The Netherlands has all the tools to turn fortunes around
The Netherlands is among the most prestigious footballing nations. After finishing behind France and Sweden in the World Cup Qualifiers, however, the Dutch won't participate in next summer's tournament. It's a significant fall after reaching the semi-finals in Brazil only four years ago.
It's an unfortunate situation. The Netherlands had a golden generation in the 1970s with players such as Johan Cruyff, Ruud Krol and Johan Neeskens leading the way. Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, Edwin van der Sar and Patrick Kluivert gave weight to Dutch football in the late 90s to early 00s. In recent years, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie carried the team, despite falling short in the 2010 World Cup final, losing to Spain after Andres Iniesta's stoppage-time goal.
The decline started in 2014, with the Netherlands failing to qualify for the 2016 European Championship. The Euros in France was the first tournament expanded from 16 to 24 teams. The Dutch missed out on two direct berths and a play-off spot per group. Their absence grabbed worldwide headlines. Things only got worse, though.
After failing to qualify for the last two major tournaments, what's gone wrong for the Netherlands?
The Dutch have many past greats, but they have failed to produce such talent in recent times. Even though the current squad has several interesting players, the standard has dropped from ten years ago.
The Oranje needed an experienced figure to guide the side over the coming campaigns. They found their man in Ronald Koeman. The former FC Barcelona defender and Dutch team member was officially appointed as manager on Tuesday. He takes over from Dick Advocaat, who spent only six months in the role after replacing Danny Blind.
While Koeman is coming off a disappointing stint with Premier League side Everton, where he was sacked after 16 months in charge, he seems a good choice to ensure the Netherlands transition successfully.
The Dutch possess a lot of potential on their current roster. Players such as Jasper Cillessen, Kevin Strootman, Memphis Depay and Das Bost highlight a generation aiming to leave Sneijder, Van Persie and others behind. The Netherlands can also claim the world's most expensive defender in Virgil van Dijk, as well as one of the Premier League's top midfielders in Georginio Wijnaldum and prolific striker Ryan Babel, who seems revitalised since joining Besiktas. Younger prospects, Marko van Ginkel, Matthijs de Ligt and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, are eager to make an impact at international level, too.
Koeman must prove that his Everton mishap was just a bump in the road. He will hope to fare better managing a national side. Maybe his attributes are more suited to international football. The prospect of returning the Netherlands to former glory could offer enough motivation to turn things around for himself and his nation.
The playing talent is ready, the new manager has taken command, and the infrastructure is in place. Now the Dutch simply need to put it all together.