In international soccer, there are few countries that have a reputation and history as well respected as the Dutch. The contributions that Dutch players and managers have made to the sport of soccer throughout the decades is innumerable. Despite the absence of victories at international tournaments, the Netherlands garners respect from every opponent.
Within the rich history of Dutch soccer lies possibly the most influential man in the sport—Johann Cruyff. During his time as a player, Cruyff was awarded the Ballon d’Or in recognition as the world’s best player and even invented a move that is now named “the Cruyff turn.” In club soccer, he won three European Cups and countless domestic league titles with two clubs, Ajax and Barcelona.
Cruyff’s impact did not stop after he retired from playing. During his career, he was a famous proponent of a system known as “Total Football”—where any outfield player can seamlessly slide into the role of any of their teammates on the field. Total Football was so successful, in fact, that it continues to shape the style and tactics of soccer managers today
Cruyff was the greatest player on a long list of fantastically gifted players and managers to come out of the Netherlands. And yet in 2017, the Netherlands appears to be on the verge of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, after failing to qualify for the 2016 European Championships. This squad contains many of the same players who donned the orange jersey for 2010 and 2014 World Cup tournaments, which saw the Netherlands grab second and third place finishes respectively. For a nation with such pedigree, this is a magnificent collapse and failure for the national team.
The departure of manager Louis Van Gaal, who managed the 2014 World Cup squad, was the primary catalyst for the following events. Van Gaal made some critical tactical changes to the lineup of the team, turning a large weakness in the Dutch team (its defensive capabilities and lack of star defenders) into a very resilient force. Van Gaal struck a good balance between strict management of the team by giving these stars more liberty to operate independently and to discover tactics that best suited the offense. The result was a well-organized squad that played well to its own strengths, and eliminated many of its weaknesses through careful organization and planning.
This collapsed just as soon as Van Gaal departed. His replacement Guus Hiddink struggled to maintain the quality of performance after 2014. These struggles were so prolific that Hiddink was released in 2015, and another replacement was introduced: Danny Blind. Under Blind, the team spectacularly failed to qualify for the Euro, and has struggled to in qualify for the next World Cup.
The failure to continue the successful style that Van Gaal implemented lies with his two successors. There have been other challenges that Hiddink and Blind have encountered, but the horrendous mismanagement has been the critical weakness that separates the Dutch from qualifying for international tournaments.
In their most recent gaffe against Bulgaria, soonto-be-fired manager Danny Blind started a youngster, Matthijs de Ligt, a 17 year-old, as the central defender in the Dutch squad, instead of Wesley Hoedt, a seasoned professional at 23 years of age and starter at a top Italian Club, Lazio. De Ligt made an embarrassing mistake early in the game which led to the Dutch conceding, and was substituted at halftime for his poor performance. The Dutch would go on to lose the match 2-0.
Who in their right mind would start a 17 yearold in a crucial qualifying match, when you have an older, more experienced, option? For such a powerhouse in international soccer, the management of the Dutch national team has been spectacularly poor, and there is no excuse for such inept administration.