For Dutch people abroad, one of the easiest ways to break the ice is to start talking about football. A mere mention of names like Cruyff, Gullit or Sneijder will work wonders, conjuring up magical moments in the history of the game and bringing back memories of “total football” and “brilliant orange”.
Kees Jansma has seen it all. He began his long career as a football reporter in the early 1970s when Amsterdam team Ajax and the Dutch national team rose to glory. He took up the post of Oranje’s chief press officer in 2004. He was in South Africa last year, at the side of Holland manager Bert van Marwijk, watching the World Cup final, which, he believes, the Dutch “came so close to winning”.
Jansma, who recently published a collection of football anecdotes, agrees that Dutch soccer is a strong brand that sells itself. The national team primarily owes its reputation to its star players – and there’s a good reason the Netherlands produces great footballers.
“They’re the end result of a long chain. I mean we often have American, British, German and South-European TV crews visiting us and they invariably ask me about the secret behind Dutch football successes. I then invite them to come to Doorn, the village where I live, on a Saturday morning and drive to my favourite club, Alphense Boys. On the way, we pass no fewer than 64 football fields. Each of them has a stand, a well-maintained pitch, a solid fence, a nice canteen, modern dressing rooms, floodlights. And then I tell them: ‘See, this is our strength.’”
Football is the most played sport in the Netherlands, with some 1.2 million registered players, more than any other country of comparable size. Each weekend, the Dutch Football Association organises more than 30,000 matches. Conditions in the Netherlands are perfect for talent development, says Jansma.
“When it comes to football, this tiny country is exceptionally well-organised, offering outstanding training programmes and a lot of quality at all levels. That’s quite unique. It’s something many countries are rather jealous of. And all that quality, which you can find from the lowest amateur leagues to the top flight of the Eredivisie [Premier League], will translate into excellent players. The result of all this work is an excellent national team. And it explains why such a small country has made it to the World Cup final three times.”
The Dutch national team has had an extraordinary run of successes in recent decades – only two of its last 40 matches ended in defeat, for example – and the current national coach, Bert van Marwijk, is the most successful ever. Under his stewardship, Holland reached last year’s World Cup final, jumped to the top of FIFA’s world ranking this year and put together an unprecedented winning run (including a record 11-0 rout of San Marino). The national team’s performance has been unparalleled, but is almost taken for granted at home. Not so in the rest of the world, the number of requests for foreign media interviews and friendly matches has multiplied in recent years.
“We played friendlies in Brazil and Uruguay this summer. That turned out to be quite a lucrative trip, unlike similar outings in the past. Holland is in much demand now and that reflects the level of appreciation abroad.”
2010 World Cup final
Holland have been famed for their attractive attacking style of play since the early seventies. Their uncharacteristically rough tactics during last year’s World Cup final against Spain don’t seem to have dented their reputation. Jansma recalls how in the wake of the final, Van Marwijk met his veteran Spanish counterpart Vicente del Bosque in Spain.
“Del Bosque told him that he felt Spain had almost buckled under the Dutch pressure and said he admired Holland for keeping it up. Of course, once you get to the final, it doesn’t matter anymore how you win or lose.”