Written by hahostolze on Saturday, 23 June 2012 09:03
Any Arsenal fan with a slight love of football outside of their club will have followed the Euro’s recently and paid special attention to that most orange of nations, the Netherlands. Not only are they (quite wrongly, on recent performances) loved for their attacking football, but their most important player was to be our captain, Robin van Persie, who we hoped to see shine on an international stage at last. Sadly, it was not to be.
One of the problems in this Dutch squad was a result of the last World Cup. Egos were inflated by that in quite a spectacular manner. Players like Sneijder and Robben didn’t actually have very good tournaments but were praised into the heavens. Sneijder did score a few goals, but his role was to assist, to make the play and he failed to do that. Robben moved into the striker position a lot and should have scored twice in the final but failed miserably to do so. Both of these players and their ‘successes’ at the World Cup were facilitated by the wonderful ‘false nine’ play of van Persie, who got zero recognition for that and that is something we will see later still effects that team.These were the three main players of the World Cup with a few bit-part, support players. But after the World Cup, the bit-part players at big clubs decided to move. Players like Vd Vaart and Huntelaar left Real Madrid and AC Milan and went to respectively the Spuds and Schalke 04, neither of which is a club of enough stature or playing at a high enough level to warrant a starting position in the offensive part of Oranje. Yet both claimed it from day one, supported by their friends.
It got pretty bad. Vd Vaart at one point, having been told he would be a backup, a reserve player, this tournament, had his bags packed and was ready to leave the Dutch training camp at Hoenderloo. It took many hours of talking with management and fellow players (of a certain clique) before decided to stay. The next few days he spent time leaking info to the press about the issues within the squad, and voicing very loudly his concerns and why he felt he had to be in the squad. A large majority of the staff and the squad felt him to be a pariah, a problem, yet by the end, he was captaining and starting. Absolutely insane. The same thing goes for Huntelaar. Huntelaar had a good season in Germany, in the Bundesliga were, with all due respect to what is a fantastic league, goal scoring tends to be a bit easier at times, and he ended up being the topscorer. Great, but he felt that this entitled him to start. His friends in the so-called ‘Ajax-clique’, like Sneijder, VD Vaart and Heitinga, agreed, and pushed heavily with van Marwijk to start him. Van Marwijk however had this idea of starting with a player who can actually play football, not just finish, and Huntelaar voiced his displeasure in a very vocal and very childish manner. In the end, even though he started, he was hated by his teammates, derided by some of the press and told that as long as van Marwijk is national manager, chances are very low he will ever play for Oranje again. Good riddance.
The cracks in the squad were caused by the fact that factions were formed based on the aforementioned and other issues. These factions were more or less like this: The group van Bommel, which contained van Persie, Afellay, de Jong, Mathijssen, Vlaar and most importantly, most of the management. Then there was the Ajax faction, made up of players with an Ajax past and generally quite big egos. Sneijder, Huntelaar and Vd Vaart were the main people in that group, supported by the Dutch press, media and public. And like on the football pitch, you had Arjen Robben, not caring about it all, about anyone but himself, and not doing much about the unrest. Sneijder, to his credit, tried to mend fences at times, and showed himself a willing leader on the pitch, but taking the side of the petulant vd Vaart and Huntelaar was what got him in trouble with the rest of the squad. Equally, van Persie was trying to mend fences, but poor performances and his media silence did not help.
In the group Ajax, three players had recently made career moves which may have gotten them more playing time, but further away from the top of European football. Huntelaar, vd Vaart and Heitinga all made moves down the ladder. Sneijder’s Inter too have failed this season in quite a dismal way and he himself wasn’t very good at any moment during the last two seasons. On the other side of the fence, players like van Persie and Afellay actually got better and into better situations. Not only does van Persie captain one of the biggest clubs in world football, but he won every individual plaudit last season and either he would have stayed at Arsenal or gone on to even bigger things. Likewise Afellay, whose career had stalled for about two seasons at PSV, got a move to Barca, which made all players in the squad very jealous. He may only be a rotation player at Barca, but the likes of Sneijder, vd Vaart, Huntelaar and Robben all went to Real Madrid hoping for that one shot at glory and all failed horribly. Now Afellay, despite a long injury problem, seems to be doing well there and looks set to take part in a lot of success. According to the press, that has made him arrogant. In reality, it has made the others jealous. Besides, it is not for people like Sneijder to call others arrogant. He once went over to Piet Velthuizen, Dutch national reserve keeper playing for Vitesse, and asked him if it was true he only earned 400k a year. Velthuizen confirmed this, to which Sneijder started laughing and told him, ‘wow, so I earn 20 times as much as you!’ Amazingly, the Dutch press managed to spin that story as an example of banter and good old fashioned ‘Amsterdam bluf’. In reality.... Well, we know how it comes off.
