It’s more than just the prep school of world football, you know? Get to grips with The Eredivisie, the top tier of Dutch football. Hup! Hup!
By Nick Boffa
STYLE OF PLAY
The Eredivisie has long been known as a production line of top-level talent for more lucrative European leagues to plunder. In the golden age of Dutch football, clubs from The Eredivisie regularly competed with the biggest sides in the upper echelons of the European Cup. However, the naughties brought a much-maligned decline in the standards while many legends of Dutch football despaired. In recent times the quality of the league has improved, culminating with Ajax and their now famous heartbreak in the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2019. Ajax aside, more Dutch clubs need to make a stronger impact in continental competition but there is growing momentum as talent flows in – retention remains the key to maintaining the strength of the league.
LIKELY TOP FOUR*
*Things run a bit differently here, EPL fans – the winner enters the CL while 2nd heads into the CL qualifying. 3rd and 4th place enter the Europa League.
Ajax have started well as many expected, sitting top after eight games. The reigning champions are expected to add to their record 34 titles this year but may face stronger opposition from rivals PSV, Feyenoord and AZ. As is the case in most summers, there have been high-profile departures to bigger clubs, namely Donny van der Beek who completed a move to Manchester United. However, Erik ten Hag has a quality side at his disposal featuring experienced campaigners, such as ex-United man Daley Blind. Thus far de Godenzonen have retained most of their top talents André Onana and Nicolás Tagliafico despite losing Sergiño Dest. Ajax are yet again reaping rewards from one of Europe’s most productive academies with more young talent coming through (keep reading!). It would be a brave punter to bet against them adding to their trophy cabinet at the Johan Cruyff Arena but this could be one of the closer title races in recent memory.
The Rood-Witten will be hoping to break Ajax’s grip on league supremacy and their optimism could be well founded. PSV have a strong squad notwithstanding the disappointing loss of Maxi Romero to a knee injury. Eindhoven will be hoping to see out the transfer window without any key departures, but they’ll be holding on tightest to their captain, Denzel Dumfries. The Netherlands international has scored 11 goals – he’s a right back, mind you – in 60 games for PSV and is a key man. The squad is brimming with young talent in the form of Cody Gakpo, Mohammed Ihatteren and forward Donyell Malen, who scored all five goals in the match against Vitesse last campaign. PSV have produced elite talent before, and many think this squad rivals some of their best in recent history.
Under the guidance of wily Dutch manager, Dick Advocaat, the lads from Rotterdam will be out to better their 3rd place finish last season. They won the league title last in 2017 but added the KNVB Cup and Johan Cruyff Shield in 2018. This season, as always, they’ll be keen to take the honours in De Klassieker against bitter rivals Ajax. Advocaat has a strong team at his disposal including Premier League old-boys Leroy Fer and João Carlos Teixeira, captain Steven Berghuis and Argentine defender Marcos Senesi. They’ve started well with five wins from their opening eight games but do have some injuries at the back to contend with.
Manager Arne Slot will be looking to go one better after finishing 2nd in the league campaign for 2019-20 and it would be momentous as AZ haven’t won the league for over a decade now. Star man and captain Teun Koopmeiners will be central to those ambitions and much is expected from new signing, Jesper Karlsson, who arrives from Swedish side IF Elfsborg. Ex-Aston Villa man Ron Vlaar is in defence and AZ fans will be hoping for another strong season from forward Calvin Stengs after losing Oussama Idrissi to Sevilla.
TEAMS TO WATCH
They finished runners up last time out so there’s really only one result they’re looking for, right? Knocking rivals off their perch would be the icing on the cake if The Cheeseheads can break their title drought. They’re currently sitting 8th so things need to pick up fast!
Utrecht finished 6th last year and have done some shrewd recruiting with free transfers and loan signings. Daniel Arzani has arrived from Manchester City via Celtic and he’s joined by Eljero Elia and Moussa Sylla from Basaksehir and AS Monaco respectively. Captain Willem Janssen leads the side from the back and has been at the club since 2014. Utrecht have started with a draw in their opener and will be looking to challenge for European football next year.
ADO Den Haag
This may seem an odd choice to highlight a team that came in 17th last season but any club that survives a brush with Alan Pardew has some resilience! Just kidding, Alan! Improvement will be on the cards (god, you’d hope so) but don’t write Den Haag off too quickly. New manager Aleksandar Ranković has done some “interesting” recruiting, to say the least; are you familiar with the name Ravel Morrison? The precocious young Englishman, now 27, has joined his 11th professional team and could be just the played needed. Morrison has bundles of talent and if his off-field affairs are in order, he could prove to be a hit in the Netherlands. Let’s hope so!
