Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Netherlands present an enigma. By 1974 the Dutch were the talk of everybody, meaning Ajax and Feyenoord, and recently added national team. But the Dutch championship was considered low grade – and still is. No talking about that. And another thing: Ajax suddenly collapsed, yet Dutch football – meaning the national team – was prime considered favourite for the World Cup finals. True, the gap between the leading clubs and the rest of the Holland’s top division was great, but there were changes. Anyhow, the big news was Ajax – they were envisioned to rule European football for many years, but expired in the fall of 1973. Two changes contributed to the collapse and the beginning of the ‘dark years’, as the period until mid-80s is referred to in the club’s history. Cruiff was sold to Barcelona, but nobody considered it fatal loss in the summer of 1973 – after all Ajax had world-class stars at almost every position. Surely the loss of the genius would be compensated by the talent of the rest. But there was another change, much more dangerous in my opinion: Stefan Kovacs was unloaded, apparently becoming too expensive for the club. Whether Kovacs was great coach or not is a matter of futile debate: the Romanian did not change the playing style of the team and created friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Players liked him – at least the key figures in the squad – and felt free. Kovacs was replaced by Dutch coach – one Georg Knobel. True to their parsimonious attitudes, Ajax did not spent big money for big names, preferring cheap unknowns. So Knobel… whatever reputation he had in Holland (for outside he had none), he lost it this season (which did not stop the Dutch Federation to appoint him the national team coach a bit later). His statement that Jan Mulder, finally healthy, will be perfect replacement of Cruijff was funny to everyone – Mulder surely was no Cruijff. Laughter is laughter, the statement was not taken seriously, but Knobel tried to change the style of Ajax. This the players found conservative and resisted – and the downfall quickly followed. Two more foreigners were added for this year – the German journeyman Arno Steffenhagen and the Hungarian defector Zoltan Varga, both participants in the German bribing scandal and penalized for that, therefore, they were acquired cheaply. Great additions they were not, but hardly for blame – Knobel was the culprit of undoing of the great team.

Ajax finished third in the league, but played badly and the European Champions Cup displayed on the photo will be an empty dream for the next 20 years.
Feyenoord won the title, but for them – later, for they won the UEFA Cup this year too. For now – only one thing: somehow the club changed its name between 1972 and 74 from Feijenoord to Feyenoord. PSV Eindhoven won the Cup, beating lowly NAC Breda 6-0 at the final.
Now, the factory club of Phillips is one the big three in Dutch football, but started getting some European respect at 1974. It was still a long way to repeating the success of Ajax and Feyenoord, but PSV established itself as the pretty much the best club in Holland for many years to come.

Really, a good squad and a good coach, although all were to become well known names yet. Jan van Beveren was the best Dutch goalkeeper at the time and van Kraay, van der Kuylen, Lubse also were no strangers to the national team. The van der Kerkhof twins were to become the most famous of the this squad – in the very same 1974, thanks to the World Cup. The three foreign players provided additional quality – the Dane Bent Schmidt-Hansen not so much, but the two Swedish internationals Nordqvist and Edstrom were something else – the former, although old, was soon to be the player with most appearances for his national team in the world. Edstrom was to be a star for many years and well into the 1980s. A well balanced team really, which played a bit more physical game than Ajax and Feyenoord – a game better suited for the next years, as it turned out. Holland was on the verge of having a forth strong team that year – it really looked like a major transformation from insignificant to great league driven by vanguard football. Twente (Enchede) finished second, only 2 points behind the champions of Feyenoord.

Officially, the club was formed in 1965 – a young club without traditions, but this is a bit misleading, for Twente is a result of mergers and transformations of older amateur clubs. By 1974 the club had solid team, featuring a number of second-string national players and future national players – Pahlplatz, van Ierssel, Jeuring, Zuidema, Notten, Thijssen. Add the well respected in Holland Oranen, Drost, and Achterberg. The national team goalkeeper Piet Schrijvers was also there, but he was sold to Ajax after the season. The young coach Antoine Kohn also looked promising – at his age it was expected from him to follow total football, not some outdated tactical scheme.
Bottom, left to right: Kick van der Vall, Willem de Vries, Kalle Oranen, Rene Notten, Eddy Achterberg.
Middle: Antoine Kohn – coach, Frans Thijssen, Roel Brinks, Harry Bruggink, Johan Zuidema, Epi Drost, Jan Morsing – assistant coach.
Top: Henry Ardesch, Cees van Ierssel, Jan Streuer, Jaap Bos, Jan Jeuring, Theo Pahlplatz, Marc de Clerck.
This is really the squad for 1974-75, but the only difference from 1973-74 is the absence of Schrijvers, replaced by the Belgian de Clerck, player of no significance and a reserve goalie. Good squad? Yes… but the fate of small club is cursed. Twente were good for a year or two, then they had to sell – Schrijvers was followed by Notten in 1975 – and quickly faded away. Twente was just the first of almost-there, almost great, Dutch clubs – later there were AZ’67, JC Roda… for a while. Alas, nothing big established permanently in Holland – only Ajax, Feyenoord, and PSV Eindhoven remained strong. Small league… The success of Twente was tainted many years later – when in the early 1990s few of the former players suffered from cancer and heart failures, the former national player Rene Notten one of them. He died in 1995. It turned out that the club used doubtful methods to boost performance – blood transfusion. No doping and nothing illegal at the time… but later? Hard to judge: the Finnish long distance runner Lasse Viren pioneered the method and won Olympic gold medals. Keith Richards of the Rollingstones had many and is still alive and kicking. Twente players got sick and died… was it really a team on the verge of greatness, or was it a team pushed beyond human limit? After all, from this squad only Frans Thijssen really had success – with Ipswich Town at the beginning of the 1980s.