Dutch football in disarray?
It was a weekend of fireworks, wild celebrations and big disappointment all over Europe as countries qualified for Euro 2008 and others did not.
Over in Holland the national team were booed off the pitch while their opponents Luxemburg celebrated in front of their travelling fans after a 1-0 defeat. Did something go wrong in De Kuip? No, Holland beat Luxemburg as usual but with only a single goal while the visitors had two big chances to equalize in the closing minutes.
Earlier in the campaign Marco Van Basten's men escaped with last-minute goals in Slovenia and Albania. Anyway, they go to the Alpine nations this summer and are now possibly placed as one of the top seeds for the draw. With defending champions Greece and hosts Austria and Switzerland, Holland will likely be in the first pot of the draw for the tournament, thanks to their immaculate results in recent qualifying years.
So they are the best European team on paper currently, according to these statistics, but what does it look like on the pitch? Quite awful, to be frank.
On request of the players Van Basten had decided to change his line-up from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2. Ruud van Nistelrooy and PSV's Danny Koevermans were the big men up front, while the creative midfielders Wesley Sneijder, Clarence Seedorf and Rafael van der Vaart schemed around them.
As with the super-bands of rock during the seventies such a pile-up of talent looks exciting but is doomed to fail in practice. Luxemburg managed to close the gaps in midfield, while few of the Dutch moved into space on the wings. Only once Sneijder ventured to the left to cross which immediately resulted in the only goal of the game.
There are just too many captains on the ship, but no one in command.
Half way through the first half the defence started hoofing long balls to the strikers, but most of them were headed away by the Luxemburgers. It was that kind of game. Maybe the return of the currently injured Robin van Persie could improve the quality of play, but if you are looking for a more organized set-up, he is not really the player you need.
While Van Basten is under pressure for the lacklustre performances of his team, the Dutch league face a difficult time as well. Michel Platini has dropped a bomb on the future exploits of our clubs in Europe with his new proposals for the Champions League.
In the UEFA Ranking which determines who many teams enter the European cups; Holland has always been among the best eight countries. This meant they could at least have their champions in the Champions League and the runners-up in the third qualification round. At the end of the last century Holland at one point even had three participants.
In Platini's plan only the six best nations have two or three tickets to the competition proper, while the rest have to do with one entry. The cup holders of the sixteen highest ranked nations would compete for four tickets in a pre-season tournament.
Outrage at the Dutch FA! What was Platini thinking?
The KNVB-chairman Henk Kesler immediately issued a statement on how ridiculously it would be to have cup holders in the Champions League. Only the big leagues would benefit, according to Kesler. It would bring the current play-offs in the Eredivisie to a sad end with that second Champions League place being pivotal.
If Holland cannot climb up to sixth place in the UEFA Ranking then only the Eredivisie champions can play in the Champions League and the other clubs have to do with the UEFA Cup, or whatever that tournament will become.
Meanwhile at Ajax, where the management had just dried their tears over missing out on the €13million Champions League participation, might have done so for the second year in a row. On top of that they crashed out of the UEFA Cup, which was not only a disgrace to themselves but also detrimental to Dutch hopes to elevate their average in the UEFA ranking. AZ Alkmaar and PSV are now the only teams left to bring in the much necessary points as neither Heerenveen, FC Groningen nor FC Twente made their way into the second round.
Having just kicked out the amateur side Kozakken Boys with a deflected shot in extra time in the Dutch Cup Ajax director Maarten Fonteyn suggested that it would be much better if these amateurs would no longer compete in the competition. With an eye on Platini's proposal for cup winners in the Champions League Fonteyn feared that a surprise winner of the Dutch Cup might fail in the qualification rounds.
Double legged rounds or even a Champions League like set-up for the Dutch Cup should eliminate the risk of having the name of a little club engraved into the cup.
At PSV director Jan Reker looked at the whole picture. He not only devised a new league structure with only sixteen teams and an intricate play-off scheme, but also sent an alternative proposal for the Champions League to the UEFA.
Of course PSV once was the incubator of the Atlantic League, a competition with the best teams from Scotland, Portugal and the Benelux to rival the big leagues in Europe. From that same drawing board Reker planned for 48 teams to start in the Champions League, divided into twelve groups. Holland would have at least two participants. While Reker was busy organising the future of European football, his team fielded an ineligible player in the first round of the Dutch Cup and were eliminated, despite their 3-0 win over the reserve team of Heerenveen.
Instead of reorganizing planet football to hide their own shortcomings Dutch soccer should look for a better performance on the pitch. If you take a closer examination of the UEFA Country Rankings, then there is little discussion that Spain, Italy, France, England and Germany are the top five and will probably stay there forever. The crucial spot is number six.
In his proposal Platini has designated two Champions League tickets to the sixth nation in the ranking, currently Portugal. Thanks to a limited number of teams that have done very well Romania have made a staggering climb up the table to seventh; but now they have climbed so high that they must enter more clubs.
In the ranking the average of a country is counted by dividing the total of points of its clubs in Europe by the total of its entries. From Spain or France the seventh entry can perform as well as the third of fourth but from most other countries these lower clubs tend to go out early, which plays havoc with the average. Romania will certainly drop places this season already, taken over by Portugal or Russia. These will probably suffer the same fate as the Romania next year.
Anyway, this sixth place is for grabs for the country that can elevate its club football structurally just a little bit above the mentioned other leagues. This should take a joint effort from all the clubs in a league. Maybe the likes of Jan Reker, Maarten Forteyn, Henk Kesler and the other directors in the Eredivisie should stick their heads together and think of ways to improve the Eredivisie's club results in European football.
Start a campaign to become Europe's sixth footballing nation. It might be more enjoyable than a Champions League with 99 clubs or even more, just to accommodate two entries from Holland. If only the big leagues benefit from Platini's proposals, stop complaining and make sure you are one of them.