Some football fans will know that a few decades ago, the Dutch Eredivisie was one of the best leagues in the world, through the 70s and part of the 80s. But what happened to it? Dutch website Online Wedden tried to analyse this downfall.
Total Football spread out from Ajax and Holland to Europe
Johan Cruyff, Rinus Michels, Johan Neeskens, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit. Names the average football nerd will know. They were the biggest names of Dutch football in the 70s and 80s. A time when the Netherlands were top of the footballing world with their famous Total Football, invented and perfected by (mostly) Michels and Cruyff. For a few generations the Dutch were able to exploit their Total Football, until the rest of Europe caught up and copied the best parts.
Dutch football has always had great footballers in every generation since the 70s, which was reflected by the performances of the Dutch national team: World Cup finals in 1974, 1978 and 2010, the Euro 1988 win and a few more semi finals and quarter finals in between. But club football had a big downfall in the 90s. The Bosman Arrest and the suspended rule of a maximum amount of foreign players in a team were disastrous for Dutch clubs.
Eredivisie lacks money and no big bucks for Ajax and PSV
Even before those days, the best Dutch players left their home soil for foreign adventures: Euro 1988 heroes like Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard left for AC Milan, Ronald Koeman took off to Barcelona (following Johan Cruyff). The 1995 Ajax Champions League win was a last blast of a strong Dutch team with numerous top level players just before their exodus to countries like Spain, England and Italy.
The main reason? Money. Dutch clubs were not poor, but they couldn’t provide the financially stable future that foreign clubs could. So from that time on, after making a name for themselves, the talented Dutch players took off. And the Eredivisie clubs saw the salary gap between themselves and clubs from the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A grow and grow. Because of that, players left for those top flight competitions at an increasingly younger age.
The biggest disadvantage for Dutch clubs is not the lack of sheikhs loaded with oil dollars (although that could help) but the country of The Netherlands itself. Currently populated by about 17 million people, it’s well behind of Germany (80 million), France (66), the UK (64), Italy (61) and Spain (48).
Therefore the revenues of TV rights are relatively small. Take last season: Ajax £6.8 million, PSV £6 million and Feyenoord £5.4 million. Compare that to the major Premier League TV deal of £5.14 billion over three seasons and you could put an entire ocean in that financial gap. Even this years revelation Leicester City will look down on the numbers from Hollands best football clubs.
Talent keeps Dutch football alive
Clubs like Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord still have some of the best scouts and technical directors making up a bit for the lack of financial space by drawing some of the world’s biggest foreign talents to their clubs to play alongside the Dutch talents that haven’t left yet. Don’t forget foreign players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez first made their mark with Ajax, and Romario and Ronaldo with PSV. That way Dutch clubs are still able to keep up a bit, but barely.
The long arm of Premier League clubs are reaching more and more into Europe’s youth academies. But there is still one thing Dutch clubs can offer young players that clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City can’t: a chance to play a fair share of games per season at a top level club with a good chance of also participating in European cups. But if the Netherlands don’t want to fall back even further in European football, something has to change. Preferably money-wise.