Netherlands Restart: Danny Blind needs to find new pillars to build brighter Oranje future
Guest Post By Karl Matchett.
One of the most immediately identifiable scenes at any major international tournament on the world football stage is the brightly clad group of raucous orange supporters cheering on Netherlands—but it’s a sight and a sound that Euro 2016 will have to do without.
Having finished up as the third-best team in the world barely 18 months ago at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Netherlands endured a shocking qualification campaign for next summer’s tournament in France and, having failed to qualify, have to begin again under new boss Danny Blind. With Guus Hiddink masterminding a shambolic run of five defeats 10 games over his nine months in charge, he was quickly jettisoned from the national team set-up—with Blind stepping up from assistant to head coach, a year earlier than originally intended.
Blind was always planned as the Dutch head coach for after Euro 2016, with the KNVB arranging a successor plan very early on, so this step is simply a fast-track option—but it will worry fans and players alike that Blind was unable to stem the poor form of the national team and lead Netherlands through to a competition which should have been near-impossible to not qualify for.
Defeats to Iceland, Turkey and Czech Republic in the last four group games ruined Blind’s hopes of quick impact, but now instead he has the opportunity—the need, in fact—to restructure the team in his own image and make use of the exciting younger talents available to him, both domestically and playing abroad in Europe.
Though injuries are still hampering his ability to call up everyone who might be in contention, the latest squad named by Blind—for friendlies this week against Wales and Germany, both of whom will be at Euro 2016—offer a clear indication where changes could be made.
Jeremain Lens and Robin van Persie—Netherlands’ all-time record scorer—are left out and clearly have work to do to rejoin Blind’s plans, with the latter in particular looking as though his time as the man his nation relies upon being over. Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will more than likely be the focal point of the front line as a result, with the likes of Memphis and Quincy Promes battling for the other wide spot. Anwar El Ghazi and Luciano Narsingh would doubtless be in contention to figure too, but both miss out through injury.
A total of 11 of the current squad of 24 have less than 10 caps to their name and that tally would be even higher had the likes of Tim Krul, Jairo Riedewald and El Ghazi been available.
Where can Blind look to build around? Naturally the star quality of Robben still has to be a big factor (as would Kevin Strootman be if he ever regains reliable fitness) to incorporate to his maximum value. Elsewhere though, the younger central options such as Riechedly Bazoer can offer a new dimension to the team in terms of direct movement, technical ability and energy, having plenty to prove (and offer) at this level.
At some point, Blind will also have to make the contentious decision over whether to keep playing around Wesley Sneijder, or sidelining him from the national team as van Persie has been. With well over a century of caps, Sneijder is by far the most experienced player in the Dutch squad—but he’s no longer the player at the highest level, or offering the most important traits, and sooner or later they’ll need to accept that and move on from him or else find a way to give him more support in the middle and more options in attack. He’s not a dynamic threat in possession any longer and Netherlands’ other attackers aren’t good enough to carry him at the expense of less creativity or penetration from deep.
Louis van Gaal’s wing-back system was criticised then hailed at the World Cup, but Blind has kept faith with the 4-3-3 in his few games so far that Hiddink failed with. It doesn’t seem extremely likely that Blind will now opt to move away from that, certainly the squad he has selected doesn’t indicate he will, but to give themselves the best chance of future growth and to form a cohesive, successful national team for the next major tournament, Blind and Netherlands need to rediscover a method of fitting in their most consistent and effective talents.
They have an array of potential stars in the 19-24 age band and Blind’s job now is to incorporate as many as possible ahead of the World Cup qualifiers next summer, but with four high-profile friendlies between now and then it will take a big upsurge in confidence and momentum to turn around the struggling nation.