The future of Holland? Van Gaal looks to Van Persie and the kids

From the starting line-up of Holland’s opening match of last year’s European Championships versus Denmark, only one man started in the friendly versus Italy earlier this month. Robin Van Persie.

Of course, it was a friendly, but it might be a sign of things to come. With a team containing only four players over 22 years of age, a young team was fielded. Of that starting eleven, eight are still Eredivisie players.

All full of talent and still rather ‘mouldable’. The type of players Louis Van Gaal likes, as he has shown throughout his career.

Ajax ’95

In 1991, the relative unknown Louis Van Gaal became head coach of Ajax Amsterdam.

He managed to take a frighteningly talented squad further each and every year he worked there, winning the UEFA Cup in 1992 and bringing in new, young players, tweaking, tinkering and moulding a group of players who were eventually crowned Champions League winners in 1995, following a season in which they were virtually unbeatable.

The team is mainly remembered for its style, but people tend to forget the road that preceded the eventual end product.

When Van Gaal took over from Leo Beenhakker, only Danny Blind and Frank de Boer could be seen as established players while the eventually promoted Edwin van der Sar was scouted by Van Gaal himself, earlier in 1990.

All other players were brought in by van Gaal, gaining a whole lot of trust and loyalty in the process. Marc Overmars was brought in from Willem II, Winston Bogarde from Sparta Rotterdam. Michael Reiziger and Ronald De Boer eventually made the first team after loan spells at FC Groningen and FC Twente respectively.

Jari Litmanen was bought after a short spell at MyPa, Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu were picked up from Nigerian soil. Furthermore, Ajax academy graduates Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf were added to the squad. Only Frank Rijkaard came in as a true star player.

This loyal, young and talented squad were given time to find their feet and develop into what eventually became one of the greatest teams ever. In their prime, only Danny Blind (33) and Frank Rijkaard (32) were over 25.

Furthermore, no players were added before the 94-95 season, meaning all players had at least two years of experience with each other.

Netherlands ’13

As mentioned earlier, only Robin Van Persie started versus Italy. And he was finally given the role he has been craving for at national level.

Marco van Basten used the then young talent mainly as a right winger, Bert van Marwijk was willing to give the Manchester United striker a chance as a number nine, but was reluctant to build the team around him.

With the crop of players surrounding him, Van Marwijk made the sensible decision of trying to use the array of talent available, but players like Sneijder, van der Vaart, Huntelaar, Robben and Kuyt have prevented Robin van Persie from truly shining in the Oranje shirt.

This time, with Sneijder, Robben and van der Vaart dropped due to a lack of playing minutes and Klaas Jan Huntelaar out injured (eventually replaced by Robben), the whole set-up was based around Van Persie. Kuyt was still there, but as a substitute. The 33-year-old has had quite the run in the Netherlands’ first team, but his dawn seems near.

Holland 1-1 Italy – faith in youth

And so, Van Persie found himself surrounded by the likes of Ola John, Jeremain Lens and Adam Maher. Players who are looking to establish themselves as squad regulars under Van Gaal and are likely to show some loyalty to the grand old maestro.

Van Persie was given full freedom. Whenever he dropped off, Maher would slot into the striker position. When Van Persie occupied the flank, Lens would search for the box to ensure he was in a position to score. All three played a decent game against Italy and were involved in all havoc created.

It was this type of interplay that created the opening goal for Lens. Van Persie dropped in midfield to collect the ball and launched Feyenoord right back Darryl Janmaat, who created panic by crossing directly into the box.

Maher was already in position from the cross and from his shot, Lens took the rebound, skillfully taking out Astori and putting the ball past Buffon from the six yard line.

Lens and Maher remained the main threats throughout the game, although the substitution of Van Persie at half time in favour of Robben meant the two youngsters weren’t able to show the same promise in the second half as they did in the first.

The fourth name mentioned, Benfica’s Ola John, struggled with the expectations. The youngster made his debut and even though the talent is obviously there, he wasn’t able to replicate any of his Benfica showings in ‘Oranje’.

On a sidenote, there was nothing orange about the jersey the Dutch were wearing, as this was also the game in which the new away kit was unveiled. Some looked great in it, some didn’t.


One who was able to wear the kit with pride was Kevin Strootman. The much acclaimed PSV midfielder was one of the standout players. In the first half, he was part of a midfield reminiscent of the Spanish trio.

Maher (lauded the new Iniesta), Jordy Clasie (lauded the new Xavi) and Strootman, who in this company should be the Busquets of the three, but tends to play higher up the pitch.