The team is based in the city of Enschede (region of Twente) and finished a humble 14th in the previous league campaign, but there’s scope for hope! Twente won the league in 2009-10 and have recruited mainly via loans and free transfers. They have landed central defender Dario Dumic though, and will be hoping the Bosnian international can shore up the back. So far, so good! FC Twente are unbeaten in their first three games and will look to keep the early momentum going.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Daniel Arzani (FC Utrect)
The Iranian-born Australian winger arrives on loan with a point to prove. Arzani burst on to the scene in the A-League and made an impact with the Socceroos during the 2018 World Cup. He’s battled injuries and omission during a largely frustrating stint with Celtic and now, fully fit, will be looking to recapture his best. Motivation is a powerful tool!
Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax)
The academy product who has progressed all the way to the first team; everyone loves that story, right? Even so, Ajax are particularly excited by the potential of their 18-year-old powerhouse who has quickly become a mainstay in the side, appearing in big games this season. Gravenberch, already a target for some European giants, is quick, calm on the ball and can already dictate a game from midfield. He was the winner of the highly valued Abdelhak Nouri Trofee for the most outstanding academy talent in 2018. Great pedigree, to be sure.
Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord)
The Feyenoord captain is crucial to the success of his team and assumes much of the creative responsibility in midfield for the 15-time league champions. Berghuis, 28, has scored 52 goals in 118 games for Feyenoord and is a full-capped Dutch international. EPL fans may remember him from his spell at Watford in 2015 but he is a league winner with his current employers from the 2016-17 season. He’ll be looking to add to his trophy cabinet at home.
Calvin Stengs (AZ)
There is a lot riding on the shoulders of 21-year-old Stengs, who will need to fire in the goals required to push AZ towards a title challenge. The Amsterdam native is already attracting the interest of big clubs abroad but he needs a big season to bolster his credentials. Stengs has scored two goals from five appearances this season and is managed by Mino Raiola but at this point, that could be a help or a hindrance!
FOUR CULT HEROES
Arjen Robben (FC Groningen)
The veteran winger is one of the most venerated Dutch players of his illustrious generation and his signature cut-in runs and deadly left foot are familiar to any football fan who hasn’t been under a rock for the past 15 years. He’s returned to his roots at FC Groningen and is the actual personification of “cult hero” in these parts.
Teun Koopmeiners (AZ)
The AZ captain and midfield general is on the radar of many European giants and was no certainty to be playing in The Eredivisie. For now, he remains, hence he is a walk-up start on this list. Koopmeiners, 22, is versatile and can line up in defence when not deployed in his preferred central midfield role. He has progressed through the ranks at Alkmaar and is a hometown hero at the club. He netted in Champions League qualifying against Viktoria Plzen last month to get his season off to a great start after contributing 16 goals in all competitions last campaign. He won’t be there forever, but he’s a definite fan favourite at AZ.
Denzel Dumfries (PSV Eindhoven)
Another inspirational skipper and fearless leader, Denzel Dumfries is much loved at the Philips Stadion. The 24-year-old defender is also crucial to the chances of success for Eindhoven as he contributes to attacks down the right flank – he scored 8 goals last season. Dumfries is a full international for the Netherlands and the Rotterdam native is the first name on the team sheet.
André Onana (Ajax)
Not just one of the most highly-rated goalkeepers in The Eredivisie, Onana is building a big reputation in Europe and big suitors are eyeing the Cameroonian closely. Onana, 24, is highly-coveted at the Johan Cruyff Arena is central to their hopes of success in European competition. That’s saying something in their talent-laden squad.
Must be mentioned: Appie Nouri (Ajax)
No self-respecting “cult heroes” section could end without a mention of Abdelhak Nouri. The Ajax youth product collapsed during a pre-season friendly in 2017 and was left in a coma. He lives in home-care with his family but his effect on the club has been profound. Nouri is an extremely popular figure at Ajax and the club renamed their “Talent of the Future” award after him. Many of his former teammates adopted his shirt number (34) at their new clubs including Donny van der Beek at Machester United and Justin Kluivert at AS Roma. The current team dedicated the club’s 34th title to Nouri and upon cancellation of his contract, Ajax pursued a way to reach a “future solution” for their stricken midfielder. Appie Nouri remains a powerful symbol for Ajax players, staff and fans.