Tuesday 16 July 2019

Netherlands bounce back with modern coaching and traditional bravery

Netherland's Steven Bergwijn (centre) during the walk around at the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques, Guimaraes. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire
Netherland's Steven Bergwijn (centre) during the walk around at the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques, Guimaraes. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire

Miguel Delaney

For anyone wondering exactly how the Netherlands have so quickly recovered from two failed qualification campaigns to become a team who now suddenly look like European champions, it's actually probably worth taking a trip to Gelderland next week, rather than Portugal for the Nations League Final this weekend.

There, the 30th international Marveld Tournament will be taking place. The event is not just one of the most prestigious underage competitions on the continent but - crucially - the last one for under-15s.

After that young players can move within the EU, and players can be picked up for around €150,000 at the end of contracts. It is why many of the top clubs often send their first-team scouts, rather than just their academy scouts, to the event.

And despite that, or maybe because of that, all of the top Dutch clubs - Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord - will put on something of a show.

One agent who insists on attending the event every year says there is something that usually stands out. It is that, in the Dutch sides, there are kids who look small and frail, and not yet 16, who many other teams wouldn't dream of putting out.

At Marveld, though, they are often the centre of play and on the ball more than anyone. There is a bravery there. That is part of their football culture, but also why that culture has kept pace with the times.

This is essentially a huge reason why they have so quickly got back on track, to streak ahead.

While everyone else in 2016 was still wondering exactly how the Dutch had fallen so far behind, they had already started to take some of the necessary recovery steps.

Some of this did, of course, just come down to a natural fallow period. It is what many in the game say is happening to Germany right now, where there are relatively underwhelming youth teams.

One of the reasons put forward for that, however, is that their youth coaching has been seen as becoming a bit too complacent, too accustomed to churning out technically adept all-rounders rather than players of different positions with spark.

This is what happened with Holland for a time, leading up to 2016. It was why Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben stayed as primary players in the team for so long. The 1987, 1989 and 1991 generations didn't really step up in the manner expected.

The 1997 and 1999 generations certainly have stepped up, in the guise of Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and Matthijs de Ligt.

Improved

Again, some of this is the mere luck of good players coming through, which is something no one can manufacture or guarantee. But you can put in place the best conditions for it, which is what the Dutch have done. They have improved their coaching, modernised it, so it is the best it can possibly be. You don't see a preponderance of technically proficient passers any more.

Many also say the next wave of Dutch talent is the best in the game.

It is a slight irony, though, that this isn't the sole source of this specific team's resurgence with Virgil van Dijk - possibly the best defender in the world right now - developing on his own outside of a system and his success being a product of nothing but himself.

It is similarly striking that those like Ryan Babel, Memphis Depay, and Luuk de Jong are still solid members of the squad, and often senior starters.

That emphasises that the Dutch are still some way between generations, a bit like Spain 2006, Germany 2006-08, France 2014.

Tonight against England, they'll put out what might be the strongest spine in the Nations League and one of the best in world football.

It comes from old Dutch bravery, and has forged a fine modern new side. (© Independent News Service)

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