Death or glory, at Vitesse there is no in between. In the last 15 years, the Arnhem club’s life has been full of ups and downs, with precious few periods of calm. Vitesse regularly finished in the top five of the Eredivisie and took part in the UEFA Cup in the late 1990s; the club even dreamed of lifting the Dutch title in the 1997/98 season, when they finished third in the league with 70 points – the side’s best ever performance – and saw their striker Nikos Machlas end the campaign as Eredivisie top scorer with 34 goals. Now a set of new developments have given the club cause to hope for a bright future.

Vitesse feasted on ambition in the 1990s, even building the breathtaking GelreDome stadium in 1998. The stadium was well ahead of its time with a retractable roof, and even ahead of some present day designs with a retractable pitch, able to be slid out when concerts or other events are held in the ground. Later however, the club almost went bankrupt in part due to the GelreDome and in part due to lavish spending on players and wages. Vitesse’s chairman at the time, Karel Aalbers, found himself accused of fraud in 2000 in another twist that added to the sense of crisis enveloping the club – Vitesse were eventually saved by Arnhem city council, who bought the GelreDome and produced a rescue package while on the pitch the team desperately fought to avoid relegation. This year though, on 16th August, Georgian businessman Merab Jordania bought Vitesse, beginning a new era for the Arnhem side.

Jordania purchased a club in poor financial health, but showed his intention was to restore the side to their glory days almost immediately. With a plan named by the Georgian “Project 13”, Jordania expressed his ambition to help Vitesse become Eredivisie champions within the next three years. Having been president of the Georgian Football Federation and a players’ agent – counting the Arveladze brothers, Georgi Kinkladze, Temur Ketsbaia and Georgi Demetradze as his most important clients – Jordania certainly knows his way around the football world. Vitesse’s new owner can count Roman Abramovich as one of his closest friends and it is no coincidence that Chelsea loaned the Dutch club two players last August – midfielder Nemanja Matic and defender Slobodan Rajkovic. The geel-zwart also signed Nacer Barazite from Arsenal and Ismail Aissati from Ajax; former Inter youth team defender Luca Caldirola had been the only loanee from a big club to land in Arnhem before Jordania’s arrival.


Since the start of the Jordania era, everyone at Vitesse expected that coach and club icon Theo Bos – labelled Mr Vitesse due to having made the most appearances for the Dutch side – wouldn’t last long. Jordania has high expectations, but Bos preached realism. The 45-year-old also had the handicap of not having been the new president’s choice. And last October, following a defeat to Roda JC, Jordania acted and Bos was sacked. His replacement was something of a surprise though, with the inexperienced Albert Ferrer, a former Spanish international defender, who at the time was working as a TV pundit for Canal+, drafted in as the new Vitesse coach.

Ferrer, who was part of Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona “Dream Team” of the early 1990s and also played at Chelsea, will work with a newly formed technical staff including ex-Ajax goalkeeper Stanley Menzo – who resigned as coach of Eerste Divisie side Cambuur Leeuwarden – and coach Albert Capellas Herms, previously of Barcelona’s youth system.

A raft of Cruyff’s “Dream Team” have become coaches: Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Sergi Barjuan, Miguel Angel Nadal and Ronald Koeman. Now it is Ferrer’s turn. “Many people wonder why I have chosen the Eredivisie”, said the Spaniard at his unveiling. “I’m taking my first steps as a coach, and Vitesse’s offer looked like a great chance. I like Holland’s football philosophy. Johan Cruyff was vital for my development as a player and I learnt a lot from him during his time in Spain. I think that Holland’s football culture is very similar to that of Barcelona. When I told Guardiola about Vitesse, he said ‘Do it! They are the ideal starting point for you.’ So I packed my suitcase, left Granera – a little village 50 kilometres from Barcelona – and flew to Arnhem.”

Ferrer discovered a side struggling in the relegation zone, but, like a battle-hardened coach, repeated the managerial mantra of needing time. “Of course we need time because, you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I know all of the players in the team. I watched a lot of DVDs of their matches. When I say that my purpose is to create a little Barcelona here in Arnhem, please don’t look at me as if I am a fool. I know that Lasse Nilsson is not Lionel Messi. However, the approach to the game can be the same. I want my team to play dominant and attacking football. I want the ball to be moved around quickly. I want top training facilities that can help the players to improve day by day. They have to feel at home at the club and work with pleasure. These are the things that Cruyff taught me at Barcelona.”

The new Vitesse boss faces a difficult task, but has begun in style, recording an impressive 5-1 win in Venlo against VVV. Vitesse deployed the same 4-5-1 system favoured by previous coach Bos, with Julian Jenner and Dalibor Stevanovic on the flanks, Wiljan Pluim (or Marcus Pederson) as the lone striker, Aissati the attacking, creative midfielder, and Rajkovic and Frank van der Struijk the vital central defensive pairing. The Arnhem side currently find themselves 15th in the Eredivisie, just four points above the relegation playoff zone. “We are not worried”, stated technical director Ted van Leeuwen, “because this is only a transitional season. However, soon we will be able to show the club’s new style.”

In Holland there has been much controversy over Jordania’s takeover of Vitesse, mainly due to the businessman’s background, while some commentators have argued that the takeover is the start of the Dutch equivalent of the wave of foreign takeovers that have swept through English football. The fear is that financial globalisation in the Eredivisie may lead to longer term destabilisation.

Ten years ago Vitesse were nicknamed “FC Hollywood on the Rhine” and aimed to become a little Manchester United. Now they are dubbed the “Kingdom of Jordan(ia)” and look to Barcelona for inspiration. In Arnhem, the club’s faithful are enjoying the ride, full of expectations. However, deep down Vitesse’s supporters hope this is not merely another brief high to be followed by a mighty low.