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Give youth the chance

Sidney Kiran, DH News Service, Bengaluru, Oct 29 2017, 1:15 IST

Dutch midfield legend Johan Neeskens says the Netherlands' decline is just a part of the game

Former Netherlands football player Johan Neekens. Photo Srikanta Sharma R.

Former Netherlands football player Johan Neekens. Photo Srikanta Sharma R.

When Netherlands, one of the heavyweight nations in world football renowned for their flair and style, failed to qualify for the Euro 2016, it was considered a rude shock. With world-class talents like Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, Nigel de Jong and Daley Blind in their ranks, many were left dazed at such a catastrophic occurrence.

But worse happened for the Oranje earlier this month when they failed to secure their tickets for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The same set of exceptional players failed to deliver as Holland missed out on a second major event. Although they were pitted in a strong group comprising 1998 World Cup winners France and dangerous Sweden — only the top two teams made the automatic cut — it’s a still a massive underachievement for a team that was just one win away from being crowned world champions in 2010 and claimed third place in 2014.

The massive nosedive in their performance has left many fans and pundits scratching their heads. Johan Neeskens, one of the finest players from the country that gave the world Johan Cruyff and Total Football, tried decoding the stunning fall. In Bengaluru as part of the Holland Meets Bangalore event organised at the Jude Felix Academy as a CSR-Sports initiative, the 66-year-old, who played along with Cruyff during the Netherlands’ golden period when they mesmerised the world with their eye-catching football, blamed the latest downfall on ageing players’ waning mojo.

“It’s normal what’s happening with world football nowadays. You participate with some really good players like (Robin) van Persie, (Dirk) Kuyt, (Wesley) Sneijder. They all played at a very high level. You could play together for eight years with these players and they did very well. They entered the final in the South Africa World Cup and did well in Brazil too. But then these players are going to get older and you have to renew them, get in more younger players,” said Neeskens, still rail thin and showing glimpses of his skill when he dribbled along with young kids.

“Of course they (youngsters) are good players but they don’t have the quality for an international, strong tournament. We have a very good under-17 side and the under-19 guys are also doing well. But they still don’t have the quality to play in the first team and at the highest level. But that can happen also to countries like Spain, France or Germany. Germany are the world champions and have been doing good for the last eight years but before that, they too weren’t doing great. This is going to happen to a lot of countries and we are facing that now. But we have to keep working hard with the youth and give them the time to become good players,” added Neeskens, who in 2004 was picked as one among the Greatest Living Footballers at the FIFA Awards ceremony. The list was selected by none other than Pele — the greatest.

Neeskens, who tailed Cruyff to Ajax Amsterdam (1970-74) and Barcelona (1974-79), was instrumental in the rise of the two clubs and Holland. A hard-tackling midfielder who never ran out of gas, Neeskens would pressure the opponents into surrendering the ball. He was blessed with a good vision and was brilliant in set-pieces as well. A major factor in Neeskens attaining such heights was his grooming at Ajax. He lamented young talents leaving Ajax for money at the cost of education.

“The problem is while we have good players they don’t stay long with clubs in Holland. The big clubs like Chelsea, Arsenal or clubs in Spain or Italy take them away when they are 15 or 16 years old. That’s not good for Dutch football. But that’s also something we have to face and deal with. When I was young, I would prefer to play in the first team of Ajax and play every week instead of spending time on the sidelines at clubs elsewhere.

“For example, take Davy Klaassen. He was one of the better players in Ajax, played every game every week. He then goes to Everton — not the best team in England — but he’s not playing, sitting in the stands. He doesn’t play in the first team. When you are a young player, you need to be playing a lot of games. By sitting in the stands, you don’t improve one bit.

“It’s better to stay a couple of more years with a club where you are getting chances. You gain experience and mature better. Then maybe you can move to a different club in another country. This problem is because of the managers and player agents. Klaassen is playing in Everton second team and they don’t have the same quality as Ajax first team. I would recommend players and their agents to be a little more patient. If you are 25 or 26, you still can play eight years in a foreign country. At 25, you are more experienced, more matured and have a better chance of playing more games.”

Neeskens lamented the obscene amount of money that is splurged on players these days, saying it is ruining football as a whole. The money factor also has pegged back Dutch football, he felt, as the country’s clubs can’t compete with their rivals in the continent anymore.

