The Eredivisie: From Total Football to Feeder League

Totaalvoetbal – Total Football

An attacking style of play, popularized by the Dutch national team of the 1970s, in which there are no fixed positions and every outfield player can join in the attack”

I have a lot of time for the Netherlands. Some of my favourite players have worn the famous Oranje jersey, Wesley Sneijder, Phillip Cocu and Ruud van Nistelrooy to name three. But the Eredivisie has never really been considered a top class competition despite all the talent that has come from the league and will continue to do so.

Ajax are probably the most famous Dutch club as they pioneered Total Football in the 60’s-70’s in a period of domestic and European dominance.

Managed by Rinus Michels, a former Ajax player who went on to coach Ajax and the Dutch national team who learned the philosophy during his own playing days at Ajax under Jack Reynolds, Total Football became popular in the 70’s because of the players who perfected it, namely Johan Cruyff who is widely regarded as one of the greatest living footballers of all time.

[Tweet “We’ll probably have to wait a very long time to see a Dutch club truly shine again”]

Cruyff went on to manage both Ajax and Barcelona after his retirement, heavily influencing the Catalan club and laying the foundation for their La Masia youth academy, which was intended to be a carbon copy of the Ajax Youth Academy.

Johan Cruyff helped to build something special at Ajax, but then headed for Barcelona to emulate the Ajax model after falling out with the Ajax board over the sale of Marco van Basten. Nowadays, La Masia is hailed as one of the brightest youth academies in the world, and has far surpassed the Ajax Academy as the place to get your footballing education.

It could also be argued that domestically the Ajax Academy has even been overtaken by the Feyenoord academy, but more on that later.

This is a trend when it comes to Dutch clubs – they will briefly enjoy something good but then it leaves for sunnier shores (and probably a better pay cheque) and ultimately, the Dutch league becomes slightly worse off and gets left behind.

Ajax last won the Champions League in 1995 under Louis van Gaal and a plethora of Dutch talent such as Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf and Danny Blind, but most of the team left the club shortly after that win against Milan in Vienna, largely thanks to the brand new Bosman ruling which crippled any potential aspirations for long term dominance.

Seedorf headed to Sampdoria in 1995, Edgar Davids joined AC Milan in 1996 and was joined by Patrick Kluivert a season later, and both de Boer brothers were playing in Barcelona under Louis van Gaal by 1999 to continue the bond between Amsterdam and Catalonia which led to the half hearted “Barcajax” tag or “Ajarcelona” depending on your preference.

Yes, this Ajax team won the Champions League and got to the final again a year later, but players left Ajax either for free or for a lot cheaper than what they were worth, resulting in the financial version of an ungrateful spit in the face of the club.

Once again, the trend continued.

It would take 7 years for another Dutch club to win a European final, with Feyenoord beating Borussia Dortmund in the 2002 UEFA Cup final. This Feyenoord team, coached by Bert van Marwijk featured tournament top scorer Pierre van Hooijdonk, John Dahl Tomasson and a young Robin van Persie. Of course, as with Dutch clubs, the success wouldn’t last long.

Memphis Depay
Memphis Depay, soon to be Manchester United Player. Image source: dailypost

Pierre van Hooijdonk was in his 30’s and didn’t have long left, John Dahl Tomasson packed up his bags and quickly traded Rotterdam for the red and black side of Milan and Robin van Persie, in what is another classic trademark of Dutch footballers, left the club after falling out with the manager.

The Eredivise, sadly, is relegated to the role of European feeder league. Nothing is more indicative of this than the link between Chelsea and Vitesse Arnhem, which actually had to be investigated by the KNVB. Since Vitesse were taken over by now-former-owner Merab Jordania, at least 14 Chelsea youngsters have been on loan at Vitesse in the last four years which somewhat breaks the mould of the Dutch developing their own talent.

Instead, Vitesse used a plethora of talent from Chelsea to try to kickstart their own resurgence, and it worked, as Vitesse were in a relegation scrap at the start of the relationship whereas nowadays they’re very much competing for European places.

This relationship caused much derision from fans of the other Eredivisie clubs.The influence of Chelsea on Vitesse even went as far as Merab Jordania accusing Chelsea of not wanting Vitesse to qualify for the Europa League, a comment which had to be investigated last year by the KNVB.

Of course, the riches of talent coming through in the country can be a source of hope for individual clubs in the league and also on the international stage, and no club knows this more than Feyenoord.

In 2010, Feyenoord nearly went bankrupt and it took a 10-0 thrashing by PSV to truly compound the fall from grace. 40 years before, Feyenoord were at the peak of their powers after winning the European Cup, and as previously mentioned, in 2002 they had won the UEFA Cup.

Fast forward 4 years to the 2014 World Cup, and 11 of the 23 players in Louis van Gaal’s squad had previously worn the Feyenoord shirt with 9 actually coming from their academy. The Netherlands surprisingly finished 3rd in the tournament.

In Rotterdam, the Academy emphasis is now on teamwork which mirrors the club itself and its relationship with its fans. Feyenoord were on the brink of ruin but the youth players from the academy helped restore results on the pitch, which in turn helped mend the pride in the city.

This season, PSV Eindhoven stormed their way to the Eredivisie title, winning it by 14 clear points and emphatically ending Ajax’s streak of 4 straight league wins, but look set to see some key players walk out of the door. Memphis Depay has already agreed to join Manchester United and captain Georginio Wijnaldum is heavily linked with a move to the Premier League, with Manchester United being his preferred destination depending on which news source you read.

Jordy Clasie
Jordy Clasie, rumoured to be on his way to England. Image source:

Feyenoord look set to lose a key talent in Jordy Clasie after they also saw Daryl Janmaat, Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi leave after the World Cup. Ajax have also seen talent such as Daley Blind, Christian Eriksen and Gregory van der Wiel leave in recent years.

Totaalvoetbal has been and gone. Football famously moves in cycles, in the 70’s the Dutch had their moments in the sun by pioneering a style of football which captivated fans around Europe and the rest of the world. The only cycle that Dutch clubs get caught in is that some amazing young talent will shine for a season or two and then move on to a bigger club.

If you’re a football fan you have to at least respect the Dutch and what they’ve given us. It’s hard to love them when you see Frank Rijkaard spitting on Rudi Völler twice or when you watch them completely abandon their principles in the 2010 World Cup final but, generally, you have to respect them as a footballing nation.

If you’re a football club, however, the Netherlands is nothing more than a football farm largely thanks to the Bosman ruling and “new money” (oil rich businessmen and the growing influx of TV money) dominating the European game.

We’ll probably have to wait a very long time to see a Dutch club truly shine in a European competition again, and quite frankly it’s a damn shame.

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