Philosophy and style are two words which are banded around the football globe with a certain regularity. Which philosophy will yield title-winning football? Which style will entice the world into believing that our way is the only way? Holland have, in their history, failed to conjure up a plan to resolve both dilemmas, and their most recent Euro 2016 qualifiers defeat against Turkey in Konya suggests they are no closer to pinpointing their issues.
Holland’s 2010 World Cup final opponents Spain are notorious for their fluid and incisive passing, with David Silva the epitome of such a style in La Roja’s victory against Slovakia in Oviedo on Saturday, having provided a clipped pass for Jordi Alba’s opener. In central Europe, Thomas Müller symbolises Germany’s efficient and ruthless nature, scoring three goals altogether in their victories over Poland in Frankfurt and Scotland in Glasgow, whilst Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon provide the staunch rearguard that is expected of an Italy side.
Nevertheless, identifying the Dutch way is more complex, particularly as no glaringly obvious style was suitable for the team that Danny Blind put out against the Turks. Holland’s greatest conflict in history has been whether, after the emergence of Johan Cryuff, a “total football” style should be pursued over a more defensive set-up, such as the one deployed by Van Gaal at last year’s World Cup in Brazil. However, despite this ongoing conundrum, the Oranje have always had the luxury of being able to rely on certain star players to pacify the uproar, such as Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp and Cryuff himself.
More recently however, the modern-day star players have declined, but more disquieting is the lack of quality to replace them. Arjen Robben’s thigh injury against Iceland granted Luciano Narsingh, the PSV Eindhoven winger, a rare start against Turkey, yet his inability to convert the success of his marauding incursions in behind Caner Erkin and the Turkey defence ultimately hindered Holland’s attacking potential. Holland have never been able to rely on Robben’s fitness, but at the age of 31, there is no guarantee how much longer they will be able to count on the raw pace of the Bayern Munich winger. If Narsingh’s latest display was his maximum output, they are yet to find their replacement.
That’s not to suggest the 24-year-old’s more experienced teammate Robin Van Persie aided his efforts. The former Arsenal and Manchester United striker was anonymous and proved to be an ineffective target from crosses from either wing, the kind of performance that saw his Manchester United career arrive at an abrupt conclusion after his move to Fenerbahce was announced earlier in the summer.
Yet it has been the performances of the defence which have epitomised their fortune in the qualifiers so far. Daley Blind was caught out of position for Oğuzhan Özyakup’s opener, having been deployed in the centre of defence instead of his more natural position at left-back, by his father and manager Danny Blind. Daley Blind’s torrid night was concluded with Arda Turan’s vital second goal, as his feeble challenge on the new Barcelona signing was easily overcome, but Jasper Cillessen’s inability to prevent Turan’s effort from beating him at the near post sent the Torku Arena into raptures and compounded the goalkeeper’s woes.
Daley Blind told the official Manchester United website that he “values” his current centre-back partnership with Chris Smalling at Old Trafford, but his partnership with Lazio defender Stefan de Vrij lacked cohesion and communication on Sunday night, allowing striker Burak Yılmaz space to initiate opportunities.
Team selection has cost the Dutch too. Tim Krul was excellent in his most recent Premier League display against Arsenal, but Jasper Cillessen, whose club Ajax have failed to qualify for the Champions League group stage, has been entrusted between the posts, but must produce better if he is to convince Blind of a deserved starting place. Right-back Gregory van der Wiel has been usurped at Paris Saint-Germain by Serge Aurier and now plays second fiddle to the Ivorian, and surely his place must come into question, particularly as it was his clumsy challenge which led to Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson’s winner from the penalty spot for Iceland in Amsterdam.
Blind’s selections have been perceived as “playing safe”, demonstrating his rather conspicuous lack of experience in comparison with Louis Van Gaal. The well recounted event of the substitution of Jasper Cillessen for Tim Krul for their penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica in last year’s World Cup quarter-final demonstrated Van Gaal’s initiative as a manager who is able to react under pressure. Described as “something like the head teacher of a school” by Wesley Sneijder last year, Van Gaal, unlike most head teachers, was able to produce a cohesive side whilst simultaneously bedding in new talents Daryl Janmaat, Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij and Memphis Depay.
Blind, on the other hand, looked stunned and bereft of ideas in Turkey as his team were dismantled, his misery completed by Yılmaz’s 85th minute strike. With only 422 days worth of experience as boss of Ajax previous to this post, the pressure may be all too much for the 54-year-old.
The Dutch may need a return to the counter-attacking system that helped them destroy Spain last year, using Memphis Depay’s pace to hurt defences. Depay may be Holland’s next star, but under Danny Blind, he may struggle to impact games.
Photograph: Dmitriy Neymyrok (Football.ua) via Wikimedia Commons