Once upon a time there was a “big three” in Holland’s Eredivisie, consisting of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord. This trio dominated the league and made the title race an exclusive game to which others were not invited.
Today there is still a “big three” sitting on top of the Dutch football tree. However, the deep financial crisis that has gripped Feyenoord since the first years of the millennium has caused the Rotterdam giants to drop out of the country’s elite. The void left by the Rotterdam club was first filled by AZ Alkmaar, whose rise was bankrolled by banker Dick Scheringa until the owner’s DSB Bank collapsed and AZ sailed close to bankruptcy, just four months after winning the Eredivisie.
One year later there was another entrant to the “big three” as English coach Steve McClaren led Joop Munsterman’s FC Twente to the first title in their history. And so, the Dutch elite is in a state of flux, with the coming of further ambitious owners, such as Merab Jordania (Vitesse) and Frans van Seumeren (Utrecht), determined to barge their way into the reckoning. For the time being however the 2011/12 Eredivisie season seems set to see a fight between Ajax, PSV and Twente, just as last year.
Reigning champions Ajax were defeated 2-1 at the Amsterdam ArenA by Twente in their first official game of this season, the Johan Cruyff Shield (Dutch Super Cup). But despite Frank de Boer’s men failing to hoist the first silverware on offer there was a common consensus that the Amsterdam side dominated the game from beginning to end, registering 16 shots on target to Twente’s two – unfortunately for Ajax, both Twente’s found the back of the net.
Last season De Boer led his men to the title and also reached the Dutch Cup final with a squad comprising at least 18 players from Ajax’s youth academy. But this new era of home-grown talents needs to go one step further according to the legendary Johan Cruyff, who returned to Amsterdam last February in an advisory role. Cruyff is clear: Domestic success is not enough, Ajax’s youngster must be able to compete in Europe, as the club’s great sides of the past have.
In the summer transfer market Ajax have made two masterstrokes, signing midfield maestro Theo Janssen from Twente and Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (15 goals last season) from AZ. The champions have suffered a key loss too though with 2011 Player of the Year Maarten Stekelenburg heading to take up a spot between the sticks for Roma. However, last season’s second choice keeper Kenneth Vermeer has proven himself an able replacement. With rising stars like Christian Eriksen, Vurnon Anita, Lorenzo Ebecilio, Toby Alderweireld, Gregory van der Wiel, Siem de Jong and Nicolai Boilesen, plus new academy product Rodney Sneijder (Wesley Sneijder’s younger brother), boss De Boer can be confident about a successful 2011/12.
Over at last season’s runners-up Twente the arrival of disciplinarian coach Co Adriaanse is the most exciting news for the club’s supporters. Adriaanse is well known in Holland for his attacking philosophy, but even more so for his iron-handed approach to training. Chairman Munsterman has banked on the 64-year-old keeping Twente at the top of the Dutch game just as Steve McClaren and Michel Preud’Homme before him. Twente are expected to be one of the most entertaining teams to watch throughout 2011/12.
In recent years the Tukkers have continued to fight at the top of the Eredivisie despite consistently selling their best players. That trend has halted this summer though – except for the farewell of local icon Theo Janssen to Ajax. With only two uninspiring signings in right back Tim Cornelisse and defensive midfielder Marcell Janssen, Twente will count on their key performers. And if the likes of Luuk de Jong, Nacer Chadli, Bryan Ruiz, Douglas, Nikolay Mihaylov and Wout Brama are in form, Twente have a chance of bringing the title back to Enschede.
Elsewhere in the “big three” PSV Eindhoven are facing a personality crisis, seeming to have lost their identity. During the last two decades the Philips-backed club triumphed on the firm foundation of a strong scouting network which saw talents like Ronaldo, Mark van Bommel, Arjen Robben, Phillip Cocu, Heurelho Gomes, Alex and Jefferson Farfan grace the Eredivisie. This positive cycle, with a scout-develop-win-sell-invest plan, has fallen apart in the last two seasons as PSV regularly failed to qualify for the Champions League. Too few top players were developed as well.
Without an income from the Champions League, PSV were forced to raise money on the transfer market with the aim of building a new competitive team that can challenge for the title. The sales of Hungarian winger Balazs Dzsudzsak (to Anzhi Makhachkala) and Mexican central defender “Maza” Rodriguez (to Stuttgart) have allowed the club to sign vital reinforcements; Belgian winger Dries Mertens, Dutch international Kevin Strootman (both from Utrecht) and the attacking-all-rounder Georginio Wijnaldum (from Feyenoord). PSV still boast experienced players in the likes of Ola Toivonen, Jeremain Lens, Andreas Isaksson and Wilfried Bouma and will be aiming for the new recruits to settle in quickly and a title challenge to be sparked. Indeed, this is the last chance for coach Fred Rutten.
The 2011/12 Dutch Eredivisie campaign should be full of thrills and spills, packed with goals galore and competitive until the end. Yet the “big three” will prove that, just as much as things change, they always stay the same.
Fonte: Inside Futbol