Third place is just the beginning for Netherlands
As Germany celebrate their World Cup glory in Berlin, there is a feeling of justification for Die Mannschaft. In winning the world crown after two consecutive third place finishes and a 24-year drought, the massive restructuring of the the way the game is run, played and produced has paid off with the ultimate rewards. With a group of supremely talented players and their belief in youth, it is something which they have been working towards for some time as they see their long-term strategy pay off.
It is, then, curious to ponder what might lie in the future of the Netherlands national team, as they emerge from a surprisingly successful World Cup campaign, following up their 2010 runner-up finish with an unexpected bronze medal from the tournament in Brazil.
The KNVB seem to be looking at the long term when it comes to their coaching staff, with Guus Hiddink taking over from Louis van Gaal until after Euro 2016 and then, it has been reported, Danny Blind will take over as head coach from then on. It is brave and sensible of Dutch football’s governing body to plan so far into the future in terms of the technical staff, but we also must look at what talents will be coming through and taking the field in the famous orange shirts.
With Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Dirk Kuyt all 30-years-old and over and Ron Vlaar and Nigel de Jong at 29, it seems a great generation is passing for Netherlands.
While the Dutch are world famous for producing generation after generation of wonderful talents, it was the experienced, established stars who were pivotal in Oranje progressing beyond the group stages and exceeding expectations by making it into the last four and beating hosts Brazil to third place.
Robben, who alongside Sneijder has now played in six international tournaments for Oranje, showed throughout the tournament that he is still world class and one of the most decisive players in world football at the moment, carrying the Dutch through to the third place in the tournament, even though they were expected to struggle in Brazil. Van Persie may have been poor in the knockout rounds, but his movement saw him star in the group stages and lead the team from the front and as captain was also a key man in the dressing room. Meanwhile, Kuyt showed that he has seemingly infinite energy and great talent to boost the national team a great deal against any opponent and in almost any position, Vlaar is still a key, strong and talented defender and leader and De Jong remains a magnificent midfielder.
However, by the time the 2018 World Cup in Russia comes, most of these players will have seen their involvement at international level diminish significantly, if not end all together. Despite such experienced, top class players nearing the end of their international careers after an inspiring, surprising and overall wonderful campaign, the future is bright for Oranje.
The competition in Brazil gave the young and inexperienced players Louis van Gaal opted to include in his 23-man squad a great chance to show their potential and talents. Memphis Depay and Stefan de Vrij captured the attention of many and showed they can go far in the world game, while Daley Blind made a great contribution despite playing out of his best position, Jasper Cillessen was solid in goal throughout the tournament, conceding only two goals from open play, and Georginio Wijnaldum added a lot to the midfield after replacing Jonathan de Guzman. Meanwhile, backup youngsters like Jordy Clasie, Terence Kongolo and Joel Veltman are all highly rated and expected to have bright futures at club level as well as a big say in what happens in the near future for the national team.
However, there are many more exciting young players to come from the Netherlands who will soon emerge and play a huge role in the nation’s future.
When Robben decides to call time on his career with the national team, it will be a devastating loss for Dutch natives. With his pace, skill, goalscoring ability and leadership off the field, Netherlands will lose one of the iconic players of the current generation. Crucially, though, he has a natural successor when it comes to taking on the role as the key, electrifying, goalscoring winger. At 20-years-old Depay is developing smoothly and is seen as the brightest young talent to be playing in the Eredivisie at the moment. With his incredible pace and shooting ability, he is reminiscent of the Bayern Munich star and will develop into a star in the next few years.
As a nation, the Dutch prefer to play in a 4-3-3 formation and a critical requirement of that formation is to have versatile wingers. It is here that Oranje have some excellent and extremely bright talents emerging. Beyond Depay on the left wing, Feyenoord’s Jean-Paul Boetius, who narrowly missed out on a place in the 2014 squad, is blossoming into a superb young player with technical ability and attacking prowess. Also, Ricardo Kishna is breaking into the Ajax team and at 19-year-old is seen as a very special talent. Having made one appearance for the the U21 team, he is still developing and gaining experience but could grow into an important player for club and country.
On the opposite flank, where Robben’s void will be felt most, there are a few excellent players ready to slot into Hiddink’s team. One of which is 23-year-old PSV forward Luciano Narsingh, who, when fit, can be one of the most threatening and dangerous wingers in the Eredivisie. He has struggled with injury since his move to Eindhoven from Heerenveen but the coming season will provide him with an excellent chance to resume his development. Narsingh faces tough competition for a place in the national team from Quincy Promes. The quick, skilful, goalscoring FC Twente player has attracted a lot of attention after a wonderful season in the Eredivisie and was close to being included in the 23-man squad for the World Cup. The 22-year-old is highly rated and has put in some excellent performances for the Under 21 Netherlands team and having already received his debut at the senior squad, is certain to be included in the squad more frequently under Guus Hiddink as this new generation matures.
Van Persie and Huntelaar have served the national team well throughout the last few years and will continue to do so, but as they will soon begin to diminish, Hiddink and Blind will be anxious to look at the next generation of Dutch strikers.