Italy’s catalyst Andrea Pirlo was constantly hassled by Maher and was unable to pull the strings to his liking, while Strootman and Clasie looked to spread the play to the wings and were able to punch holes in Italy’s defence by playing through balls and launching the full-backs.

With Pirlo stopped from playing his usual game, the Italians resorted to playing long balls, a tactic that wasn’t working very well for them. All this was illustrated by a frustrated Mario Balotelli, who was substituted in the 61st minute.

Balotelli had more reasons to be frustrated than just all the deep balls he had to run after. The Italian striker had made a thunderous return to Serie A by scoring two debut goals versus Udinese, but this time he was kept in check by 20-year-old Stefan De Vrij.

The young defender proved himself as one of the most promising full-backs of his generation, even though he lost his concentration in the last ten minutes of the game, resulting in Italy’s equaliser.

De Vrij was one of the Netherlands’ top performers the first 80 minutes, accompanied by teammate Bruno Martins Indi in the middle and with another teammate down the right in Janmaat. Martins Indi is used as a left-back mainly when playing for Feyenoord, but against Italy he showed he is more than capable of filling the slot of central defender for the Netherlands.

His inclusion in that position meant Daley Blind, son of Danny, made his debut at left back. The 23-year-old did okay on his debut, but lacks both pace and physical presence to hold down a place in this side.

Problems at left back

His debut highlighted the main problem of this Dutch squad. Ever since Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the place of left-back has been issue. Young PSV defender Jetro Willems was overrun at EURO 2012 and several others have been tried without success.

On the right side though, Janmaat played quite the game. He was one of four Feyenoord players in the starting line-up, rather remarkable, given that they haven’t spent a penny in transfer fees on the lot. Newcastle United’s Tim Krul was quite reliable at goal and seems rather certain of a starting place in the foreseeable future.

There were several substitutions. Robben replaced John and was quite the danger, De Guzman took over from Clasie, Kuyt replaced Ola John and Janmaat was eventually substituted in favour of Ricardo Van Rhijn. But, apart from Kuyt’s appearance, no substitution really disrupted play.

From the looks of it, Van Gaal wants Van Persie to be his fulcrum, both in quality and experience. The Frank Rijkaard role from ’95, only in attack.

Of course, with the talents available a whole lot of experimenting is to be expected. You can’t just drop players like Sneijder and van der Vaart like that.

But Van Gaal has shown intent to let Van Persie become the centre of the team like no other national manager has done before.

Van Gaal has 16 months to mould the team into a shape to his liking before the World Cup in Brazil. Don’t be surprised if the Oranje team in 2014 is closer to the line-up fielded against Italy than to the starting eleven versus Denmark last year.

Once again Van Gaal is choosing for the future and that future is exciting.

(This article has been amended on 22/2/13 to correct Reiziger’s first name.)

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6 Responses to “The future of Holland? Van Gaal looks to Van Persie and the kids”

  1. Normazine
    February 21, 2013 at 11:50 am #


    • Jonathan F
      February 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

      My fault Normazine, fell asleep at the editing wheel. Duly corrected. Well spotted sir.

  2. Hendrik
    February 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Good article.

    I think though that the future is not that exciting. I think that Dutch talent is technically miles away from the best players of Spain and Germany. Even Belgium these days have greater talents than the Netherlands.

    I love Clasie, but a Xavi he is not. He is more a player like Verratti and Wilshire except he is less good than those two as well. Both those players are more complete in the sense that they do get more often in front of goal or can make a dribble in case of Wilshire. They are also more fit and they take creative passing to another level from Clasie (though that being a quality from Clasie).

    Maher lacks the acceleration of Iniesta to be equated with him and is less clinical in front of goal. Despite all buzz around Maher, he has less goals and assists combined this season than Willy Overtoom that just came from Heracles. Kid has still ground to cover.

    Strootman is almost the opposite of Busquets. Strootman is pretty clueless in his short passing and his handling speed is miles below that of Busquets. He does much on emotion, battling power and work rate. His long ball distribution is pretty good but exactly that was missing in the Italy game. Not once he put the ball over the Italian defense to assist RVP like Song and now Carrick do, depsite RVP asking for it. Disappointing.

