If one needs further confirmation that Dutch football was slipping down the echelons of European football, look no further than this weekend’s shocking upset–PSV Eindhoven beat the once-giant Feyenoord 10-0.
Kelvin Leerdam received his marching orders soon after PSV had taken lead. Some resolute defending by the De club aan de Maas kept the score line at a respectable 2-0 as the two teams went in for halftime.
Whatever Fred Rutten, PSV’s coach, said during the half seemed to work, as his team literally took Feyenoord apart in the second period.
A hat-trick from Johnathan Reis was the pick of the ten strikes on goal, with the 21-year-old Brazilian going a long way toward repaying the club for their faith and patience over the last three troublesome years. So far this season, the youngster has been in stellar form. He has scored nine goals in just four games.
The shocking result, the biggest in the club’s illustrious history, was described as a “black page in our history” by struggling manager Mario Been and leaves the Rotterdammers mired in the relegation zone.
It would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Once upon a time there was a big three in Holland. Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord dominated the domestic game and produced world-class players by the truckload.
During the ’60s and ’70s, the Dutch game was at its peak with both Ajax and Feyenoord claiming European Cup glory on multiple occasions, while PSV won the UEFA Cup.
Dutch club football was formidable back then, but now they are viewed as a frontier post for European soccer. A place where young stars and South American starlets can hone their game before moving on to the big time in Spain, England, Italy, or Germany.
The last time that Feyenoord won the Dutch title was in 1999, and since then they have slipped down the pecking order in spectacular fashion.
Feyenoord won the Dutch title in ’61 and ’62, thus qualifying for the European Cup.
Such was their popularity that in 1963, when Feyenoord were drawn against the great Benfica side of Eusebio, Coluna, and Antonio Simoes, several hundred thousand Dutch fans came to the Port of Rotterdam to see them off as they began their ill-fated journey to Lisbon.
The first leg finished 0-0 in Holland, but Feyenoord found that Benfica were a different prospect at home. Eusebio led his side to a comfortable 3-1 victory.
That trip to Lisbon was a springboard for the club, and over the next ten years it won six Dutch League titles, a European Cup triumph in 1970, and a UEFA Cup triumph in 1974.
Dutch football of the early ’70s was dominated by the great Ajax side of Johan Cruyff, while PSV dominated in the late ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.
However, since the inception of the Champions League in 1992, Dutch football has had to endure a slow death.
Ajax rallied against the grain in the mid ’90s with two trips to Champions League finals, one for a victory. But the dam had already begun to leak, and Ajax’s triumphs were little more than a finger in one of the cracks.
Money and sponsorship has since drifted away from Dutch football and the old “Big Three.” Entrepreneurs have begun to financially support clubs like FC Twente and AZ Alkmaar as minimal investment returned Champions League football. All of a sudden the old elite of Dutch football are being squeezed from all directions as never before.
This “success” elsewhere has also had an effect on the youth setup of the big three, as now other clubs can offer similar levels of training without the pressure, stress, or angst of being rejected by a big club.
The Ajax system, so favoured through the years, is one of the most ruthless footballing academies in the world. During the ’90s, the club literally had their pick of the best players from the entire country.
The players were invited to trials, with a couple of hundred making it through to the youngest training level. Each year held cuts until, with around 16 players, the club had a sufficiently-sized squad to compete at that age level.
From there, maybe a single child would make it. In an exceptional year maybe two. The 1995 generation was the first time since the ’70s that the club literally produced the spine of a team in one generation.
PSV and Feyenoord employed similar systems and enjoyed similar levels of success. But that success has dwindled over the past ten years or so, as other clubs break their stranglehold on the game.
The end result is that Young Dutch footballers are now more evenly spread that at any time in the Eredivisie’s 55-year history. The current Netherlands U-21 side boasts players from nine different clubs, with Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord only contributing five players between them. In years gone by, the ratio would have been reversed.
This season has a long way to go just yet, and it is too soon to say whether Feyenoord will be relegated.
However, the early stats are poor. The Rotterdammers has only won two of ten games this year, and today’s result will do little for their already broken confidence.
If the club is to get out of this mess, it will have to live up to one of its nicknames: Die Slapende Reus, roughly translated as “The Sleeping Giants.”