At 26-years-old, Jeremain Lens still has a lot to add to Oranje, however, the likes of PSV’s 20-year-old No.9 Jurgen Locadia and Ajax’s new 17-year-old signing Richairo Zivkovic have shown that they are the ones to watch at the moment, Following their returns to the Eredivisie, Luuk de Jong and Luc Castaignos could soon begin to live up to their expectations and force Hiddink to give them a chance, but both have some way to go at the time of writing.
As they develop so many technically gifted and tactically intelligent players, the midfield is where the Dutch are producing some extremely special players. As his absence was felt severely at the 2012 European Championships and the 2014 World Cup, every Netherlands fan is desperate to see the magnificent Kevin Strootman turn out for the national team at a major tournament. The box-to-box midfielder is athletic, dynamic and intelligent and his presence has a huge influence on the way the team plays. The players who play around him in the midfield then must provide good balance to the team. The loss of Nigel de Jong will be great – he has been an excellent servant to the national team, but when he brings and end to his national career, it will free up Clasie, with his defensive capabilities and passing accuracy, to partner Strootman in the midfield. Marco van Ginkel‘s energy, pace and attacking intent will also come in handy, but the next two years are vital for the player. His first season at Chelsea was plagued by injury and severely hindered him. He needs a lot of game time at Stamford Bridge to continue to grow as a player and reach the heights expected of him as he showed at Vitesse he has the capabilities to become a top class midfielder. Daley Blind had a decent World Cup in Brazil, but was played more as a left wing-back and a central defender, however, his best position is clearly as a deep lying midfielder. While he is excellent as a No.6 at setting the pace of a game and controlling it overall, it is still unknown in which position his future lies at the national team, but he will boost the midfield significantly if he is used as backup – it’s hard to imagine him being used in the position ahead of a player like Clasie, for instance.
Ahead of the central players, Wijnaldum will likely sit as an attacking midfielder or Tonny Vilhena – the 19-year-old Feyenoord midfielder is yet another magnificent young player to emerge from the club’s wonderful youth system. Adam Maher is another option who Dutch natives will be desperate to see in the team once again. The PSV youngster is a clearly talented playmaker with great potential, but his first season in Eindhoven following his move from AZ did not go well at all. He was eventually dropped to the bench and his development took a serious hit. The 2014-15 season gives him a chance to improve again and become one of the brightest stars in the country once again and if he does so he can certainly become one of the key players for the national team. Ajax’s Davy Klaassen is also another talented and excellent midfielder who is growing into an integral player for the Eredivisie champions and, although will also be available as an option for a more advanced midfield role. Hakim Ziyech, another of last season’s Eredivisie revelations is an attacking midfielder whose all-round game is really quite impressive and at 21 has become the subject of interest from FC Twente. His performances for the Jong Oranje have been excellent and if he keeps progressing the way he did in 2013-14, Hiddink will have to consider him. With so many excellent players coming through, the Netherlands midfield will have energy, pace and intelligence in abundance and will be well balanced. It could well become one of the best in the next major tournaments if these young stars develop in the way they are expected.
Defensively, there won’t be a huge change from the backline we saw in Brazil other than in terms of shape. It’s most likely the Dutch will return to a back-four instead of using three centre-backs in a line of three or a five-man defence like they did this summer. Martins Indi, De Vrij, Veltman and Kongolo will all remain part of the set up, but Virgil van Dijk will surely be given his chance to shine at a national level under Hiddink after he was constantly overlooked by Van Gaal following his move to Celtic last summer. Also, Stefano Denswil, if he manages to get first-team football at Ajax, can make a claim for a place in the squad.
On the full-back positions, at 24, new Newcastle signing Daryl Janmaat will also still be available for the right side. However, the former Feyenoord player will face competition from 23-year-old Ricardo van Rhijn of Ajax as well as Gregory van der Wiel, who missed out on the trip to South America because of injury and at 26 can return as the first choice right-back. On the left, Jetro Willems, who also missed the World Cup because of injury, and Patrick van Aanholt both have very bright futures and are attack-minded full-backs.
At 25, 26 and 30, respectively, Jasper Cillessen, Tim Krul and Michel Vorm will probably remain the main goalkeepers for some time. However, PSV stopper Jeroen Zoet is clearly a bright talent and could emerge as one to join the fray. Kenneth Vermeer and Maarten Stekelenburg cannot be completely discounted yet, but have a long way to go to restore their reputations after quick declines. Cillessen showed in Brazil that with him as the No.1, the Dutch are in safe hands with a player who, less than a year ago, was playing in the second tier of Dutch football. That he was beaten only twice from open play in the World Cup shows that he had a solid tournament and it has become clear he is set for a bright future.
It will be a sad day when the time comes for the likes of Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, De Jong, Kuyt and Huntelaar to hang up their orange jerseys for the final time. It will mark the end of a generation of players who brought great pride to the Netherlands in 2010 and 2014 despite that horror showing at Euro 2012. However, they will pass on those jerseys to the next generation who will take them on knowing they will not have to build a new era from scratch, but will merely carry on from where their predecessors left off.
For the KNVB, Hiddink, Blind and every Netherlands fan, the 2014 World Cup does not mark the climax of a generations’ great work, but is a platform for them to build upon.
As the German victory party goes on, the Dutch can watch on and feel that after another near miss, theirs will come soon.