    Stephan de Vrij was good for 80 minutes, because Netherlands was able to football themselves out of pressure for that long. The second it comes to real defending he failed the test. He does that all the time for Feyenoord. He is not a real killer. Lacks being ruthless. The way he comes at Verratti to take the ball from him, told us just one thing: he was completely clueless of his surroundings. Unaware a simple 1-2 was possible and the way he he was left in the dust exposed another weakness of him: horrible axis of rotation. When he misjudges a situation, he can’t recover. That’s a problem for a defender and that is also why he will never become a top one.

    Ola John will be frustrating for the rest of his life for Dutch NT. He will have his fans as his attacking ability’s are great. His cross accuracy is impressive, his chip and even distance shot is a weapon, he also has the creative through pass to fellow teammates, but he has an ingrained lack of aggressiveness that is visible when going into defensive duels, tracking back or pressing. What’s up with that? Boëtius does have that part, but lacks Ola’s cross accuracy.

    Lens is good, but can’t finish. Must be up there with the group of attackers having the worst conversion rate. Kind of like an imaginary big brother of Welbeck (from United). I was most impressed by Lens when he played right back last week against Utrecht. Lens wins maybe most duels in Eredivisie, is fast and can pass a ball well. Who knows he found his best position.

    BMI can’t build up properly. His football ability for Dutch NT standards is sub par. At Feyenoord he makes enough defensive mistakes to be benched and Koeman actually came out to say that also recently. BMI lacks the attacking ability to be a proper left back and his defensive quality’s are overrated IMO. I think he is a decent defender, that is it.

    The back positions are horrible as well. Blind is not build to be a back. Too slow and brings attacking wise too little. Positioning is not that bad and has improved, but I want to see him as a DM. I think he can pull an Anita there for Ajax, who became on that spot a revelation. Blind as a left back has mediocrity written all over it. Yes he does better than in the past, but he can’t make up for what is simply not there. That is not his fault, but when Boilesen does not break down again, Blind is done as left back as a more talented player becomes available.

    Büttner is a clueless clown positionally and the same goes for Willems.

    However Willems is a player I am genuinely looking out for. I think despite national media (and after the Euro 2012 also international media) that he will become a wold class left back. How people dare to burn down an 18 year old kid (youngest player making minutes on a Euro ever and that in defense!) is beyond me. His passing his hard, his speed is more than proper, his engine is getting better and better, his technique is pretty good and he is brushing aside 10 year older men now. He is a regular at PSV as an 18 year old, while Advocaat would love to play with the most experienced team he could get his hands on. This guy does not even give proper playing time to Locadia and Depay, while those kids operate in attack. The fact Willems is playing all the time with such a coach, is already an indication he is special IMO. He also won over Rutten, van Marwijk and van Gaal. He was injured or came back from injury for the Italy game, but against Turkey he played under van Gaal. Was a bad game from him by the way. Anyway, I would like to hear from people if they can name me a better 18 year old left back in the world at the moment. I think there is none. Willems does have to work on his cross as it sucks so far.

    Right back Janmaat is positionally also clueless and he has even a worse cross than Willems. It’s a simple runner that works hard. He did press like a mad man against Italy and is a useful player to keep the competition sharp as Janmaat will always be there giving his all. He has Kuyt DNA. However when Janmaat kind of players come into the picture for a national team you know you have hit rock bottom. These kind of workers should never be in the picture. It’s a clear sign that youth development in the Netherlands sucks, for otherwise we would have had a proper option on that spot.

    Van Rhijn is pulling a van der Wiel IMO. Started promising, now even Janmaat is enjoying preference and now van Rhijn has even caught the walking back disease. Let’s not intervene when an attacker that is running at us, but walk back, walk back, wait for it …. and walk back some more. Soon he will only pass back anymore like van der Wiel during Euro 2012 and a completely useless back is born.

    De Guzman is at Swansea and has excellent distribution but not a player you win the war with. Bit of a good weather player. You can’t win a WC with such a player.

    A player that does qualify for that is van Ginkel. Next to Willems this is a another player I am genuinely happy with. Very complete. At this moment he does all work on the Vitesse midfield. Lazy Bony and Janssen let him deal with all the dirty work and then somehow van Ginkel is also still able to add points for his team with clutch goals, assists or key passes. He does that from deep going runs or from dead ball moments as van Ginkel is also an excellent header. Heading the ball on target or bringing it back for others to shoot on goal. He has acceleration on ball (much more than Maher), endurance, technique, duel power, excellent mentality and a good shot. The reason he looks so underwhelming for Vitesse is the midfield configuration not allowing him to make many forward runs. He stays behind to let Janssen and Bony more free, but that’s such a shame. Van Ginkel is the complete package that a team can build on.

