Dutch dynasty: The small nation with the big footballing pedigree

Ten straight wins, 25 games unbeaten, that Marco van Basten volley to help win the European Championship final in 1988, and three World Cup final appearances... whatever happens tomorrow at Soccer City in Johannesburg, Holland are currently, and have been for the last four decades, a football phenomenon.

Just as Spain – a nation of 46 million people– has underachieved by never reaching a World Cup semi-final before this tournament, the Dutch (a country of only 16.5m) have been overachieving ever since Rinus Michels led Ajax to the first of three straight European Cups in 1971. Michels went on to coach a Barcelona side that had Johan Cruyff as its heartbeat. And, with Cruyff wearing the Orange of the national side, Michels also led the Dutch to the World Cup final in 1974, which they lost 2-1 to hosts West Germany.

Without Cruyff and Michels they returned four years later and reached the final again, beaten in extra-time 3-1 by hosts Argentina. But Michels was back in 1988 and he led a team boasting the talents of Ruud Gullit and Van Basten to become European Champions - the first and last time Holland have won a major tournament.

Despite only ever finishing second in the World Cup and missing the 1982 and 1986 finals, their reputation for being the guardians of good football, have made them a tournament institution. Holland have always been the philosophers of football. Britain invented the game and in the 1970s the Dutch reinvented it. No one sums up their way better than the chief sage, Cruyff. "Some players hear the clock ticking but they have no idea what time it is," was his way of describing the difference between a player who really understood football, and one who did not.

"It's a simple game but it is sometimes hard to play simple" he added about what the Dutch call "Total Football", which Michels employed at national and club level with Holland and Barcelona, and Cruyff then continued.

Therein perhaps lies the key to 40 years of almost consistent excellence: continuity. Michels passed the baton to Cruyff, and later to Van Basten; Cruyff handed it to Frank Rijkaard.

Rijkaard, who led Barcelona to a European Cup win in 2006, played in the Euro '88 team managed by Michels. Michels coached the Barcelona team that Cruyff played in; Cruyff coached the so-called "Dream Team" that won Barcelona's first European Cup in 1992. Pep Guardiola played in that team, and was then recommended by Cruyff to coach Barcelona – which he did, winning the treble in 2009.

There is a criss-cross of lines marking the influence of the Dutch dynasty as it has spread from Ajax to Holland then onto Barcelona. The irony of this third World Cup final appearance is that to some extent that lineage has been broken. It was Van Basten who took charge of their last World Cup campaign, when they went out to Portugal in the second round. But the current coach, Bert van Marwijk, only played once for Holland. He never turned out for Ajax, and, in the build-up to tomorrow's final, Cruyff has praised the Spanish because their style is closer to the one he first experienced playing for Michels at Ajax.

Midfielder Wesley Sneijder has hinted that the Dutch will try to suffocate Spain. "We cannot allow them any time and space once they reach high up the pitch," he said.

Their football tomorrow might not be as attractive as it has been in the past and they are not being led by one of their footballing greats. But maybe that change will alter Dutch luck, and for once the philosophers of football will be the kings.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence