In this era where everything is ludicrously black and white, the urge to jump to conclusions is never curbed, the temptation to make predictions and declarations almost never resisted, and knee-jerk reactions are rampant. So, if we can conclude that Julen Lopetegui will get sacked at Real Madrid, Germany are in decline, Bayern Munich are no longer good, Chelsea will push all the way for the Premier League title and England are the new Harlem Globetrotters after beating Spain, then we can say with reckless abandon that the Netherlands are back as a footballing force.
Perhaps not. Probably not. Almost certainly too soon. Concluding that the Dutch are back from the wilderness is far from it, but things surely feel different lately. From the decision to appoint Ronald Koeman as manager, things have been looking upward. In fact, the decision itself to hire Koeman was an upward move, the KNVB finally opting against recycling a dinosaur in the dugout, and go for something different, a manager whom – despite being sacked by Everton not long ago – has been building a reputation for himself and is very much in the know, particularly in this era.
One of the reasons why Dutch slipped from the top of the ladder is the mysterious disappearance of youth in their side, particularly in their EURO 2016 campaign. Things are going back to that route this time, with the likes of Sven van de Beek, Mathias de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong part of the Dutch squad furniture. Virtually all the older heads have been eased out, Wesley Sneijder the latest, and a youthful side offers promise for a prolonged long-term development.
Koeman’s tactical flexibility is another positive factor in the side. The Dutch have always operated with a 4-3-3, bar the World Cup in 2014 under Louis van Gaal, routine and predictable. Koeman has also deployed that formation most of the time, but his use of de facto strikers, lately Memphis Depay, showcases the manager’s flexibility, as well as going a way to ease the problem of not having a traditional striker. Koeman has also played with a 3-4-2-1 formation, as well as an unorthodox 4-4-2 on occasion, making the Dutch very much less anticipated.
Then there are the results. There’s only so much optimism a youthful and tactically flexible side can bring, without results they seem little more than a smokescreen. So, the Dutch’s last two internationals, a three-nil win over Germany in the Nations League, as well as a draw against world number one Belgium in a friendly, where they more than looked competent, is a positive.
Again, it’s tempting to go overboard and proclaim the Dutch have returned, and it’s wise to keep things in perspective. However youthful and promising they look, Holland still lack the quality most top-ranked sides boast, and prior to this international break, had only beaten one top-ranked side, in Portugal. And while they may have had positive results this time, the win was against a hapless and increasingly flawed German team, while the draw against Belgium was only a friendly after all.
But that shouldn’t put a dampener on the optimism that’s starting to shine from the Dutch camp, and Koeman and company should focus on the positives. The Dutch are almost certainly not back yet, but they look to be on their way.
Image Credit: The Mirror