    Krul has a horrible distribution. Typical English product. Had he stayed in the Netherlands, he probably would have come good. Now we play with a handicapped person in goal and it’s not like he is solid all the time. Went to the ground too easily with the Verratti goal and is not in the finest form for Newcastle or Neuchâtel as they are called these days. I rather have 1 top keeper like we had with van der Sar than having 3 alright/good keepers in Stek, Krul and Vorm. Krul will turn up the heat for us as his long balls take away from build up and then the opponent will start to press more and that is when our defenders are exposed as players not being able to defend. Stek and Vorm are better in this department, but have other weaknesses. Stek with balls close to the body, a certain goal in a WC final comes to mind and Vorm sucks with dead ball situations especially corners. So the keeper situation will cost us points as well.

    Some closing thoughts:

    I think the midfield triangle is pretty solid looking at the next generation. We have decent quality over multiple generations with controllers like Anita and Clasie being added to de Jong. We have good box to box players or semi box to box runners like Strootman, Afellay, van Ginkel and Fer. We have good attacking midfielders like Sneijder, VDV and Maher. De Guzman is more a generic type. Despite me thinking that the new generation can’t hold a candle to the international top (Spain, Germany), I think that it is “solid”. The ugly part comes when we move on to the edges of the team, being the back and wing positions. For WC 2014 it is all mediocre and Willems will still need more development at that time and still be far from his peek. Ola is not enough of a battler to go 7 rounds without getting us caught in a situation his man creating or even scoring a goal. The kid is defensive speaking clueless. Narsingh is hopeless in the small spaces and Lens has the conversion rate of a potato. I don’t care he has been on fire for Dutch NT lately, that is a small sample size and in time his true nature will start to show. Robben for 2014 won’t be a player at his peek anymore. We can only hope that van der Wiel starts seeing the light at PSG and starts winning the competition from that ugly French bold head. Janmaat is IMO the canary in the coalmine. As long as he is in the squad you know we suck. Not sure if I already mentioned it, but Janmaat can’t defend. Giving me nightmares to think an 18 year old Fischer made a fool out of him in the Klassieker. Van Rhijn will pull a van der Wiel and we can only hope Jaap Stam will prevent that from happening when becoming assistant coach for Ajax next season. Maybe he can end the walking back disease as van Rhijn started great last season and that was when Stam was working with him.

    The thing that does seem to be a perfect fit for this team now is the coach van Gaal. Indeed he is brilliant with young players and the fact Netherlands is the best European team in qualification is the result of his influence. He had his luck but contrary to van Marwijk he seems to make more use of tactics, selects more on fitness, does do some adapting to opponents (Germany very defensive, Italy very attacking) and has more self confidence. I had a feeling that players were walking over van Marwijk at the end of his spell at Euro 2012. He was also too sensitive for critique from the media especially involving the Huntelaar/RVP debate. That having said, van Marwijk has done well in other departments and van Gaal always has that blind spot sooner or later. With Bayern he kept on resisting to invest big in 2 good center defenders. With Barca he started pushing Rivaldo to the left side. He will always come up with some stupid sh*t to throw in his window glasses and that means our window glasses. I think his adaptability has come from his AZ spell. When he missed out on the title on the last day against Excelsior and had a bad period after that he applied more conservative tactics and won the title in a great way. That might have made him actually more suitable for his current job as Netherlands is certainly not the best team out there.

    All in all I am already happy with qualifying for 2014 and I expect little from that tournament.


    • Jonathan F
      February 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

      Some really interesting comments here Hendrik to compliment a fine article. Great stuff!

      Willems was hung out to dry by Van Marwijk if you ask me, it was actually borderline negligence to play such an inexperienced youngster against a team like Germany. That kind of thing can affect a player for the rest of his career.

      Shocking managerial decision and for me the blame rests with the manager on that one. I’ve not seen him much this season for PSV – is he recovering well? Big test of his mentality anyway.

      Also interesting that you say Buttner is a ‘clueless clown’ – not seen much of him at Man United to suggest anything other than a panic buy to offer some cover really, certainly hasn’t shown much to suggest he’s the natural successor to Patrice Evra (although his debut was very promising). Wonder who scouted him?

      Thanks for the very thought-provoking comments.

  3. Hendrik
    February 22, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    “I’ve not seen him much this season for PSV – is he recovering well? Big test of his mentality anyway.”

