Dutch football from Ajax to the Zuider Zee
Looking back on the 2010/11 Eredivisie season one word comes to mind: crazy. It’s been one of the more dramatic, unpredictable and emotional rollercoasters.
The pre-season favourites nosedived before Christmas before eventually living up to their billing and taking the championship – although many felt it was undeserved. Meanwhile one of the teams most tipped for relegation ended up qualifying for Europe next season and at one stage were on the cusp of a top-three finish.
Game of the SeasonFor the first time in more than a decade, a side put 10 past their opponents – but in a cruel twist the battered team gained their revenge in the only way Dutch football knows how. This is of course the surreal game that was played out in October between PSV and Feyenoord.
PSV 10-0 Feyenoord was like watching someone play a football simulation game on easy mode. Games like these are few and far between in a competitive top flight, especially in the last few decades.
What was also amazing was the ruthless aggression shown by the PSV players, in particular Balázs Dzsudzsák, Jeremain Lens and Jonathan Reis – Reis scoring a hat-trick. Even with five goals and more on the board, PSV's onslaught gave the impression that they were the team trailing.
It was a watershed moment for Feyenoord boss Mario Been; though the Rotterdam side hardly went into the game on the best of form, no one predict the afternoon they would endure – and Been even speculated in the run-up to the game that he could be rewarded with a new contract. At the full-time whistle he probably wanted the group to open up and swallow him.
In the end he stayed and despite few more bumpy rides which saw Feyenoord skirting uncomfortably close to the drop zone, he managed to galvanise the side. After the introduction on loan from Arsenal of Japanese youngster Ryo Miyaichi, the club began to climb the table and nearly finished in a Europa League play-off spot. With delicious revenge they also all but ended PSV’s title hopes in late April through goals from two of Holland’s brightest talents, Georginio Wijnaldum and Luc Castaignos.
If October's 10-0 hammering was the season's most bizarre game, then its most brilliant took place a month later at De Grolsch Veste where FC Twente and Ajax played out an exhilarating 2-2. A free-flowing end-to-end game which would enthrall all neutrals and football lovers, it was the perfect homage to the modern Dutch game.
The result maintained Ajax’s slim early-season lead in the table, two points ahead of both PSV and FC Groningen. It was a position many weren’t surprised to see them in. On the back of their imperious end-of-season form plus the euphoria of returning to the Champions League, Ajax were the team to beat, and also benefited from having the Golden Boot holder Luis Suárez, who had bagged 49 in 48 games.
The draw at Twente meant Ajax had gone seven games unbeaten, but the following week they lost their first league game at home (where they hardly dropped points in the last campaign) and would enter a sticky patch; coupled with the tensions of playing high-intensity European football, this would lead to Martin Jol’s resignation in December. Which leads us to...
Manager of the seasonJol's successor Frank de Boer was given 17 league games to overcome a five-point deficit. Under his charge Ajax only dropped eight points from 51 available and won their first league championship in seven years. De Boer deserves credit but managers need to be in charge for more than half of the season to qualify for the Rinus Michels award (best manager of the season).
Let us take nothing away from De Boer’s achievement in such a short space of time, but there was a reason why Ajax were made the pre-season favourites: they possess the league's strongest team and squad. In truth there’s a much deserving candidate, one of De Boer’s former team-mates. No, not Albert Ferrer, but John van den Brom at ADO Den Haag.
To finish your first season as a top-flight coach in seventh place is excellent going; it's all the more remarkable to do so with a side who in recent years have flirted with relegation (finishing four points from the drop last season). There was even a stage of the season when ADO could have gatecrashed the top two, but even this fairy tale has to have limits.
Van den Brom still managed to take his side into Europe for the first time in 24 years after an incredible two-legged play-off final against FC Groningen. ADO had won 5-1 in Den Haag but Groningen turned the tables and inflicted their own 5-1 home win; the game went to penalties and Den Haag held their nerves to make history. Given what he’s achieved in his first season and what he worked with, Van den Brom may be manager of the season for the whole of Europe.
Other notable managers include Michel Preud'homme. Also his debut season, the Belgian in some ways improved on his FC Twente predecessor Steve McClaren by adding a more attacking impetus and guile, even if the Enschede side lost the league after leading on the final day.
Honorable mentions for Mario Been, who turned Feyenoord’s season around, and AZ’s Gertjan Verbeek who proved his early-season doubters wrong – after losing Mounir el Hamdaoui, Moussa Dembele, David Mendes da Silva and Jeremain Lens at the start of the season and then Kew Jaliens in the winter transfer window – by securing a top four finish.
Goal of the season Depends what you’re looking for. A blistering run with an acute finish? Try Theo Janssen vs. PSV:
For the best footwork, enjoy Luuk de Jong’s effort against FC Utrecht:
If you love an overhead kick, you’re spoilt for choice. Take your pick from these two beauties – Ruud Boymans vs. Heerenveen:
...or Pa Modou Kah vs. VVV Venlo (with the best goal celebration of the season):
Player of the seasonTwente may have missed out on the grandest prize but individually it’s been another standout season for Theo Janssen. He’s kept the Enschede side ticking over all season and despite losing their crown he’s made sure Twente are a respected power in Dutch football. It's a big blow to them that he decided to leave for pastures new by moving to rivals Ajax.
A special mention to Nacer Chadli and Dušan Tadić, two of the more impressive signings of the season, the latter ending with 21 assists in all competitions – the best from anyone in the Eredivisie.
Team of the season Stekelenburg (Ajax); Van der Wiel (Ajax), Granqvist (FC Groningen), Vertonghen (Ajax), Stenman (FC Groningen); Janssen (FC Twente), Vormer (Roda JC), Meertens (FC Utrecht); Verhoek (ADO Den Haag), Dzsudzsák (PSV), Vleminckx (NEC).
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