Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Holland was the football of the 1970s, right? So far, it looked like solidly so… all principal stars of total football were playing. Cruijff, Neeskens, Rep were the focus of attention, no concerns. Holland was the standard for everything in football, and may be because of that early signs of decline were not detected, or at least not comprehended. The negative side was eclipsed by the positive: Ajax struggled, already three years without a domestic title, and a pale shadow of itself. Feyenoord was aging dangerously (although Van Hanegem and company had surprisingly long careers and many years yet to play – bringing with that the obvious way to decline: impossibility to replace great stars with younger feet). One after another, the superstars were going to play abroad and hardly any great talent was stepping up to replace them. But Holland was still superior on international level, where the national team was fearsome. True, Cruijff and company failed to win the European Championship, finishing lower then at the 1974 World Cup, but nobody seriously taught them in decline – Holland was established power by now. And on club level – PSV Eindhoven was the third Dutch sensation, proving that the country’s football was may be getting stronger, not weaker. If not the last year, then this year; if not this year, then the next one – surely another European Cup was going to Holland really soon. It couldn’t otherwise: just like Ajax and Feyenoord, the new Dutch powerhouse was playing fast attacking football. It was not ‘classic’ total football, but… something taken to be a new variation of total football, which, when finally ripe, may be even more exciting than the original.
And it looked like PSV Eindhoven was fulfilling expectations fast – at home, it was traditionally tough battle with Feyenoord and Ajax, who finished second and third, Feyenoord one point behind the champions, and Ajax – 3 points behind. But the Phillips boys looked much better – scoring 89 goals, the most in the league, when allowing only 27 goals in their own net in 34 matches. Also the best league record. Seemingly, PSV Eindhoven was dedicated to more balanced football, than their German approximation Borussia (Moenchengladbach) – attack-minded, but keeping strong defense as well. Doubts about the real strength existed, however: the club was not that strong when playing the European cup tournaments. At home – it was not overwhelming victorious either: aging Feyenoord, and unsettled Ajax, in which Rinus Michels was back coaching, but by now only three players from the great original squad remained – Krol, Suurbier, and Hulshof – were not exactly outplayed and left behind in the dust. They appeared quite equal to the champions, which was not the case only a few years earlier with Ajax.
But PSV Eindhoven managed to win the Dutch Cup as well – a double and their best performance so far. Considering that PSV were champions in the distant 1963 for the last time before 1975, the double in 1976 strongly suggested confident dominance for the years to come.
As for the squad, it was practically the same as the year before (which hardly helps with the names – there are number of misspelled names above. British photo of the same time simply misspells different names. Above, the third from left, first row is not ‘Rraay’, but Adrie van Kraaij. Or van Kraay? Hmmm) Only Bjorn Nordqvist was no longer in the team – the 33-years old veteran returned to Sweden and IFK Goteborg. The new foreign recruit was typically Dutch deal: Nicholas Deacy was acquired from Hereford United. Ever heard of him? No matter – he was young (born 1953) and inexpensive. Yes, he played for the national team of Wales, but that’s about everything. However, the deal worked for both club and player, so no harm done. Other newcomers were defenders – Jan Poortvliet and Huub Stevens. Both eventually played for Holland, but perhaps are better known as coaches, Stevens in particular. As a whole, the Dutch champions were just at the right age – the team was mostly 25 or younger , yet already vastly experienced. The core consisted of national players, however, almost all played second fiddle in the Oranje selections. The exception were the van de Kerkhof twins – they were increasingly becoming key players in the Dutch national team, and surely pulled the strings in PSV.
At the moment, they were the bright future of Holland, making sure van Hanegem’s and Cruijff’s legacy will be continued. The twins were athletic, great runners, and fearless. The high-speed attacks of PSV depended on them. However, the brothers differed from the original Dutch superstars: fitness, determination, will power were perhaps on even higher order than those of previous players, but the new stars were more German than Dutch – they were more physical than technical, and their creativity left a lot to be desired. They dominated the field, but crushing opponents was not the same as outplaying them. Since they were still young, improvement was expected, and with them PSV Eindhoven was seen as the next ruler of European football. Soon, very soon… The life of twins: raising together, falling together – Rene and Willy (right) van de Kerkhof carried out of the pitch, injured in match against FC Amsterdam – Rene in the 8th minute of the first half, and Willy in the 8th minute of the second. May be their sameness was what prevented PSV Eindhoven of becoming a great team.