Eredivisie Preview: Willem II, Excelsior and FC Dordrecht

Willem II – Down, up, down, up and now what?

It’s only 15 years ago that Willem II played in the Champions League. And it’s only nine years ago that Willem II played UEFA Cup football. A few financial problems, two relegations and two promotions later, Willem II are one of the outspoken relegation battlers in the Eredivisie. A shame,as Willem II is from one of the bigger cities in the Netherlands (Tilburg) and is renowned for a loyal fanbase. Testament to that is that they broke the attendance record for a second tier game last season (13760). Incidentally, they also held the previous record, as they set that two years ago.

To be fair, there was enough reason to attend the Koning Willem II Stadion last season. Willem II became Jupiler League champions, seeing off FC Dordrecht and scoring freely. Standout performer in that side was AZ loanee Ruud Boymans, who was responsible for 27 of the 78 league goals scored by Willem II. Unfortunately, Ruud Boymans has made a move to FC Utrecht leaving Willem II without an identified topscorer.  All eggs have been placed in the ‘let’s hope his talent finally shines through’ basket with the signing of former Chelsea child star Ben Sahar.

On the other end, first goalkeeper Ruud Swinkels has left the club and has been replaced by the talented but unproven (and rather short) Kostas Lamprou from Feyenoord, who has joined the club on a season-long loan. Former Willem II and Vitesse defender Frank van der Struijk is expected to sign to add some experience to the backline and Fabian Sporkslede has been brought in on loan from Ajax to bolster the midfield. All in all, the squad looks a little thin in experience and numbers, especially at the back, but with exciting forward players such as Terrell Ondaan and Bruno Andrade Willem II look better than two years ago, when the team fell to the bottom spot in the 11th match round and never got out again, finishing 18th with an astonishing 23 points. Willem II manager Jurgen Streppel was already in charge back then and will be adamant to do a bit better.

Player to watch: Bruno Andrade

Probably one of the least famed Brazilians ever to play in Eredivisie, Bruno Andrade will probably be happy to achieve only a quarter of what his predecessors have done in the competition. But that doesn’t mean Andrade isn’t a talented player. The 25 year old has so far been quite unlucky with his career choices it seems, as the technically gifted forward earned a transfer to Reggina when he impressed in Brazil, tried to recover from that decision by shining at Helmond Sport and after flopping at Sint Truiden redeemed himself with a good first season at Willem II. With question marks surround Ben Sahar’s state and the ability of talented Terrell Ondaan to step up, it is Bruno Andrade who is required to make an impact.

BeNeFoot prediction: 16th place

Excelsior – Known for paper, but not for money

Few teams to have played in Eredivisie have such an unambitious mission as Excelsior. Survival is the sole goal every year the club from Rotterdam appears in the top tier. No surprise, given their stadium Woudenstein only has a capacity of 3.532 and still doesn’t sell out regularly. The club is one of Dutch football its darlings due to their inventive way of running the club. Back in the day, fans and members of the club used to collect old paper to recycle, which would earn the club from 2 to 20 cents per kilo, depending on which year.

Meanwhile, the club has done more for Dutch football than that. Excelsior developed talent, mainly for Feyenoord in Robin van Persie (who never played for the first team but vows to return to Excelsior at the end of his career), Salomon Kalou and Michel Bastos. Excelsior has also been a career launcher for managers Adrie Koster, Mario Been and Alex Pastoor, a path Jon-Dahl Tomasson looked to follow last year.Halfway through the 2013/14 season, Jon-Dahl Tomasson jumped ship in an attempt to save Roda JC from relegation in the Eredivisie. Back in December 2013, Excelsior was 7th in the Jupiler League, while Roda JC were 14th in the Eredivisie.

The fortunes have turned for both, as Roda JC relegated while Excelsior improved under new manager Marinus Dijkhuizen, who turned out to be an inspired appointment. Only Willem II picked up more points in 2014 than Excelsior and with Dijkhuizen getting the best out of striker Lars Veldwijk Excelsior delivered the Jupiler League top goalscorer for 2013/14 (30 goals). Excelsior finished third and convincingly beat FC Den Bosch and RKC Waalwijk to ensure promotion via the promotion/relegation play-offs.