    > Willems hobbled a bit from one injury to the other this season and in between I have seen some truly bad games from him, but after his last inury he has come back strong. Against ADO he was probably the best player on the field and against Vitesse he was despite the disappointing result for PSV (especially since Vitesse played with 10 men for a while) pretty good again. I also notice little thinks, like when Derijck let Bony score it was Jetro the Jet Willems who scolded him for it and became angry. Now I am not a big fan in general of such behavior, but it is telling that a young kid of 18 years old is getting into an older players face telling him he messed up. It’s a little thing people gloss over but these kind of interactions tell us something about Willems the player (a winner) and the quality norms he demands from himself and others. Then the last game was against Utrecht (probably the most overachieving team in Eredivisie in many people’s eyes) and he alternates between hot and cold moments. Then there is a powerful surging run forward with a good pass to a teammate into a danger/opportunity zone, then he fluffs an easy pass (which is a strong point from him). What I love him for, but needs to be ironed out of his game, is his over self confidence. Example: In that Utrecht game he goes nutmegging an attacker with little to no cover behind him. I mean that is unacceptable, but it does bring a smile on my face. It’s youthfulness. I bet that within 2 years it will be out of his game and he is already a more sober and reliable defender.

    I just think that people have some kind of wrong image of him. In their perception he is now Dutch international and he has this status to carry of having been the number 1 left back for the Dutch NT on Euro 2012. He played there sub optimal and that sticks to him (though in the Denmark game he was decent IMO). Jetro came off from winning the U17 Euro and probably being one of the best players there (maybe better than Ebecilio that is now at Arsenal and won the player of the tournament award), then rolled into a PSV side that was struck by bad luck, having both Pieters as Tamata injured, and being the talent he is, becoming an acceptable option as a 17 year old in defense. I say defense, as it’s whole other ball game to become a Bambi option in attack doing your actions in the meadow and look fresh and energetic, then being in that disciplined last line to stop 10 year older attackers at a tender age. Even Alaba from Bayern, arguably the biggest international talent on left back (and 1 year, 9 months and 6 days older) was taken out initially by van Gaal after a few games when he made too many errors. Willems kept on playing for PSV and only Cocu felt the need to switch to Pieters again (15 caps for nation) who made bigger errors and got injured again. I think people will have a hard time naming a better 18 year old left back in the world at the moment and that is the way I see him. I look forward to the game against Feyenoord and how he deals with “de Kuip”, as I liked him in the last 3 games. The thing with Willems is that when he plays good, he really plays good and better than Pieters ever could. I focus on those games, as for me they give away of what can become when he turns into a more consistent player in the long run. Being a 4 in one game and an 8 in the other is the whole deal with talent.

    “Also interesting that you say Buttner is a ‘clueless clown’”

    > Well in positioning. That is the nuance I made. I think on ball he is oke. His cross is mediocre. He is bad at pure defending, positioning and a team is always risking to run into a penalty situation with him in the team. He causes them and gets them, or free kicks near the box. With more games, that will start to show as well.

    ” Wonder who scouted him?”

    > I think the United scout for the Netherlands only had him on 3ird or 4th place. It was really SAF himself that looked at video material and liked him IIRC. My personal explanation is think SAF selected him on temperament and aggressiveness. He is somebody always giving his all and that puts Evra again on his front feet. It is typical for such a player to play a first game for United as Büttner did where he came out storming. Evra has been better than last season and that is also the result of such player being behind him. So maybe that was crossing SAF’s mind and in that case it has worked out IMO.


  4. Hendrik
    February 22, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    This is an example why I rate van Ginkel so high:

    It’s best to start the flash of brilliance at 2:40

    Now this might not be the best team he plays against, actually it’s a semi amateur team for a Cup game, but the same quality I have seen manifested on many different occasions against harder teams a well. It’s just that in one shot you see a lot together:

    His first touch is silky (though lately he messes them up more, I still think it is up there with the best talents like Maher), he makes time and space with it in a beautiful way (ball over the player that wanted to press him) , then has the vision and ability to execute the pass with the right speed and trajectory. It shows first touch, awareness, vision and through pass ability.

    On top of this he was in the top 5 most fouling players last season, but only received a yellow for every 20 or 25 of them. He somehow always gets away with it. Van Ginkel is both battler and footballer. So if Blind, BMI, de Vrij and others get attention, I think this kid should be right at the top with Maher.

    The beauty of it, is that both players complement each other. Van Ginkel is good at making deep runs and there is no better player to do the one-two with than Maher (best young Dutch player in the small spaces) to free up near the the opponents box. In the U21 game they scored a great goal together.