Scott Musgrave


To call the state of football in the Netherlands a ‘crisis’ is perhaps taking things a little too far, but there is indeed a weakening of a once great and competitive league competition. Long gone are the days of Cruijff, total football, and the unwavering Ajax team who won consecutive European titles. Long gone are the days when a Round of 16 or equivalent appearance was demanded by fans and board members as a bare minimum. 

To be blunt, the quality of the Eredivisie has dropped. No longer are Dutch superstars staying in their home country for the betterment of the league, nor are the quality players around the world wanting to come to the Eredivisie because it is a top competition.

No, now some would prefer to sit on the benches of higher co-efficient ranked league teams.  Rafael Van De Vaart, Nigel De Jong, Joris Mathijsen and Romeo Castelen all ply their trade with Hamburger SV in the German Bundesliga, but why?

Arguably the quality is that much better in Germany than it is in The Netherlands. That would be a fair assumption based on the luminaries we associate with the Bundesliga and Bayern Munich in particular. The likes of World Cup winner Luca Toni are drawn to the ever growing Bundesliga, even the big stars of the German national team seem to stay in Germany. Miroslav Klose, Per Mertesacker, Kevin Kuranyi and Philip Lahm continue to be content with life in the Bundesliga.  Why is it then that the Eredivisie is not like this? Is there something in the Dutch condition that drives them to leave their native soil for a change in life?

Past movement of players to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan have all been accepted, as players are moving onto clubs with bigger     reputations than that of their home teams. But to leave for clubs such as Wigan Athletic (Denny Landzaat from AZ Alkmaar), Hamburg SV (Van De Vaart, De Jong (Ajax), Castelen (Feyenoord) Mathijsen (AZ)) and Blackburn Rovers (Maceo Rigters from NAC Breda) baffles the mind, particularly when Ajax Amsterdam has one of the biggest reputations in world football.

These players either need to wait for a big club to pick them up, i.e one that regularly challenges for league honours particularly in Spain, England or Italy, or remain in the Eredivisie honing their skills. That is not to say that the Bundesliga doesn’t deserve to have such exceptional players. However when Germany can field a national team almost entirely from their own top flight, it brings into question whether or not the Dutch players plying their trade there could not likewise have made a bigger impact at home particularly when it relates to European and International competition.

Here is the main point, because of the talent drain on the Eredivisie and the perception  of it as a ‘development league’ , the quality simply isn’t there to cope with the big spending teams of Europe.

Young talent is seemingly shipped off to any team with money. Nacer Barazite of Arsenal and Patrick Van Aanholt of Chelsea are two stinging examples of the lack of faith in the Eredivisie to even develop talent. Both these players were under 18 before they moved out to the big London clubs in England. Van Aanholt’s move was particularly baffling as he was attending one of the most prestigious academies in Western Europe, that of PSV Eindhoven.

This is the start of something terrible for the Eredivisie, if various clubs can’t hold onto their academy talent something is wrong.

It has been gradually getting worse.  Things were better particularly during the 1980’s where most quality players played in the Eredivisie. The European Cup win of PSV Eindhoven in 1987 proves this along with the Euro ’88 win by the Dutch National Team which was comprised mostly of home based players or those at the ‘big’ clubs of Europe.

It has been gradually getting worse from this point however. Since this time only Ajax have spurted up with a European Cup triumph in 1995 and the best effort in the years after was the 2005 semi-final run by a Guus Hiddink coached PSV Eindhoven who were the major surprise packet of the tournament.

However most notably, after these successes, players went on the greener pastures; Ajax (1995): Clarence Seedorf, Edwin Van Der Sar, Edgar Davids , Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars,  Frank & Ronald De Boer, Jari Litmanen and Michael Reziger.

All these players played in the European Cup final of 1995 and all of them moved on to different clubs soon after. Most however would move to the big clubs of Europe, but even such a choice did affect the overall quality of the Eredivisie.  With these players leaving the quality of the league dropped as it was no longer possible for upcoming talent to test itself against these amazing players.

Similarly with PSV’s triumph in the 2005 Champion’s League, as soon as the success had sunk in, the player drain came.

PSV (2005) – Wilfred Bouma, Young-Pyo Lee, Ji-Sung Park, Mark Van Bommel, DaMarcus Beasley, Robert and Johan Vogel.

Case in point however, not all of these players went to the big clubs of Europe. Wilfred Bouma left for Aston Villa and Young-Pyo Lee left for Tottenham Hotspur. Other notable departees Robert and Johan Vogel left for bench spots at Real Betis and AC Milan respectively whilst DaMarcus Beasley would leave for Rangers via a loan spell at Manchester City.

The only exceptions were captain Mark Van Bommel who left for childhood favourites Barcelona and Ji-Sung Park who left for Manchester United.

This is the main gripe. Quality players are not moving to better teams. They could stay with PSV for example and continually compete at the highest level in Europe and furthermore encourage their domestic opponents to raise their game by playing against these quality players on a regular basis.

Due the drain of players to lesser clubs, getting younger and younger, the quality of the Eredivisie suffers and thus its competitiveness in Europe suffers.

PSV is the only club in recent history to have competed at a high enough level  to progress to the latter stages of the European Champion’s League with Ajax reaching pitiful lows of not even qualifying for the UEFA Cup Group Stage. AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord Rotterdam haven’t done themselves any favours either. Alkmaar reached a Quarter-Final in the UEFA Cup in the 06/07 season whilst Feyenoord were barred due to crowd troubles.

This year has been absolutely disgusting for fans of Dutch football with only ONE TEAM remaining in European competition after the winter break; PSV, after managing 3rd spot in their Champions League group, advanced to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup .

There is a problem with the Eredivisie and someone needs to fix it.

Players need to be encouraged to stay in their home country, if the Dutch remain in Holland, then the quality will increase and players in other foreign leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Portuguese Bwin Liga may be attracted to come and play in Holland.

Maybe it is just greed in the end that drives players over borders to different footballing nations, after all there isn’t as much money in Dutch football as there once was. But who’s fault is that? The blame lies squarely with the players and their ambitions. It would be foolish to deny a player his ambitions, but they have to be good enough to realise that ambition. Sure, if for example, Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord) wants to go to England at some stage, let him, he’s entitled to that. But he must first realise his potential in order to make the step up to Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea.

We don’t want players moving from the big clubs of Holland to the Bolton’s and the Catania’s of this world. We want them moving to the Liverpool’s and the AC Milan’s.

If Holland ever wants to be competitive in Europe again we need to keep our talent in Holland for as long as possible, otherwise the league and it’s proud traditions will suffer dearly.  There is too much of proud history in Dutch football to let that happen.

We need to keep the Aissati’s and the Huntelaar’s for as long as possible before they move to big clubs even if they are to move at all.

Keep the Netherlands Oranje and proud.