But as always, Excelsior have paid the prize for their success. Veldwijk has joined Nottingham Forest for a fee of under 1 million euros and has been replaced by a talented but unproven attacker in Marko Maletic (Vfb Stuttgart) and Tom van Weert (FC Den Bosch), who was absent due to an injury for a year. The loan of Ninos Gouriye could prove a master stroke though. The former Heracles striker had a poor season for ADO Den Haag last term but has proven he is a quality player when on song. Furthermore, Daan Bovenberg adds the needed experience at right back as he returns to his former club after spells at N.E.C. and FC Utrecht. So far, Excelsior have handled their return to the top tier as always: Hoping for the best but no crazy decisions. Up to Dijkhuizen to make the most of it.

Player to watch: Tom van Weert

Signing a player that has scored 32 goals in his last 52 appearances in league football is hardly a gamble. But when that last (regular) league appearance has been in April 2013 the story changes. Tom van Weert looked on his way to the Eredivisie over a year ago, scoring for fun for FC Den Bosch. The now 24 year old has got his move a year later, but there are question marks on how he has recovered. However, Van Weert has looked a true poacher and the smart striker could well make an impact for the third club (in attendances) of Rotterdam.

BeNeFoot prediction: 17th place

FC Dordrecht – An unexpected arrival

The Netherlands conquered the bronze at the World Cup and PEC Zwolle trashed Ajax 5-1 to win the Dutch Cup. Still, the biggest miracle in Dutch football of last season happened in Dordrecht. A club that hardly has a stadium worth of professional football, a squad consisting of a a few full pros all earning at most 2.500 euros per month, semi-pros and a bunch of loanees, FC Dordrecht weren’t exactly title favourites at the beginning of 2013/14. But a terrific start saw them occupying 1st place for 28 consecutive match rounds. In the end, the title was conceded to the bigger and richer club Willem II as Dordrecht finished second, but through VVV-Venlo and Sparta Rotterdam FC Dordrecht managed to make the step up. And deservedly so.

Technical manager Marco Boogers has done wonders at the GN Bouw Stadion, the stadium that needed a significant upgrade to be readied for Eredivisie football. With a capacity of 4100, Dordrecht will expect to sell out every game. Luckily, a new stadium is on its way, a necessity for the club to ensure its professional status.

It is telling that there is a budget of 1 million euros for wages this season, a total less than some players Ajax or PSV earn individually. The success of last season wasn’t enough to keep the strong holders of last season. Midfielder Toni Varela and defender Josimar Lima already left halfway through the season. Goalkeeper Warner Hahn (Voetbal International’s Jupiler League player of the season) signed for Feyenoord on a free and the sensation of the first half of last season Yoell van Nieff had already been recalled by his club FC Groningen after impressing for Dordrecht. The latter still became Jupiler League talent of the year, such was his impact. Most telling perhaps is the departure of manager Harry van den Ham, who preferred joining FC Utrecht as assistant manager to coaching FC Dordrecht in the Eredivisie.

Expectations are low, but with Ernie Brandts FC Dordrecht have appointed an adequate manager. And the willingness of players to join FC Dordrecht in an attempt to resurrect their career might just see FC Dordrecht having enough to mount a serious survival bid. Ricky ten Voorde, Filip Kurto, Ricky van Haaren and Mart Lieder all arrived from Eredivisie clubs and while most of them got relegated they will be eager to prove that the Eredivisie is indeed the podium they deserve. With the surprise stay of defender Jeffrey Fortes and ADO Den Haag loanee Giovanni Korte there is plenty to work with and Dordrecht are set to put up a fight in order to stay up. Mark Lievisse Adriaanse eluded to that hope earlier here, and as one of the fans stated: ‘“Look at how Cambuur and Go Ahead Eagles have stayed in the Eredivisie with ease last season. Why can’t we?”. Why not indeed.

Player to watch: Giovanni Korte

Yoell van Nieff, Warner Hahn and club topscorer Paul Gladon (17 goals) took a lot of the plaudits last season, but in their shade the small winger Giovanni Korte (15) had a splendid season for the club from Zuid-Holland. Korte, which fittingly means ‘shorty’ in Dutch as he measures 1.69 metres, scored 15 league goals and at just 21 still has quite a career ahead of him. He’ll be determined to show his owner club ADO Den Haag that he is ready for the Eredivisie. Technically gifted and blessed with pace, he should be ready to make that step up.

BeNeFoot prediction: 18th place

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