Dutch football needs help
Can it get any worst for the Netherlands? Still reeling from the failures of the national team, the country's football has hit an all-time low. For the first time in history, Dutch clubs are not guaranteed automatic continental spots. Meaning the Eredivisie champions will have to go through two preliminary rounds to reach the group stages next season. Inevitably, this has been long-time in the making. UEFA's latest decision, though, further exposes just how drastic the decline has been.
Back in the early 1970s, the Netherlands was at the forefront of European football. The decade began with Feyenoord becoming the first club in the country to lift the continent's biggest prize. Just 12 months later, Ajax followed suit. The Amsterdam club then went on to retain the trophy in each of the next two seasons to complete a hat-trick of European Cup triumphs. The Godenzonen had previously reached the final, but lost to AC Milan, in 1969.
Similarly, the national team was also experiencing a massive boom. Led by Johan Cruyff, they invented a brand of total attacking football never envisaged. Of course, the Oranjes made significant strides, qualifying for two World Cup finals in the decade. They would go on to clinch their first European Championship in 1988.
With an entirely new generation of players, the Dutch was at it again seven years after. Ajax lifted the prize - now in its Champions League guise - by beating Milan, courtesy of a late Patrick Kluivert goal. Twelve months later, the Amsterdam giants reached the final yet again before falling to Juventus on penalties. Nevertheless, the club was once again amongst Europe's elite and highlighted the qualities of the Eredivisie.
Those past successes are, however, nothing more than a distant memory now. That 1996 edition was the last time a Dutch club reached the final. Worryingly, a 2005 appearance by PSV is the only semi-final showing from an Eredivisie team this century; in all honesty, that is a sequence that seems likely to continue throughout the foreseeable future.
This season, though, Ajax were foretold to buck that ugly trend, having reached the Europa League final the previous campaign. But they fell meekly, crashing out in the preliminary round. All hope was now on Feyenoord and Vitesse. They also didn’t do any better, finishing bottom of their groups in the Champions and Europa League respectively. Consequently, the Netherlands suffered a loss of points in the UEFA club coefficient, dropping to 12th behind Austria and Belgium.
Opinions are divided about the underlying cause of the malaise. But perhaps the most glaring is the shortage of homegrown talents in recent times. Dutch clubs and their training academies were known to mass produce stylish, skilful stars like Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert. That supply, however, has since dried up.
But even before attempting to improve soccer at the grass-roots level, Dutch authorities have a more pressing problem: holding on to the stars they already have. The Eredivisie has literally been reduced to an auction ground for the elites. Despite limited quality these days in the Netherlands, bigger sides still flock the country to poach the few available ones.
Money, they say makes the world go around. And nowadays, it speaks powerfully, especially in the round leather game. Hence, the Dutch FA must seek any means whatsoever to make their league more attractive. Only this can lure potential investors and end the habitual outflux of players.
What else can help solve the extreme decay of football in the Netherlands? Apparently, they need our help.