team less prone to leav­ing gaps in their de­fence for the op­po­si­tion to ex­ploit,” Van der Heide said.

But old habits die hard, es­pe­cially if you’re from the coun­try cred­ited for coin­ing the term “to­tal foot­ball”.

Linked to Dutch leg­end Jo­han Cruyff, “to­tal foot­ball” is the tac­ti­cal phi­los­o­phy where any out­field player can take the role of an­other player, thus al­low­ing play­ers to roam freely in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions, so long as the over­all for­ma­tion is main­tained.

The tac­tic saw the Dutch reach two World Cup fi­nals in suc­ces­sion in 1974 and 1978.

“As Dutch sup­port­ers, we have been spoilt by our achieve­ments,” said Van der Heide. “For such a small coun­try, the Nether­lands has been achiev­ing good re­sults for so long that we thought we had all the knowl­edge.”

As many Dutch coaches have left to ta ke up over­seas jobs, so Dutch tac­tics have also be­come known to other coun­tries which were pay­ing close at­ten­tion.

“Mean­while, we took too lit­tle no­tice about what was go­ing on [out­side the Nether­lands], what works,” Van der Heide added. “Our way of play­ing foot­ball be­came too deeply rooted. What was good a decade ago may not nec­es­sar­ily be any good to­day.”

Dutch me­dia on Wed­nes­day called for a “clean sweep” of Dutch foot­ball, to for­get about Rus­sia and start pre­par­ing to qual­ify for Euro 2020.

“The Oranje must start anew, but with whom? It could still take years,” the NRC daily news­pa­per said.

Re­fer­ring to Robben’s an­nounce­ment about re­tir­ing, the pa­per said: “Sud­denly things turned very dark as Robben dims the lights on his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer.”

Van der Heide added: “It’s clear that we don’t have qual­ity play­ers at the mo­ment. But you can com­pen­sate for that, for in­stance by defending well.”

EM­MANUEL DUNAND/AFP

Nether­lands for­ward Ar­jen Robben ac­knowl­edges the crowd af­ter their 2018 World Cup qual­i­fier against Swe­den in Am­s­ter­dam on Tues­day.

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