People ask me on twitter all the time why the Dutch people hate RvP so much, or at least fail to rate him. Firstly, the Dutch people seem to have lost all grasp on what made Dutch football special, the versatility of total football. Van Persie at the World Cup gave (I think) four assists, yet did not score. That is still a good return, but for some reason, Dutch football fans want to see a striker who can only score, not do anything else. If we had had a player like that at the World Cup, you can bet we would not have reached the final. The love this country had for van Nistelrooij, one of those extremely limited players who was amazing at scoring, transfers on to Huntelaar, who is even more limited and not as good at scoring. In 1974, in 1988, the players in attack and midfield kept rotating, all with well-defined but in essence completely free roles. Van Basten may have been a more traditional forward, but he knew how to connect play. In 1974, Cruyff was the striker, despite constantly dropping deep and allowing others to get in and score. Remind you of anyone? Yeah, me too. Sadly the Dutch people, and press, seem to have forgotten all about what made Dutch football great.
Secondly, the Dutch media and press are dominated, nay, ruled, by people connected to Ajax. Vd Vaart, Sneijder and Huntelaar are the darlings of the Dutch media and always portrayed in the most positive way. Shows like NOS Studio Sportzomer, the public television’s evening football talkshow at the Euro’s, were filled with people with Ajax backgrounds or preferences for Ajax players. In a country where almost half the population is a fan of Ajax, and most of the past success was based on Ajax, there is a certain level of sympathy for the extraordinary obsession with Ajax, but it manifests itself in an ugly way. Players like Sneijder and Vd Vaart are always in contact with these journalists looking for some spin on a story (like with the Velthuizen story mentioned above), and during every programme, people were wondering why Huntelaar was not starting. This works like subliminal programming. And in a nation where we feel much closer to the Bundesliga anyway, and where a former Ajax player has more fans anyway, this all really undermined RvP position. No wonder after two weeks every (unintelligent) Dutch fan was screaming for Huntelaar to start, after a few performances from RvP where he got in the right position, played the right passes, but didn’t quite finish it off. He became the scapegoat for the Dutch media and press, annoyed that he refused to talk to them thanks to the agreed media-silence and they used it as a way to usurp his role. Even when he sucked, they just made excuses for him. Instead, they went back after RvP. People like Jan Mulder, footballer (at Ajax) turned writer, called for RvP’s head. They did this in such a biased way, that this same Mulder said RvP needed to be replaced by.... Adam Maher, the central midfielder of AZ, a remark already infamous for its blatant idiocy. The bias of the media had reached proportions of blind remarks and stupidity. When these people were offset with normal journalists or pundits, those with neutral affiliations, their gormlessness was made all the more clear. In England, on the other hand, RvP is well liked and respected by the press. He won the FWA’s award this season, he is on good terms with many of the reporters, and gets the appreciation from them, and the players, which he deserves.
At some offices in North London all these developments will have been met with a smile. Firstly, RvP’s performances, whilst not nearly as bad as made out to be, and in fact, statistically the best of the entire Dutch squad, will not have earned him more admirers. I have read people doubt his ability to do it on the big stage and that might play on the minds of potential suitors. Secondly, his role in the team. Van Persie came to the Dutch training camp expecting to be main player, the one destined to get all the ammunition so he could finish it off. Van Marwijk and his staff too had planned this but the Ajax group undermined this from day one. Huntelaar, vd Vaart and Sneijder all wanted the glory to themselves, as did Arjen Robben. Van Persie was often in better positions and failed to get the ball he needed. He was not the player the play revolved around. At Arsenal he is. Will he be that at other clubs, I wonder? Probably not, and he really needs that to flourish. And I bet you any money this incident will have confirmed to him that being the central player is what he needs to succeed. Also, look at Arsenal over the past season. With a few small exceptions, there was a fantastic atmosphere in the squad, with players gelling, becoming friends, and with some sensible, experienced players in the dressing room making it a nice environment. Compare that to the Dutch squad, with the infighting and the leaking stuff to the press.
I can imagine that van Persie will have realise just how important it is to be part of a closely knit group of people, friends, both on and off the pitch, and that makes a person much happier. At Man City, at Real Madrid, at Bayern, he won’t get that. (I don’t know enough about Juve to make a fair assessment) Nor would he be the central player. Now, trophies are important to players, there is no denying that. But if we give van Persie the feeling that we can challenge for trophies this season, whilst keeping him the central figure in a happy, positive squad, I can imagine that would make him much happier than winning trophies in a more peripheral role in a fragmented squad. The Dutch failures may just have reminded him of that. The fate of van Bommel may help too. Three weeks ago, he was the leader of a nation, the inspirational captain who defended his teammates after racial incidents in Krakow. Against Germany, he played badly, but was subbed off and replaced with the lazy, unfit and average vd Vaart who, after two weeks of leaking info and complaining out loud, whilst to all accounts being shite in training, still got the captain’s armband. I can imagine this made van Persie quite sick, it sure made me sick to my stomach. At Arsenal, at least, things like that would never happen. So yes, this Oranje squad failed miserably, and left us Dutch people feeling very silly. But the failures, the mess, the problems, all of it, might have a positive effect on the big decision our captain has to make.
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