Just before the Great Depression of the 20th century, Nikolai Kondratieff became famous for his theory on economic cycles. The Russian economist had noticed how the world economy behaved in long and repeated waves of expansion, stagnation and recession. Two Dutch scientists had published this idea in 1913, but their articles were only recently translated to English. That is why Kondratieff ended up providing the name for the economic cycles and not Amsterdammers Jacob van Gelderen and Sam de Wolff.
So as not to repeat their mistake, I will publish my own theory immediately in English: Dutch World Cup successes also happen in waves. The Orange revolution started in 1970, to be followed by a second wave during the '90s. At the moment, we are looking towards a third surge, starting at the upcoming World Cup, as the squad houses attacking power and creativity few teams can match.
To support my theory, I'll leave the current generation aside for the moment. As the football of the '70s has been profoundly covered over the years, I'll concentrate on the Dutch World Cup recession of the '80s, in which the team did not appear in two subsequent tournaments and horribly messed up the third.
When national coach Jan Zwartkruis returned from a dreadful Euro 1980, in which a lacklustre Dutch team stagnated in their group, he decided to clean out the squad and start with fresh faces. It was too early for Frank Rijkaard, Wim Kieft or Ruud Gullit as they had only just entered the professional scene, but there were players like Toine van Mierlo (Willem II), Jan van Deinsen (Feyenoord) and Martin Jol (FC Twente) to call on.
By the time they kicked off at Lansdowne Road for their first group game against Liam Brady's Ireland, only Ernie Brandts remained of the XI that faced Argentina in the World Cup final two years before. In the second half, the young Dutch were overrun by the rampant Irish, ably supported by a raging storm at their back, and lost 2-1 in the final 15 minutes.
Zwartkruis took a less experimental squad to Brussels for the second qualifier a month later. Ruud Krol returned as libero with Willy van der Kerkhoff in midfield. A terrible game saw the Belgians win by a penalty to sink the Dutch into a joint-bottom group position alongside Cyprus, against whom they at least took their first points in February. By then, Zwartkruis had quit.
After a gutless performance during a Mundialito in Uruguay, he acknowledged that the team had not progressed since 1974 and had been caught up by the rest. He thus thought it better to step aside.
His successor, Kees Rijvers, arrived with great aplomb and made the selection of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens for the vital home game against France in March. Cruyff had played for Washington Diplomats in the summer and was about to sign for Levante, a second-division club from Valencia, while Neeskens was out of favour with Hennes Weisweiler's New York Cosmos.
Cruyff agreed at first, but backed off a few days before the match in a dispute over the shirt sponsor. Without him, the Dutch managed to stay in contention through a lucky one-goal win, followed by the same score against Cyprus in April when the 32-year old gas-station owner and debutant Kees van Kooten of Go Ahead Eagles headed home the winner.
Kees Rijvers was still not sure what to do. In a friendly in Switzerland and a qualifier against the Irish, he used 24 different players within eight days, while he also worked frantically on bringing back Neeskens and the legendary Jan van Beveren, both playing in the NASL. On the morning of the Ireland game, the coach received a call from Cruyff, who was about to launch his own sports gear and he said he was willing to play against Belgium.
The coach was dismissive of the Dutch master. As the Irish kept the Dutch to a draw in Rotterdam, qualifying for Spain became almost a pipe dream. The old guard now seemed the best bet, although Jan van Beveren refused to come back, disgruntled as he was by the Dutch football world and its fans.
Neeskens, having returned to the Cosmos' first team, agreed to play against Belgium and France. Rijvers invited 'Johan Segundo', as he was known, to stay a few days at his house in Knegsel, which enabled the coach to check on the player's condition as well. The gamble paid off. With an impressive Neeskens in midfield, the Dutch blazed Belgium off the park with a 3-0 victory.
As Ireland beat the French that night, a draw in Paris in November should have been enough for the Dutch to qualify, while France needed a win. The French seemed to have some problems of their own, too. Coach Michel Hidalgo was under scrutiny while captain Michel Platini considered quitting the team. Would the Dutch still make it?
On the night, fear turned out to be a bad advisor, as the Dutch say. The team sat deep in their own half to scrap out a 0-0 half-time scoreline. Minutes after the break, the French earned a free-kick outside the box.
Hans van Breukelen, already the fourth goalkeeper during the campaign, remembered: "We were afraid as Platini could place a free-kick in both corners, so Ruud Krol took position at one post and I would cover the other. Suddenly, Bernard Lacombe runs into the space between the goal and the wall. In our plans, Ruud would then step up to join the wall and put the attacker in an offside position. As we are looking at each other, [wondering] what to do, Platini shoots and puts the ball between us and into the net. I may have been a bit to inexperienced for such a goalkeeping experiment."
A second French goal by Didier Six sealed the end of the Dutch World Cup dream and Les Bleus went on to become the surprise team of the tournament in Spain. For the Dutch, the exile had just begun.