Unlike the Italian redemption arc that has been the toast of Euro 2020 this summer, the Netherlands had their tournament plans ended early, when they crashed out of the round of 16 at the hands of the Czech Republic in a 2-0 loss at the Puskás Aréna in Budapest.
Second-half goals from Tomáš Holeš and potential golden-boot winner Patrik Schick consigned the Dutch to an early tournament exit after the Oranje was one of three nations to win all three group stage fixtures.
Star power not enough for the Netherlands
“Although the presence of players from Barcelona, Liverpool, Juventus and Internazionale hints at potential, the Dutch national team has certainly not left an indelible impression at this European Championship. Individual flashes from Dumfries and Malen in the group stage were nice, but when it came down to Budapest, stars such as Memphis, Wijnaldum, De Ligt, De Jong and Blind did not deliver.” – Voetbal International
Harsh, accurate, and to the point. There was never going to be a positive spin placed on the manner in which Frank de Boer’s Dutch outfit crashed out of the tournament. Power on paper means little in international football – in football on the whole, really – and it was a lesson that was on full display when the Czech Republic (rated 24-places lower than the Netherlands) kept a clean sheet against a Dutch outfit that hit 8-goals in group play.
It is hardly a new criticism levied towards the Netherlands, either. This is an issue that has cropped up before, when the Oranje failed to make it out of the group stage at Euro 2012, and failed to qualify for both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup entirely despite players the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in its ranks.
Louis van Gaal deelt een sneer uit aan de mannen van Oranje! 👀 pic.twitter.com/0yT8dG3lfw
— ESPN NL (@ESPNnl) July 3, 2021
Former boss Louis Van Gaal shared similar sentiments in the scathing Voetball International article, quoted at a public event as saying “if you look at them, you see that a glorified bunch of stars can’t win a tournament if they aren’t a team.” Van Gaal was unable to guide the Netherlands to international success, but he was at the helm in 2014 when the Dutch finished third in Brazil. Post-Van Gaal regime, and the Dutch have failed to qualify for two major tournaments whilst having been painfully disappointing this summer. Player prestige has done little to carry them to success in recent years.
Frank de Boer must be replaced properly
Take nothing away from just how good Frank de Boer was during his playing career. The Hoorn-native and twin brother of Ronald de Boer, he is third on the all-time caps list (112) for the Netherlands, for whom he featured for 14-years, at the highest level for the vast majority of his career. De Boer made over 300-appearances for Ajax, including in their famous Champions League triumph over Italian giants AC Milan in 1995, before moving on to Barcelona and logging a further 144-appearances in Catalonia.
He would wind down his career at Galatasaray, Rangers, Al-Rayyan, and Al-Shamal, before immediately getting into management by cutting his teeth in the youth ranks of boyhood club Ajax. From 2010-16 he enjoyed a highly successful spell at Ajax as manager, winning four Eredivisie titles in succession from 2010-14, but ultimately left the club two years later under less than optimal circumstances. This was followed by heavily criticized spells at Inter, Crystal Palace, and Atlanta United. Seemingly, the gravitas of his name across Dutch football netted de Boer the national team job, after Ronald Koeman unexpectedly left his post to take up the Barcelona job. Few, though, viewed him as the right appointment at the time. The nation’s campaign this summer seems to have proven such doubts correct.
De Boer has since stepped down in the wake of the Netherlands’ poor showing at Euro 2020, but the onus now rests with the KNVB (Royal Dutch Football Association) to name a successor that can marry the young crop of players coming through, and a tactical system more befitting of what the players in the pool have to offer.
Known as a long-standing center for youth production in Europe, the next generation of Dutch talent coming through is credible indeed. Though many question whether it will reach the level of former generations that featured Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, Jaap Stam, the De Boer twins, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Philipp Cocu, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie, and others, there is still plenty of promise waiting in the wings.
Names like Myron Boadu, Calvin Stengs, Teun Koopmeiners, and Mohamed Ihattaren will certainly be familiar to Premier League fans, as will Ryan Gravenberch, Owen Wijndal, Matthjis de Ligt, and Donyell Malen. There are others as well; Jurriën Timber, Sven Botman, and Perr Schurrs have all shown promise. The task now is to appoint a headmaster that can mold this group into a better collective unit not reliant on individual brilliance. A return to a 4-3-3 – long associated with Dutch football – is paramount as well, with criticisms of de Boer’s decision to revert to a three at the back system in the run-up to the tournament fully justified.
It is unlikely that the KNVB will be able to appoint a manager like Erik ten Hag or Peter Bosz, and that presents much of the issue at hand. A shortage of high-level Dutch managers is a real issue, but options like former Oranje international Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who had a good spell at Feyenoord, could come into play.
Regardless of what direction is taken, something has to give for the Netherlands if they are to re-establish themselves as a perennial powerhouse on the continent.
This article was edited by Conor Laird.