Appointment of Danny Blind after Guus Hiddink extension of failed approach
11 September ~ Holland’s underwhelming – and almost certainly unsuccessful – campaign to qualify for Euro 2016 has come as a surprise to virtually everyone. The replacement of Louis van Gaal as national coach by Guus Hiddink in 2014 was of immense importance. Van Gaal was clearly still very motivated and committed while national coach, whereas his successor generally gave an impression of freewheeling gently into retirement.
The Manchester United boss had introduced an effective system and also made it clear to each individual player what his role was in that. Hiddink, on the other hand, opted for a less disciplinarian attitude, but rather than this leading to players expressing themselves it created confusion.
The decision to appoint Hiddink at the same time as nominating his successor, Danny Blind, always seemed like a strange move. How can you know a couple of years beforehand what your next step should be? And when Blind took over earlier this year he was seen as an extension of the (failed) Hiddink approach. Two defeats out of two so far, beginning with a loss at home to Iceland would seem to confirm that. A new face with new ideas would almost certainly have been more effective.
The lack of genuine quality is another factor. Players such as Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart used to light up the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga and La Liga; all are now in the "diminishing returns" phase of their careers. Memphis Depay aside, there are no obvious successors. Dutch players are now leaving the Eredivisie earlier than ever, unable to resist the big bucks in England, Russia and elsewhere. Many end up as benchwarmers, and certainly don’t improve as a result
In saying that, injury, too, has undoubtedly played a role. During the World Cup in Brazil Arjen Robben was one of the tournament’s outstanding players. It could be argued that his substitution against Iceland and subsequent absence for the match in Turkey cost his side six points which would have kept them right in contention. Kevin Strootman has also been sorely missed.
Of course there is still plenty of available talent. On Sunday in Turkey, for example, the Dutch still had the luxury of not bringing on players like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (41 goals in 74 appearances); the kind of dilemma Scotland (Steven Fletcher – four goals in 23 appearances, three of which came against Gibraltar) will probably never face, ever.
But unless everyone is fit and in form, and Danny Blind somehow manages to make his team punch above its weight in the way Van Gaal did, then even qualifying for the 2018 World Cup from a group that includes France, Sweden and Bulgaria could be a nerve-wracking affair. Derek Brookman