Final rivals united by sport and history

Dutchmen have had a big influence on Spains game

For almost 200 years, the Netherlands were Spanish colonies, and the Spanish influence can still be perceived there in architecture and art. With regards to football, both countries share a tradition of attractive, attacking football, and many neutrals across the globe are delighted that they are the two finalists.

Radio Marca commented on Thursday that “Spain and the Netherlands have always played good football. It is good news for the World Cup, and for the game in general, that they are both in the final”.

Since the 1970s, the Dutch influence on Spanish football has been massive. It started with the arrival of coach Rinus Michels in Barcelona in 1971. Barca contracted Michels, the inventor of “Total Football”, because of the impressive young Ajax team that he had guided to European Cup glory in 1971.

Michels’ mission at the Camp Nou was to combine Spanish elegance on the ball with Dutch audacity and physical strength. In 1973, he persuaded Johan Cruyff, the all-conquering Ajax captain, to join him in Barcelona, and in 1974 - after narrowly missing out on the World Cup - he bolstered the Barca midfield with the powerful Johan Neeskens.

Little did Michels then know that he was establishing something of a “Dutch dynasty” at the Camp Nou. Cruyff helped Barca to win one Spanish league and one cup during his five-year stint. He returned to Barcelona as coach in 1988, after having cut his teeth at Ajax.

The return of Cruyff is seen today as a seminal moment in the history of the club. Catalan daily paper Sport commented in March - when Cruyff was appointed Barca’s “President of Honour” - that “Cruyff gave Barca a definite identity, with a clear ball-playing style that was imposed from the junior teams upwards”.

Cruyff’s “Dream Team” of the early 1990s is one of the most revered sides in Barca’s history. Led from the back by adventurous Dutch sweeper Ronald Koeman, Cruyff’s swashbuckling side won four consecutive Spanish titles and one European Cup, the first in the club’s history.

Cruyff was acrimoniously sacked in 1996, partly because some Barca directors felt that he had become too powerful and unaccountable. By then, his son Jordi was centre-forward and son-in-law Jesus Angoy was reserve goalkeeper. But the sacking of Cruyff did not mean the end of Dutch influence at the Camp Nou, far from it.

In 1997, Barca signed up compatriot Louis van Gaal, who proceeded to bring in most of the players from his 1995 Ajax Champions League-winning team. Van Gaal enjoyed immediate success but never became a popular figure, partly due to his brusqueness and partly to the fact that he imported no less than nine Dutch players, many of whom took the places of local Catalan youngsters.

Just six months after Van Gaal was ousted a second time in 2003 (the first was in 2000), fellow Dutchman Frank Rijkaard was brought in. Rijkaard guided Barca to two La Liga titles and one Champions League.

Present coach Josep Guardiola is always quick to recognise the importance of Rijkaard in continuing a tradition of patient possession football. Dutchmen have been so successful at Barcelona that historic rivals Real Madrid have also “gone Dutch” in recent years.

Real’s first Dutch import was Clarence Seedorf, one of Van Gaal’s 1995 Ajax young guns. By 2009 the whites had six Dutchmen on their books: Royston Drenthe, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Now, only Drenthe and Van der Vaart remain at the Estadio Bernabeu. Club president Florentino Perez has been heavily criticised - especially after their success at the World Cup - for selling Robben and Sneijder last summer.

Barca and Real have always established the fashions in Spanish football, and therefore it is no surprise that other La Liga clubs - in particular Valencia, Betis and Tenerife - have also “gone Dutch” in recent years to a certain extent.

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