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News & Comment

Dutch show designs on English traditions

Talking Point

The Land of Total Football is worried. It needs a Martin Keown.

The Dutch qualified impressively for next summer's World Cup finals, but there is concern that the tradition of intelligent passing defenders established by Ruud Krol, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman needs updating. For all the brilliance of the Oranje's attacking play in Euro2008 their defence crumbled in the quarter-finals when Andrei Arshavin began to tease at it. Dutch defenders have also been found wanting at club level so the search is on for defenders who can defend.

"For years it mattered more that our defenders played good football than whether they could defend," said Rob Fleur, of Dutch National Radio. "We would look at players like Martin Keown and Tony Adams and say, 'they can't play.' Now we need such players. There has been a change of philosophy in how we teach our 12 and 13-year-olds, but that does not help us now."

The Dutch teams in Europe this week, AZ, Ajax, Twente Enschede and PSV Eindhoven, fielded six Dutch defenders between them. Only two played in the Champions League – AZ's Kew Jaliens and Khalid Boulahrouz, formerly of Chelsea, now at Stuttgart.

Just as worrying is that the national team's back four is reliant on PSV's Andre Ooijer, who struggled to hold down a centre-half slot at Blackburn, and will be 36 on World Cup final day, and Gio van Bronckhorst, now at Feyenoord, who will be 35. Add the near certainty that Edwin van der Sar, 39 this week, will be talked out of retirement to keep goal and the Dutch will not lack for experience. Pace, and Keown-style nitty-gritty defending, may be a different matter.

PS: The address of Mike Trusson's admirable website was given wrongly in last Saturday's coaching feature. It is grassrootscoaching.com