A lack of options due to a conservative approach
Well, that’s that then. The Dutch crashed out of the tournament in a way they have never experienced before. Three successive competitive defeats is a unique ‘accomplishment’ for the Netherlands. Since 1905, the year the country played its first international match, this had never occurred. A slap in the face for the World Cup runners-up, some might evensay a knock-out blow. But not a total shock. Apart from the loss against the Danish, which to be fair was rather unfortunate, a lot of pundits tipped the Dutch to be a casualty in the so called ‘Group Of Death’.
When reviewing the team its performance, it’s hard to take positives out of it. The only slightly heartening performances came from Wesley Sneijder and young Jetro Willems. The former reached an incredibly high level against Denmark, the latter had a decent tournament for an eighteen year old. The rest of the bunch never came close to the level they have obtained for their club the last couple of years. Van Marwijk never made spectacular changes though, as he wasn’t too sure about the quality on his substitutes bench.
It’s the conservative approach Van Marwijk has shown over the last four years. He only brought few players through and brought them on mostly as a sub. When you compare the starting line-up from the World Cup-final with the one in the opening game of the Euros this year, only two changes had been made. Due to the retirement of Van Bronckhorst, Jetro Willems played at left-back. Furthermore, Dirk Kuyt was replaced with Ibrahim Afellay, mainly due to a lack of playing minutes for the former Liverpool-player. On one hand it’s commendable a coach shows that much faith in his players.
The negative thing about it all is the lack of testing younger, talented players on an international level. When first-choice left back Erik Pieters got injured, the Dutch had already qualified for the Euros. He got replaced by Edson Braafheid, a left back who has played less than 50 competitive games over the last five years. A bit of a strange one, especially when considering over half of the Dutch eredivisie-sides have a left back in their main eleven. Not to mention Urby Emanuelson. The AC Milan-player has played a huge amount of his career at left back and is well accustomed to both international level and the left back position.
A similar thing occurred on the right flank, where Van der Wiel has had a terrible season, and centre back. Several talented central defenders are breaking through at the moment in the Eredivisie. When a replacement for Heitinga was needed though, Van Marwijk picked Jeffrey Bruma, who endured a season to forget at Hamburger SV. Maduro, then Valencia, Roel Brouwers of Mönchengladbach and Boulahrouz of Stuttgart never got a chance as well. The left attacking midfielder-position was, in absence of Afellay, gifted to Liverpool-substitute Dirk Kuyt, even though a great talent in Ola John had emerged at FC Twente and the aforementioned Emanuelson would have been quite suitable for the role. On the right, out and out winger Luciano Narsingh of SC Heerenveen wasn’t tried, with van Marwijk ignoring the incredible 20 assists the youngster had amassed in the Eredivisie.
Only in central midfield a younger player was given a chance in Kevin Strootman. The PSV-midfielder And he did quite alright. But when the bigger games arrived, he was dropped in favour of Nigel de Jong.
In the prelude to the Euros it left van Marwijk with huge issues. And when the Denmark match arrived, he had to play with two defenders (Willems and Vlaar) that did not even had ten caps between them. Since qualifying for the Euros he had a chance to test talents against respectable sides as Sweden, Switzerland, England and Germany, but he always refused to do so. For the rest, he never changed his formation to see if a Huntelaar and Van Persie match-up could have worked. A shame, since they were the third and fourth most lethal strikers gracing Europe’s top competitions respectively.
Van Marwijk’s predecessor, van Basten got ridiculed for giving players a chance that eventually were a disgrace to the Oranje-shirt. But people forget the finds he had: Boulahrouz was an RKC Waalwijk-player when he made his debut on international level and went on to have a very decent career. In Mathijsen, Kuyt, Afellay, Vlaar, Huntelaar, Stekelenburg, and Van Persie a huge part of the Van Marwijk-team got the nod when Van Basten was in charge. Of the players van Marwijk introduced, only Willems and van der Wiel played a part in this championship. And they were brought in the team out of necessity.
In the end, the tournament was not so much lost in Poland and Ukraine, but in the conservative approach of Bert van Marwijk. And if he won’t change his attitude, Brazil 2014 will become a repeat of the fiasco that has just taken place.