Georginio Wijnaldum: Louis van Gaal exit sparked Netherlands decline
Georginio Wijnaldum has told ESPN FC that Louis van Gaal's departure as Netherlands coach after the 2014 World Cup semifinals triggered the decline that has left Ronald Koeman with the challenge of rebooting the Oranje.
Netherlands, within a penalty shootout of reaching a second successive World Cup final four years ago, begin a new era under Koeman with a friendly against England in Amsterdam on Friday.
It is the first step on the road back to the top after missing out on Euro 2016 and Russia 2018 following disastrous qualification campaigns under Guus Hiddink and Danny Blind.
Memories of Brazil, including Robin van Persie's stunning headed goal in the 5-1 group stage win over Spain, have been obscured by those failures, and Koeman's first objective is to ensure that Netherlands take part in Euro 2020.
Liverpool midfielder Wijnaldum, who played under Van Gaal at Brazil 2014, said: "It's difficult to say what went wrong.
"First of all, Louis van Gaal left [for Manchester United] and, at that time, there were a few managers who couldn't take the job.
"The Dutch team chose Guus Hiddink and, in my opinion, it was an excellent choice at that time. He is different to Louis van Gaal.
"Van Gaal is a teacher, pays attention to everything you do, but Hiddink is more linked to the players. He gives more freedom than Van Gaal, but I worked with both of them pretty well.
"I was sad when Van Gaal left the national team, but I was also sad when Hiddink left. But at the time when Hiddink came in, I think as a team we needed a manager more like Van Gaal because we had young players and I think we didn't do well with the responsibilities he [Hiddink] gave us.
"We were too free. I think it was better at that time [with Van Gaal] because we had a lot of young players.
"If you had older players, Guus Hiddink is a better option. We had younger players, though, and were used to how Van Gaal worked with us, so that's why it was difficult for us as a team.
"But that is nothing to do with the manager [Hiddink]. He is a good manager, we just showed as a team we weren't capable of dealing with it."
Former Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord coach Koeman had been a leading contender to succeed Van Gaal in 2014 but instead went to Southampton, paving the way for Hiddink.
But Hiddink lasted less than a year before being sacked midway through the failing Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, with assistant coach Blind taking over.
But with Blind unable to halt the slump -- the former Ajax captain also oversaw a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign -- the Dutch continued to nosedive and Koeman's appointment is regarded as a chance for a new start.
Arjen Robben has retired but Robin van Persie has been told he will be considered if he can prove his fitness after returning home with Feyenoord, while five uncapped players -- including 18-year-old Ajax forward Justin Kluivert, the son of Netherlands great Patrick -- are in the squad to face England.
"It's an exciting change, it's a manager who has trained a lot of teams and everyone in Holland has respect for him," Wijnaldum said.
"He did well with Feyenoord, when they were in a difficult time and couldn't buy players, and still finished second twice and third in the league.
"It is an exciting period because we start over with a new manager and have a fresh start.
"But of course it is also a difficult period because we didn't qualify for the Euros or the World Cup, so it is going to be really difficult, not only for the players but for all the people in Holland because we are used to playing tournaments.
"We didn't qualify for two in a row, so that's difficult."
Wijnaldum said he felt England could assume the role of dangerous outsiders played successfully by Netherlands at the last two World Cups.
"They have a team to win the World Cup, for sure," he said. "You have a lot of good teams like the French, Brazil, Spain.
"But if you look at the England squad, they have a lot of players at the top of the Premier League, so why can't they win it?"
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_