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Oct 11, 2011

Netherlands' outsiders

In this international week, the Dutch squad sports two special cases in Jeffrey Bruma and Tim Krul. As both left for England at a young age, they have never played a professional league game in their native country. They are among the many talents who travelled but among the few who made it. This is the story of seven other outsiders, who wore the orange jersey without ever playing in the Dutch league.

Apart from Law Adam - who played for Grasshoppers when at University in Zurich but remained a member of HVV Den Haag in the early 1930s - no one from a foreign league was called up for the Dutch squad until Faas Wilkes, of Valencia, in 1955. Ten years later, Pierre Kerkhoffs, of Lausanne Sports, and Co Prins, of 1. FC Kaiserslautern, were the next and the first exponents of the exodus we know today.

Over the last decade, we have sometimes seen a scenario where only one or two representatives of the national squad represent Eredivisie clubs. Dutch players root quickly and are usually good value for money. Just a few, though, played abroad their whole career.

The first was Willy Lippens, born and bred in Germany with a Dutch father. He had 13 years in the Bundesliga with Rot Weiss Essen and Borussia Dortmund, scoring 92 goals. Lippens carried a Dutch passport, to the dismay of German national coach Helmut Schon, who would have loved to have seen him play for Die Mannschaft. Near the end of the '60s, many Dutch households would watch German television with its highlights of the Bundesliga - and the tricky winger caught the eye.

Lippens, therefore, received a chance in the Dutch team in a qualifier against Luxemburg in 1971. He scored the first goal, but was ignored for the rest of the game. Some team-mates still had issues with the war and let it out on peacetime-born Willy Lippens, who was nicknamed 'Donald Duck' as soon as he walked into the team hotel. This annoying experience was enough for Lippens to stay rooted in the Bundesliga, where they rated him very highly.

Twelve years later, the golden generation had gone and national coach Kees Rijvers was looking for experience in midfield to complement Erwin Koeman and Frank Rijkaard. He turned to Wim Hofkens - who played for Willem II in the First Division before leaving for SK Beveren and Anderlecht in Belgium - in a decision met by critical acclaim. His debut, though, was unfortunate: the team sunk to a 3-0 home defeat against Sweden. In 1989, he returned to help the team qualify for the 1990 World Cup, but then lost out to Richard Witschge's lobby for a place in the squad.

At the same time, coach Thijs Libregts was anxiously searching for a central defender to partner with Ronald Koeman, as Frank Rijkaard only wished to play in midfield. Along with Addick Koot, Henk Fraser and Graham Rutjes, Rob Reekers of VfL Bochum was tried. Reekers went through the youth academy of FC Twente, then left for the German Regionalliga. Bochum picked him up to enjoy nine Bundesliga years and four caps, but he did not make the 1990 World Cup. There, Frank Rijkaard had to return to his old position, probably one of the many frustrations simmering in the squad.

In 1996, a magical name returned in the team. The season before, Jordi Cruyff had exploded on the Barcelona scene, where his father was still manager. With two passports, he was also eligible to play for Spain, but to the nation's joy he opted for Netherlands at a time when the team was in desperate need of a right winger. Having just returned from a severe injury, Jordi made his debut in a friendly against the Germans in Rotterdam in which he hardly touched the ball, due to a lack of match fitness, but the belief in him remained. Once in the squad for Euro 96, he adapted rapidly. Meanwhile in Barcelona, his father was dismissed, after which the club decided to let Jordi go as well, afraid they were to have a spy in the club the next season.

At the tournament, Jordi could showcase his talents, but after a good start and a goal against Switzerland, he faded with the team as they blundered to a shameful exit in the quarter-finals. Manchester United picked him up in the summer, helping him to two more caps, but his four years at Old Trafford were marred by injuries.

He went back to Spain at Alaves, where he had the best year of his football life as the team sensationally reached the UEFA Cup final and won everyone's heart by holding Liverpool at 4-4 after 90 minutes, Cruyff scoring a late final equaliser. With nine men after two red cards in extra-time and an own goal as a sudden-death decider, Alaves arguably suffered the most dramatic defeat in a European final ever. When Jordi left the club in 2003, they were relegated from the Primera Division and faded into oblivion. Today, he is attracting notice as technical director of AEK Larnaca, the current surprise Europa League participant.

Just when Cruyff made his debut for Netherlands, a former First Division misfit had become top scorer of Campomaiorense. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had spent years on the bench at AZ in the First Division, before resigning himself to life in non-league football. Trials all around the country led to nothing. One source remembers: "He trained with us for a week in which he was woefully inadequate. We were at the foot of the table of the First Division in dire need for a striker, but we all saw this was not going to work out." Then his agent helped him secure a contract in the Portuguese league in 1995. Hasselbaink became a world-beater. The following season, at Boavista, he finished second behind Jardel in the goalscoring charts, which made Leeds United manager George Graham decide to fork out £2 million.

Hasselbaink became a legend at Elland Road, while he also received a call from national coach Guus Hiddink to join the squad for the 1998 World Cup. He even started the tournament, paired with Patrick Kluivert against Belgium, but the latter was stupidly sent off and the former subsequently substituted in a goalless draw. When Dennis Bergkamp returned from injury and Phillip Cocu became an instant success as a striker, Hasselbaink had to watch the rise of the team from the bench.

Over the next few years, he faced fierce competition from Kluivert, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Pierre van Hooijdonk and Roy Makaay, which limited his playing time. Only during the ill-fated Van Gaal-era, after Hasselbaink had joined Chelsea, did he feature regularly in the team, even scoring four goals in as many consecutive games. Under Dick Advocaat, Hasselbaink dropped rapidly in the pecking order and said farewell to the national team when he was not included for Euro 2004.

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