Vitesse – 2013 Eredivisie champions?
Its nickname speaks volumes: ‘FC Hollywood aan de Rijn’. Vitesse has always been a turbulent club. In the eighties, ambitious chairman Karel Aalbers turned the club from a anonymous second tier side into a Eredivisie-one, and from 89/90 to 01/02, the club always finished in the top six of the Eredivisie. Big-name managers were attracted in Leo Beenhakker, Artur Jorge and Ronald Koeman. Money was spend, stars were bought, a new stadium was built. The Gelredome was a revolutionary stadium with its retractable roof and a field that could be slotted out of the stadium. In 2000, Aalbers was removed from his role under the suspicion of fraud. The removal of Aalbers heralded the beginning of a new chapter. A rotten one. Under Aalbers’ reign, loads of investments were made, leaving Vitesse with a huge debt.
In rapid fashion, Vitesse, a club that aspired to become ‘the fourth member’ of ”The Big Three’ (Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV) detoriated and both financial and sportive trouble arose. In 02/03 and 03/04, relegation was only just avoided, but with Vitesse owing €27 million to several parties, their money problems were mounting. In the end, a saviour was found. Vitesse was in debt to both the city of Arnhem and the province of Gelderland, but they cleared the club of their financial commitments and a deal was reached with the other creditors. Slowly but surely the club started to find their feet again without the big-name players and the big-name managers. However, Vitesse was never the club to be calm and composed. Vitesse, meandering along in mediocrity – it just didn’t seem right.
Luckily in August 2010, things were shaken up again. Georgian businessman and former footballer Merab Zhordania bought the club with financial backing from Russian oilgarch and billionaire Alexander Chigirinsky. As expected, it didn’t take long before Vitesse began to aim for the top. While the whole of the Netherlands laughed at Zhordania’s suggestion they could be champions in 2013, the Arnhem-crowd felt quietly confident. In a typically Vitesse-way, things started to pick up fast. Managers were hired and fired, players were bought and sold. Due to a good relationship with Roman Abramovich, Zhordania was able to bring in quite a few loanees from Chelsea. Amid all these developments, several homegrown prospects broke through. And then in the summer of 2011, John Van den Brom was appointed manager. He had performed above expectations with ADO Den Haag, reaching the Europa League and he was very highly thought of at his previous club, AGOVV.
The laughing soon stopped. Under the guidance of club legend John Van den Brom, Vitesse managed to win the play-offs for Europa League-football after finishing seventh in the league. It was the first time in ten years the Arnhemmers achieved European football. The investments started to pay off. Van den Brom left Vitesse for Anderlecht and Vitesse brought Fred Rutten in as their new manager. Anji Makhachkala proved too strong in the Europa League qualifiers but it had no adverse effect on their league form as Vitesse went unbeaten in the first nine games. The transformation from minor player to major threat that had begun in August 2010 was nearing its conclusion.
The overhaul in the squad has been impressive. In goalkeeper Piet Velthuizen and midfielders Theo Janssen and Marco van Ginkel, the club fields three Dutch internationals. Wilfried Bony is comfortably the current top scorer in the Eredivisie and Chelsea trio Patrick Van Aanholt, Tomas Kalas and Gael Kakuta have all made an impact. Japanese international Mike Havenaar, the troublesome ex-PSV striker Jonathan Reis and the potent Ecuadorian winger Renato Ibarra all provide extra attacking impetus. Meanwhile, Zhordania has his signature on this team with Georgian defender Guram Kashia captaining the side and Jan-Arie Van der Heijden, once of Ajax, is also proving his worth in Gelderland. It’s proved to be the perfect blend for Vitesse’s championship ambitions.
Even though the success is rather fragile, as Zhordania supports the club financially but without any assurances regarding their future, this season could see itself crowned as the most joyous one yet for anyone with yellow and black blood running through their veins (NAC supporters excluded!). Sitting joint-second place behind Ajax with a mere six games to play, Vitesse has a very decent shot at the title. League leaders Ajax are three points ahead but the champions still have to go to Eindhoven and host in-form Heerenveen at home. PSV still have difficult trips to AZ and FC Twente scheduled in addition to the crunch encounter with Ajax. On paper, the toughest nut to crack for Vitesse will be a trip to De Kuip but their other five games are against sides ranked below 11th.
A little luck, a little quality, a little momentum and Vitesse could well crown themselves champions for the first time in their club history. FC Hollywood aan de Rijn is back again and they are looking to make it a success story. What better way to mark the memory of the late club legend Theo Bos?