“We can’t pay the players the amount of money some clubs in Germany, Italy, France, Spain and England are paying. We have to use players from the academy and if they are good, then the big clubs will come and poach them by giving their fathers a job over there. The fathers then go with the boy to England or Spain. A player in Holland cannot get a big salary. My ideology would be, don’t look for the money but game-time. That’s what I suggest to youth players in Holland. But we cannot compete with clubs in other parts of Europe who pay so much money for the players. Big players also don’t come to Ajax because there’s not much money. We cannot compete with the best clubs in Europe anymore, it’s impossible.”When Netherlands, one of the heavyweight nations in world football renowned for their flair and style, failed to qualify for the Euro 2016, it was considered a rude shock. With world-class talents like Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, Nigel de Jong and Daley Blind in their ranks, many were left dazed at such a catastrophic occurrence.

But worse happened for the Oranje earlier this month when they failed to secure their tickets for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The same set of exceptional players failed to deliver as Holland missed out on a second major event. Although they were pitted in a strong group comprising 1998 World Cup winners France and dangerous Sweden — only the top two teams made the automatic cut — it’s a still a massive underachievement for a team that was just one win away from being crowned world champions in 2010 and claimed third place in 2014.

The massive nosedive in their performance has left many fans and pundits scratching their heads. Johan Neeskens, one of the finest players from the country that gave the world Johan Cruyff and Total Football, tried decoding the stunning fall. In Bengaluru as part of the Holland Meets Bangalore event organised at the Jude Felix Academy as a CSR-Sports initiative, the 66-year-old, who played along with Cruyff during the Netherlands’ golden period when they mesmerised the world with their eye-catching football, blamed the latest downfall on ageing players’ waning mojo.

“It’s normal what’s happening with world football nowadays. You participate with some really good players like (Robin) van Persie, (Dirk) Kuyt, (Wesley) Sneijder. They all played at a very high level. You could play together for eight years with these players and they did very well. They entered the final in the South Africa World Cup and did well in Brazil too. But then these players are going to get older and you have to renew them, get in more younger players,” said Neeskens, still rail thin and showing glimpses of his skill when he dribbled along with young kids.

“Of course they (youngsters) are good players but they don’t have the quality for an international, strong tournament. We have a very good under-17 side and the under-19 guys are also doing well. But they still don’t have the quality to play in the first team and at the highest level. But that can happen also to countries like Spain, France or Germany. Germany are the world champions and have been doing good for the last eight years but before that, they too weren’t doing great. This is going to happen to a lot of countries and we are facing that now. But we have to keep working hard with the youth and give them the time to become good players,” added Neeskens, who in 2004 was picked as one among the Greatest Living Footballers at the FIFA Awards ceremony. The list was selected by none other than Pele — the greatest.

Neeskens, who tailed Cruyff to Ajax Amsterdam (1970-74) and Barcelona (1974-79), was instrumental in the rise of the two clubs and Holland. A hard-tackling midfielder who never ran out of gas, Neeskens would pressure the opponents into surrendering the ball. He was blessed with a good vision and was brilliant in set-pieces as well. A major factor in Neeskens attaining such heights was his grooming at Ajax. He lamented young talents leaving Ajax for money at the cost of education.

“The problem is while we have good players they don’t stay long with clubs in Holland. The big clubs like Chelsea, Arsenal or clubs in Spain or Italy take them away when they are 15 or 16 years old. That’s not good for Dutch football. But that’s also something we have to face and deal with. When I was young, I would prefer to play in the first team of Ajax and play every week instead of spending time on the sidelines at clubs elsewhere.

“For example, take Davy Klaassen. He was one of the better players in Ajax, played every game every week. He then goes to Everton — not the best team in England — but he’s not playing, sitting in the stands. He doesn’t play in the first team. When you are a young player, you need to be playing a lot of games. By sitting in the stands, you don’t improve one bit.

“It’s better to stay a couple of more years with a club where you are getting chances. You gain experience and mature better. Then maybe you can move to a different club in another country. This problem is because of the managers and player agents. Klaassen is playing in Everton second team and they don’t have the same quality as Ajax first team. I would recommend players and their agents to be a little more patient. If you are 25 or 26, you still can play eight years in a foreign country. At 25, you are more experienced, more matured and have a better chance of playing more games.”

Neeskens lamented the obscene amount of money that is splurged on players these days, saying it is ruining football as a whole. The money factor also has pegged back Dutch football, he felt, as the country’s clubs can’t compete with their rivals in the continent anymore.

“We can’t pay the players the amount of money some clubs in Germany, Italy, France, Spain and England are paying. We have to use players from the academy and if they are good, then the big clubs will come and poach them by giving their fathers a job over there. The fathers then go with the boy to England or Spain. A player in Holland cannot get a big salary. My ideology would be, don’t look for the money but game-time. That’s what I suggest to youth players in Holland. But we cannot compete with clubs in other parts of Europe who pay so much money for the players. Big players also don’t come to Ajax because there’s not much money. We cannot compete with the best clubs in Europe anymore, it’s impossible.”

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