Holland: Brotherhood is why the future's orange
Tantrums and strife are a thing of the past. Holland are finally at one, and now the world is at their feet.
Sunday 04 July 2010
The Dutch players' armbands are discreet, barely the width of a piece of tape. Dirk Kuyt's is orange, Robin van Persie's white and five more of Bert van Marwijk's side are wearing different colours.
They took to doing so a few months ago, as a token of the kinsmanship they feel for each other. It is a small gesture and yet a huge one in the perspective of the squad's World Cup tournament because the Holland sides who have been a source of such hope and despair over the past 30 years have rarely been kinsmen.
There has been the odd characteristic Dutch tantrum at these finals. Robin van Persie took badly to being substituted against Cameroon, but he quickly made an apology through Dutch national radio and TV. The entire team were banned from Twitter after winger Eljero Elia streamed a webcast of himself and Ryan Babel playing a computer game during which Elia was heard to use racist language. But it has otherwise been quiet as Holland have discreetly navigated a course through the tournament before signalling their arrival so mightily with Friday's win over the Brazilians.
Amid the euphoria back in Amsterdam yesterday – "World Class" declared the 'De Telegraaf' headline; "Marvellous" and "The Road to Gold" read others – was an acknowledgement of the part that coach Van Marwijk has played in establishing such a culture.
Van Marwijk hardly fits the mould of those Dutch managers with colourful careers and large egos who have tended to add to the internal squad strife, rather than deal with it, in recent years. He goes in for something more subtle: "I pay a lot of attention to non-verbal communication. I know that a little joke with a player or a tap on the head can mean much more than long conversations. But I do talk with them, of course. I have this huge suite in the Huis ter Duin hotel (in the western Netherlands) and I invite them in, one by one, whenever we're together."
The Premier League pantomime has led us to conclude this kind of approach only works for a Special One or a knight of the realm, not a manager whose modest career in club management began at the Dutch club Fortuna Sittard and took him to Feyenoord, where he won the Uefa Cup in a side which included Pierre van Hooijdonk eight years ago, on to Borussia Dortmund in Germany, then back to Feyenoord again.
But Van Marwijk has the virtue of having known his superstars before they were famous. Managing a youthful Van Persie at Feyenoord, he sent him home on the eve of a Super Cup match against Real Madrid. "I told him: 'You need to understand what it takes to be a top player'," van Marwijk recalled recently. "He was sloppy. He'd give 20 crosses in a game, 10 of which were crap. For someone with his technique, it's not on."
Van Marwijk feels his compatriot has "developed as a player but more so as a human being" now, though before the tournament he told him and the rest of the golden orange generation to stop discussing their salaries and show more respect for the squad's lesser lights. The reward has been a flowering of the players who were not expected to feature so prominently. Mark van Bommel, van Marwijk's son-in-law, has been the Dutch player of the tournament so far, vindication for the manager's determination to persist with him in the face of initial criticism. Maarten Stekelenburg, the goalkeeper who had tended to resemble his predecessor Edwin van der Sar in looks but not ability, has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers of the tournament and a revelation.
This is part of a collective spirit which is all the greater considering the Dutch are a squad of two-tier talents. While the group known in the Netherlands as the "famous four" (Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart) have always been capable of setting the tournament alight, the defence has always looked vulnerable.
Its susceptibility to a long ball bypassing Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong was never more evident than when Robinho scored on Friday. But the kinsmanship played its part after a nervy first half in Port Elizabeth, where Andre Ooijer, the 35-year-old former Blackburn player drafted in when Joris Mathijsen was injured in the warm-up, though currently not even on a professional club's books, weighed in. In the second half, Van Marwijk billeted De Jong to help Gregory van der Wiel silence Robinho while Van Bommel and Ooijer took Kaka.
It is hardly the stuff of David Winner's 'Brilliant Orange' we are describing here; nothing like the totaalvoetbal perfected by Johan Cruyff under Rinus Michel's leadership in 1974 in which all the Dutch players were so completely gifted that they could interchange positions in the 4-3-3 formation which the side displayed to the world. But this is not a tournament of perfection: each of the remaining contestants has looked defensively vulnerable at times. And few of them have looked quite so at one with each other as the Dutch, who would have feared sterner semi-final threats than Uruguay, in Cape Town, on Tuesday.
Two years have passed since Van Marwijk declared that he would quickly identify the players who could win a World Cup for Holland and then not chop and change his squad on the way to victory. The first part of the promise has been kept and the second is in sight. Sneijder put his finger on why yesterday, as he reflected on a win to avenge the 1994 and 1998 defeats to Brazil. "Finally we won and are very happy. If we can put out Brazil, one of the biggest and best teams at this World Cup... it's a fantastic team effort."
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