Further embarrassment for Netherlands as Hiddink shows he’s not the right man
“I am not mad,” Guus Hiddink said after seeing his Netherlands team completely outclassed by Iceland in a 2-0 defeat in Monday’s Euro 2016 qualifying match. “I am disappointed.”
The Oranje coach is right to be disappointed, but he certainly should be angry too. Everyone should. The coach, the players, the fans, even the KNVB. They should all be fuming at this point. Four games into the 67-yer-old’s second spell at the helm of the national team and the positives have not been few, they have been non-existent.
The former Real Madrid boss could use an early red card as an excuse for his debut defeat to Italy in a friendly, but there was no hiding from the defeat to Czech Republic days later in their opening qualifier. Taking over from Louis van Gaal after the 2014 World Cup was never going to be easy, with the team finishing third in the summer showpiece in Brazil. However, Hiddink has not made it easy for himself. There was a reason his predecessor switched from the formation from the usual 4-3-3 to a 5-3-2, a lack of athleticism and ability to carry the ball forward, the absence of a strong left-back and a lack of defensive discipline and solidity. Hiddink, though, has opted to use largely the same personnel and bring back the 4-3-3 and the results have been disastrous.
Hiddink has opted to use Daley Blind as a left-back again. Under Van Gaal, the now-Manchester United player had been utilised as a left-wing back and then as a central defender and he was a suitable option. However, throughout his career in the previous years, it had been made clear time and again that he was no left-back and, as he proved in his final full season with Ajax and during his time in the youth system, he was much better as a central midfielder. In Brazil, though, his weaknesses, lack of pace and defensive apathy were well covered for. In a flat back four, he needs to be aware when the opponent attacks, while he doesn’t enough going forward. Without Ron Vlaar in the centre of defence, Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij are completely exposed and they are not ruthless enough, while the former’s positioning has caused several problems already under the new coach.
These are exactly the problem areas in defence that Van Gaal had been able to disguise adequately in his change of the system. Hiddink, sadly, still has not been able to identify and make any sort of alterations for it. For example, opting for an out-and-out left back would have been way more convenient. But astonishingly enough, it was Erik Pieters who was kept out of the match squad for both the Kazachstan and Iceland games, despite showing good form at Stoke City.
Hiddink is unable to see that Wesley Sneijder has no use in 4-3-3 formation and he decided to call-up Ibrahim Afellay despite the midfielder playing just one game for Olympiakos, after playing only two matches for Barcelona in the entire 2013-14 campaign. The 28-year-old is a good player, no doubt, but his call-up for the matches against Italy and Czech Republic could not be justified. In the mean time, it is Nigel de Jong who looks lost as he needs to do the dirty work for Sneijder and Afellay while trying to help out the inexperienced and brittle defence. Even for the industrious De Jong, it is too much to cope with.
Hiddink has never been seen as a tactical genius, he is a far behind Van Gaal in that aspect. By introducing the 4-3-3 system, he wants to take a step towards making Oranje a more dominant and entertaining side once again, something they are famous for, but haven’t been for some time. From a purely ideological standpoint, many will see that respectable, but it isn’t. That ability to adapt and change is what allowed Bert van Marwijk to take Netherlands to the World Cup in 2010, it’s what allowed Van Gaal to carry the team to third place this summer. In Hiddink’s case, it will be his downfall, as the manager seems inapt do deal with the limitations of his squad.
The ex-Anzhi Makhachkala manager is seen as more of a man-manager and a motivator. Ajax coach Frank de Boer said shortly after his former boss was announced as the successor to Van Gaal that he could not remember any tactical knowledge Hiddink had passed onto him, but insisted the players would walk through fire for him.
Players, of course, must share the blame. It’s indefensible that a group of professionals cannot string passes together when faced with a team like Iceland who give away a lot of space. But there seems to be none of that desire or inspiration to play even to their level, let alone above it like the likes of De Boer and Van Gaal can inspire their players to reach when looking to dig themselves out of a hole.
If Hiddink cannot bring one of his main strengths to the team, what can he bring?
Arjen Robben is the player Netherlands always look to make a difference. The Bayern Munich star is world class and can threaten any defence. Yet Iceland managed to isolate him remarkably easy, so much so that when he received the ball, the large number blue bodies around him combined with the lack of movement from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie meant that he could do nothing with the ball. Hiddink, though, could do nothing to deal with this issue and it left the Oranje completely impotent.
Ronald Koeman was the other main candidate to replace Van Gaal in the Netherlands hotseat. It was the former Barca player who introduced the 5-3-2 system to Feyenoord that Van Gaal adopted for the World Cup. It was Koeman’s Feyenoord team which supplied more players to the national team for the competition than any other team. It was Koeman, through his man-management skills, his belief in youth and his tactical knowledge, which saw him bring Feyenoord back from near death to second in the Eredivisie and it was Koeman who before was hailed at Ajax for his ability to set up a team tactically to get a result.
The KNVB, though, overlooked him in favour of Hiddink and after four games they must see it as an opportunity missed.
“I think Guus Hiddink doesn’t really have a game plan,” Ronald de Boer said as a pundit analysing the game on Sky Sports.
“He doesn’t show the guys ‘this is the way we want to go’. I want to see, for example, running midfielders supporting Van Persie. I don’t see any of this.
“There’s plenty of games to play and change it around. But the pressure will be enormous now for Guus because there was criticism for his nomination beforehand.
“Koeman was ready to take over, he was really outspoken, he really wanted to take the job. With all due respect for Hiddink, he’s 67 years old, I think he’s done, in my eyes.
“Of course he has a great record. His ideas now are old-fashioned. With Koeman he showed with Feyenoord he can really shape [a team] and also he knows the mentality of those young boys.
“Guus is more of a people manager with an arm around them. But those guys need guidance.”
The former Ajax player makes a good point. This is a team severely lacking direction or any kind of balance. The holes are aplenty and the outlook is nothing but negative. He has lost three of his first four matches – the last Oranje coach to do that was Hiddink himself, in his first spell in 1994. Worryingly, though, every single performance has been atrocious. The players he has don’t fit this formation. The 3-1 win over Kazakhstan in the Amsterdam ArenA was an embarrassment and the defeat to Iceland wasn’t much better.
Hiddink has to turn it around very quickly and he has to see the issues plaguing this team at the moment. Hopefully he will, but so far, there are no positive signs which suggest he can do it.