Big three continue to suffer
The headline 'League Leaders Defeated In Amsterdam' once indicated a rare home defeat, bitter faces and a lot of grumbling in the Dutch capital.
Ajax climbed into tenth position and with a 2-0 win over NEC Nijmegen at the weekend they entered the top five. Yet they are still waiting for their first away win and still definitely need one from two upcoming games in the east of the country to keep the momentum going.
At least Ajax have caught up with PSV, who have now lost twice in a row. On Sunday afternoon the only other Dutch European Cup winner, Feyenoord, managed to stay out of the relegation places with an injury-time equalizer against Heerenveen. They have lost four of their seven games this season already. What exactly is going on?
Feyenoord's decline is nothing new. They have never recuperated from the departure of Dirk Kuyt and Salomon Kalou to the Premier League in 2006. That transfer money was used to pay debts and they have headed downhill since. Their strategy of mixing veterans with young talent has proved to be ill-fated. The arrival of Roy Makaay and this summer Jon Dahl Tomasson seemed sensational, but both are far beyond their prime and somewhat injury prone.
As a back-up the club signed the even older Michael Mols, a hard-working striker, who seemed to have retired from professional football when his team ADO Den Haag were relegated in 2007. The dinosaurs upfront are fed by a midfield of schoolboys. At the helm this season is Gert-Jan Verbeek, very successful at Heerenveen in the past four years, but struggling to find his way in Rotterdam.
Scores of experts have been looking into the decline of the Kuipclub. At the heart of trouble in recent years the name of the taciturn Wim Jansen is never far away.
He has filled several positions from scout to technical director without any visible satisfying result. Now he is the assistant to Verbeek, which seems a bit like the unlikely event of John McCain winning the US election and then taking George W. Bush as his vice-president.
The trouble at Ajax was last year neatly documented by the Coronel Report. One of its suggestions was to never let a new coach take his own technical staff with him. Yet when Marco van Basten signed as new Ajax coach he immediately took his own technical staff with him. He was more taken by another recommendation, that the trainer should have an English-style approach in taking care of the squad, its management and scouting to become the head of all football.
One of his first acts, even before he actually started, was to disagree with Johan Cruyff on the future of some youth trainers. After the publication of Coronel, Cruyff was asked to reorganise the club, but Van Basten nipped his troubleshooting activities in the bud. The old king went, long live new king Marco.
Van Basten is currently the only Dutch manager who is responsible for his club's transfers. Most clubs consider their coach as something approaching a temporary appointment with a technical director to keep an eye on the long term development.
However, Coronel reminisced about the times of Louis van Gaal, who had several responsibilities and took the club to the Champions League in 1995. In the English Premier League Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger have shown the benefits of a strong man at the helm.
Van Basten has tried to offload several players he apparently did not need this season, but failed as no-one is interested and the players themselves did not want to trade healthy contracts for a mid-table life in some provincial town. So now he is stuck with them.
His new signings have yet to prove themselves, most of them are injured anyway, while his team is hardly any stronger than the individual parts. Having lost two of his three away games is not the signature of a strong manager, particularly when he was lucky to get away with a 5-2 drubbing in Heerenveen as the hosts had every chance to double the score. If things does not pick up very soon, then Ajax's gamble with their new structure seems doomed.
Recently PSV were the laughing third while the other two giants stumbled in the league. Now they are only marginally better off. This summer, technical director Jan Reker used his power to show player's agent Lemic the door. Apparently Lemic was pulling the strings in the dressing room, which did not fall well with Reker.
However, with Lemic, Reker also cut the lines with scout Piet de Visser and Chelsea and it shows. Over the summer, PSV carried out some unimpressive transfers and are now suffering a lack of enough players of European quality. Their start in the Champions League was a disaster, while their points total in the league further shows the alarming state of their game.
Coach Huub Stevens was shocked to see the absence of any fighting spirit when his team went down 2-0 at NAC Breda and must feel rather let down by Jan Reker. Accepting his dream job of coaching the club where he successfully spent his playing career, he came in at a point where the squad needed a complete overhaul and the lines to decent agents were cut off. Appointing Reker as director after the Hiddink era has turned out to be quite a step backwards for PSV.
The province rules in Holland at the moment. FC Groningen have a managerial continuum of which the others can only dream of. Trainer Ron Jans started working there in 2002, while director Nijland even survived their last relegation in the old millenium. Letting their top men leave for Ajax last year brought in several millions without a drop in performances.
Along with Heerenveen, they have the advantage of nurturing young foreign players in a relaxed and friendly environment where they can blossom before going to the top teams. It is only there that several of these talents wilt under the pressure or fall victim to a lack of patience in those quarters.
NAC Breda and NEC have been on the rise in last year through good team performances in which the players are willing to work their pants off. All these teams have lost the respect for the top three and are going to the bigger grounds and winning. That's a new experience in the Eredivisie. Hopefully it lasts for some time.