Football: Dutch cast adrift in the wilderness

Netherlands captain Arjen Robben grimacing in vain as his brace against Sweden was too little, too late as the Dutch failed to qualify for the World Cup Finals despite their 2-0 home win on Tuesday. The Bayern Munich winger, who was marking his 96th
Netherlands captain Arjen Robben grimacing in vain as his brace against Sweden was too little, too late as the Dutch failed to qualify for the World Cup Finals despite their 2-0 home win on Tuesday. The Bayern Munich winger, who was marking his 96th cap, retired after the game and there appears to be no star coming through the Dutch talent pipeline that is of the same calibre as the 33-year-old.PHOTO: REUTERS

They risk falling further behind with a dwindling talent pool and poaching behind Russia 2018 flop

AMSTERDAM • There was to be no Dutch miracle on Tuesday, as the guillotine fell on the Netherlands' qualifying campaign for next year's World Cup Finals, despite a 2-0 victory over Sweden.

Needing a 7-0 win in order to leapfrog their opponents and reach the play-offs, the Oranje - who also failed to qualify for Euro 2016 - got two goals from skipper Arjen Robben, and it was not enough.

The match ended on a sad note as Robben, 33, announced his retirement from international football after making 96 appearances, scoring 37 times, and guiding them to the 2010 World Cup final and the 2014 World Cup semi-finals.

The Bayern Munich star said: "Fourteen years, it's beautiful, magnificent even.

"I will always remember the 2010 World Cup and 2014 (World Cup). Those are my best memories. During those two competitions, we formed a real team."

And a real team was what the Netherlands lacked throughout their wretched qualifying campaign, which saw them slump to defeats by France and crucially, away to Bulgaria in March.

The generation of talents which guided them to the 2010 final - the likes of Robben and Wesley Sneijder - are on their last legs, yet the next generation of players has proved to be sub-standard and ill-suited for the international game.

In the Bulgaria defeat, for instance, 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt was given a starting spot and was at fault for both Bulgarian goals. In that same match, only Robben had over 45 caps among the Dutch starting line-up, while six of them had fewer than 20 caps, with three having fewer than 10.

BRINGING THE CURTAIN DOWN

Fourteen years, it's beautiful, magnificent even. I will always remember the 2010 World Cup and 2014 (World Cup). Those are my best memories... we formed a real team.

ARJEN ROBBEN, Netherlands captain, calling time on his illustrious international career with 96 appearances and 37 goals for the Oranje.

Yet the big picture is that Dutch prospects are not cutting their teeth before they are signed by big European clubs, only to find themselves short of first-team action.

Said Frank de Boer, the former Ajax Amsterdam and Crystal Palace manager: "They have to be ready earlier, at 18 or 19, for the first team because when they're 23, which is already 'old' in our terms, they can be sold, and the other generation has to be ready (to replace them)."

Most of the critics believe that the Netherlands' surprise march to the 2014 World Cup semi-finals - which included a 5-1 rout over 2010 champions Spain - papered over the cracks that were already showing in their talent pool.

Dutch football journalist Michiel Jongsma, of benefoot.net, told Bleacher Report: "The wrong conclusions were drawn from that success. Over the last 330 minutes in the (2014) tournament, the Dutch had been ahead for only one minute, which was against Mexico in injury time."

While their beautiful 'Total Football' game has carved its place in football's history through training and tactics, they have arguably stagnated while other nations are steadily catching up on them.

Poor leadership exacerbated the problems on the field with former national coaches Danny Blind, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard all found wanting.

All this points to a need to overhaul the famed Dutch system of talent production. Otherwise, they could be cut even further adrift in future qualifying campaigns.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2017, with the headline 'Dutch cast adrift in the wilderness'. Print Edition | Subscribe