Dutch football from Ajax to the Zuider Zee
October 24 2010, is a date that will forever live in the memory of Feyenoord fans. On that fateful Sunday afternoon in Eindhoven, their team were humiliated 10-0 by PSV, a game which coach Mario Been described as “a black page” in the history of the club.
Since then Feyenoord have slowly dusted themselves down and despite going through more anguish along the way, they are now a point away from capturing what had seemed an unlikely Europa League playoff spot - but more importantly they seem to be in the right frame of mind to exorcise those demons when PSV come to town for the return fixture this Sunday.
Been, who was already under tremendous pressure going into the October game – with Feyenoord having won just two games from their first nine played – couldn’t have foreseen his side capitulating like they did, their worst defeat in 27 years.
Any talk of the contract extension he had wanted was put well and truly on ice, despite the board giving him the dreaded vote of confidence, but that didn’t stop despondent Feyenoorders from airing their grievances outside the club’s training ground in the days that followed.
That heavy defeat left Feyenoord perilously close to the relegation zone. In fact only their superior ‘goals scored’ kept them above Vitesse and above the dreaded drop zone.
A win over VVV Venlo at home the following week was a rare bright spot as Been’s men failed to win another game until late November when a win over ADO Den Haag began a mini revival.
Their position at the end of the first half of the season had improved since that infamous defeat at the Philips Stadion, but Feyenoord returned to poor form at the turn of the year, with three straight league defeats including a loss against bitter rivals Ajax. Relegation was now a real possibility
The most painful moment – in amidst their woeful spell – was the gut-wrenching last minute defeat at home to De Graafschap in late January. If the defeat to PSV was a ‘black day’ in the clubs history, then this was definitely the most emotionally dramatic.
It was their tenth defeat of the season, and their third consecutive one at home. De Graafschap, who were also fighting a relegation battle, managed to grab all the points in the dying minutes through Leon Broekhof.
At the full-time whistle the toll of fighting a relegation battle got too much for youngsters Stefan de Vrij and Georginio Wijnaldum who left the field in tears, consoled by their more experienced team mates Ron Vlaar and Tim de Cler.
Throughout the game negative chants were directed at the team, something Been strongly condemned afterwards, stating that the chants cut through his side like a knife.
It was also an emotional time off the pitch at the club, with ‘Mr Feyenoord’, club legend Coen Moulijn passing away in the same month, which lead to poignant tributes acorss Rotterdam.
Feyenoord were heading towards the unthinkable, the unimaginable - one of the big three in Holland could realistically be playing in the second tier. Something needed to be done, they needed a spark, and they just got that, in the shape of Ryo Miyaichi.
On loan from Arsenal, the predacious talent from Japan debuted against Heracles and became an instant hero. His display of ‘no fear’ began to rub on the rest of his team-mates and began to sway the fans into a more positive outlook. They were in ecstacy chanting “Ryo!, Ryo!, Ryo!”. He gave the team what they needed, galvanised the side. Now they could ward off relegation and maybe even mount a challenge for Europe.
But it was only the beginning for this youthful Feyenoord side – who set a club record for fielding their youngest XI only a week or so ago against FC Utrecht, with an average age of 21 – who had begun to resurrect their faltering season and in the process establish new heroes.
Georginio Wijnaldum is no longer in tears but smiling, Luc Castaignos - although Inter bound in the summer - is not leaving without a fight, and Stefan de Vrij has started to look a colossus in defence.
PSV’s win earlier in the season only equalled their biggest victory; three times in history they’ve scored 10 without reply.
Hat-trick hero on the day Jonathan Reis has since been ruled out for the rest of the season, damaging his knee before Christmas in a game against Roda JC. Captain on the day, and goal scorer, Ibrahim Afellay has since left for pastures new basking in the warm Catalan weather, but Balazs Dzsudzsák, Jeremain Lens and Ola Toivonen all remain, hoping to continue where they left off.
However the Eindhoven side have faltered since the international break, losing their top of the table tussle against FC Twente, and then squandered two points at home to Heerenveen. They have now bounced back to the summit – albeit on goal difference – after a 2-0 win over Heracles away from home with the imperious Dzsudzsák and Marcus Berg with the goals.
History is also on PSV’s side; De Kuip has been a good hunting ground of late, one defeat in their last four visits. Including a 3-1 victory last season.
Since Miyaichi’s debut Feyenoord have played eight times in the league, impressively winning five of those games and losing just twice. The biggest positive for Been has been their ruthlessness in front of goal. The new found confidence and attitude has reaped the benefits, in those eight unbeaten games Feyenoord have scored 20 goals and three of those matches have seen them score four or more.
Just as well with PSV coming to town, and revenge on the agenda. It’s also a catch 22 situation for Feyenoord fans. Victory over PSV would be payback for the 10-0 drubbing, but it could aid eternal rivals Ajax in their quest to win their first league championship in seven years.
It's a conundrum Stefan de Vrij has accepted, speaking after the 6-1 win over Willem II, he sympathised with the section of the fans who don’t want to see their club inadvertently hand the title to Ajax.
He reiterated that if Feyenoord are to end the season on a high note and play for a Europa League place then they need to win all their remaining games which includes the PSV match. De Vrij also spoke of a chance to gain some revenge for the brutal loss earlier in the season.
Mario Been also stressed that he understood the antipathy towards the Amsterdam club, but wants nothing more to rectify the biggest defeat and darkest moment in his young managerial career.
With FC Twente faltering and travelling to play Den Haag in the weekends other big game, there’s every chance Frank de Boer’s Ajax side, who face relegation threatened Excelsior at home could benefit the most from the resurgence of the Rotterdam side.
So it comes down to this. With two games left, the possibility of the Dutch league title being decided
It seems like only yesterday that Ajax and FC Twente's final-day duel for the 2010/11 Eredivisie
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