LONDON • It is a fair assessment to say that the Netherlands football team has seen better days, with their stock having fallen after the failure to qualify for two consecutive major tournaments in Euro 2016 and the World Cup in June.
And while new coach Ronald Koeman is looking for his team to shine in his first match in charge against England on Friday, he admitted on Monday that the Dutch had lost a lot of quality players in recent years.
Both Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, who holds the Dutch record of 133 caps, have recently retired from international football, while fellow veteran Robin van Persie is lacking in match fitness.
Koeman said he would have to gamble with youth for the friendly in Amsterdam and then for their second game three days later in Geneva against Portugal, with Liverpool Virgil van Dijk in line for the captaincy ahead of the game at the Amsterdam Arena.
"We have said goodbye to several creative players that you don't just replace that easily. Now we have youngsters who still need to develop and only the future will tell if they are able to reach the same heights," said the former Everton manager.
Koeman suggested the 34-year-old Robben would still have a role to play in the Dutch team had he not called it a day with the national team and said he was not ruling out a return for van Persie, 34, once he proved his fitness at Feyenoord. The former Manchester United striker has scored 50 goals for his country.
Koeman, 54, revealed to The Daily Mail that he needed "time to focus again" after being sacked by the Premier League club, but was now aiming to "get the country moving forward again" and take the Dutch to the "next big tournament in 2020".
With Koeman having been appointed Netherlands coach last month, the upcoming "great game" against England represents the first chance he will have to assess the work he needs to do to restore their reputation as one of football's heavyweights.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS