The return of the Eredivisie

After the final round of pre winter break fixtures were postponed, the Dutch Eredivisie returns this week with a quick two step.  Here's John Dobson with a overview of where Holland's top flight is at right now.

Dutch football should have entered the current season, if not on the crest of a wave, then certainly buoyant and checking out some tidy beachfront properties. The Netherlands played some fine football on their way to the World Cup final, even if they did go and undermine all that in the final itself by trying to kick Spain black and blue – a tactic that earned them few friends. Crucially, however, just three of the starting XI were Eredivisie players on that night in Johannesburg and one of them, Gio van Bronckhorst, had already played his last game of club football.

To properly understand how we arrive at post winter break Holland in the shape we are in requires a certain amount of background reading. Much of this is related to economics and a basic understanding is at risk without it.

A dozen or so years ago, The Netherlands followed the lead of a number of other small, northern European countries as a centre for financial services. Easy credit flowed in newly deregulated markets and as long as everyone was making pots of money, who really cared?

Nobody, is the answer to that, at least not until the people who were having credit thrown at them suddenly stopped being able to pay for it. For Holland, read Iceland and Ireland. They country had over-reached and the fall was about to come. The sale of huge Dutch bank ABN-Amro to Royal Bank of Scotland brought the latter to its knees and much of the British banking industry with it as the scale of the bad debts racked up only became apparent once the transaction had been completed. DSB Bank went to the wall and Fortis went close.

This all had knock-on effects for Dutch football clubs which those banks had their many fingers in. DSB wholly owned AZ, ABN-Amro were heavily into Ajax and Fortis had committed millions to Feyenoord. PSV had no direct banking involvement, but as a wholly owned subsidiary of electronics giant Philips, they too had profited off the back of low-priced credit as consumers flocked to buy 52” plasma screens to replace the 48” plasma screens that look so outdated six months on. They too took a pounding in the recession.

So that’s how it all looked as we began the 2010/11 Eredivisie season. The traditional powerhouses had been toppled, but everyone was heading into the season with as much of an eye on the purse strings as the league table. The KNVB took measures to ensure financial stability of competing sides was in place. Willem II just sneaked in, though remain on a tightrope, while NAC were deducted one point for late payment of wages. Other points penalties are all on the statute, but have, so far, not been needed. The clubs seemed to have had their warning and taken it seriously.

Ajax’s reward for finishing second in 2010 was a Champions League qualifier, and they gambled on winning that in order to maintain their squad, which had seen so many lavish acquisitions in recent years. They beat Dynamo Kiev over two legs and the gamble was rewarded. However, before the last couple of rounds prior to the winter break, enough was enough for Martin Jol who quit citing unrealistic expectations. It’s easy to sit far away and pontificate about how the club even surviving should be cause for celebration, let alone be able to hang onto the likes of Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory van der Wiel and Luis Suarez but archrivals Feyenoord would kill for Ajax’s problems. For large periods of a miserable season, they have been woeful, but Mario Been has sought and been given the opportunity to turn it round. The parlous state of the club’s finances are well known and he’s had credit for operating in trying circumstances, credit Jol would have been deserving of.

PSV are entering this dilemma now. Selling Ibrahim Afellay and Nordin Amrabat raised just €4m, none of which will be available to Fred Rutten to reinvest. With Jonathan Reis out for the season with a serious knee injury and Danny Koevermans on his way out of the club, that leaves the Eindhoven club very short up front and with a looming 25-30% cut in the budget.  Champions League football next season is a must.

DSB went down last year, so AZ had time to adjust to new circumstances and, after a slow start when they were drastically short of players, have begun to string some results together and look like a Europa League contender. Twente always prided themselves on operating within their means, but though they’re not directly affected by the collapse of a major bank, they are suffering the loss of sponsorship revenue which is affecting all clubs. Twente have always been a selling club and as former manager Steve McClaren faces life after Edin Dzeko at Wolfsburg, Theo Janssen and Bryan Ruiz are rumoured to be going to Germany to link up with their former boss as he makes one final throw of the dice.

That should allow a host of other clubs to take up the mantle and try to join Twente and AZ in breaking the three-way hegemony that’s dominated the Eredivisie since it’s inception in 1956. Utrecht look fleetingly like they might, but though they generally keep their house in order, they operate on a budget a mere fraction of the big boys and may find any offer for young hot-shot Ricky van Wolfswinkel – one of the stand-out players of the first half of the season – too much to resist.

So that leaves Groningen. When all around them have been finding excuse after excuse, they’ve been plugging away and getting results. Groningen’s is  not a big squad in terms of numbers, but it is in physical size and they use that to their advantage. Not just that though – these boys can play football. Unheralded they may be, but as each week goes by, the prospect of Tim Sparv, Tim Matavz, Andreas Granqvist et al emerging as champions becomes less and less ridiculous. This is their best ever chance.

Round 19 talking points:

Half the last round before the break was washed out with Ajax, AZ and Twente all having matches postponed. An easy win for PSV over Roda means they ended 2010 four points clear of Twente and Groningen who were held by Excelsior on the plastic in Rotterdam. Willem II ended the season with loss number 15 and there looks little chance that 2011 will be any kinder to them than last year was. No wins, just four points and a goal difference already up (down?) to -35. Life is hard for Tilburg fans.

Results:

Heerenveen 4-0 De Graafschap; Excelsior 2-2 Groningen; NAC 1-1 Vitesse; ADO 2-1 Willem II; PSV 3-1 Roda JC. Twente v Heracles, VVV Venlo v Utrecht, Ajax v Feyenoord and AZ v NEC all postponed.

Round 20 gets underway on January 21, but the postponed matches from round 19 will be played the preceding Wednesday.

Fixtures:

ADO v Heerenveen; Heracles v AZ; NEC v NAC; Willem II v Vitesse (two dead men walking here); Feyenoord v De Graafschap; Utrecht v Ajax; Roda JC v Excelsior; Groningen v Twente (match of the round); VVV Venlo v PSV.

John writes regularly for IBWM, and you can follow him on Twitter @DobsonJP

IBWM is open to everyone to share their stories. If you'd like to submit an article on any topic, please contact us.