The system that created is the system that destroyed.
The Netherlands crashed out of Euro 2012 without anything to show for their efforts. Three losses, two goals scored, no points. Total football it seemed, had failed.
But this version of total football was poor. The passing was not quick enough. The movement was non-existent. Non-existent because the players themselves were not total footballers. They were specialists, resigned to one position and one role only. The fluidity had been replaced with rigidity.
In a way, the Dutch system that worships 4-3-3 is to blame. A system derived from the great Ajax sides of the 1970’s. The Ajax of Johan Cruijff. The 4-3-3 has been practised in Holland to fundamentalist proportions. And that is where the rigidity has slowly crept in to the fluidity.
Bert Van Marjwik may be held responsible for Holland’s first ever first round exit in a major tournament since 1980. But he is not entirely to blame. The truth is, the Dutch system’s failure was always on the cards. This is because the origin of the system, Ajax, has been suffering in recent years. Ajax is no longer the club it used to be. The system itself cannot be applied with confidence by the so called Dutch masters. Holes have been poked into the 4-3-3 wherever and whenever Ajax have played, be it at home or in Europe.
Therefore, in Kelsenian terms, the basic norm had ceased to be relevant. Thus all other norms that emanate from it are also irrelevant. Ajax’s system failure has in turn led to the national team’s failure.
In 2007, a Dutch Under-21 side lifted the U-21 European Championships. Their manager, Foppe De Haan resigned immediately after in defiance. He had been criticised for not following the Dutch system. His side played 4-4-2. Cruijff did not like 4-4-2. And in Holland, Cruijff is always right. But De Haan winning the tournament using a ‘non-Dutch’system meant that he was also right. The two could not co-exist in one country. And in a country that idolises Cruijff, De Haan had to go.
The same case may befall Bert Van Marjwik. Though he was almost right in South Africa two years ago when he got to the final (and had it not been for Arjen Robben, he would probably have won the World Cup), the fact that he did not may work against him. Van Marjwik had attemptred to move away from the 4-3-3. He’s only fault was that he was not as brave as De Haan to completely move away from it. He played a 4-2-3-1 that more or less retained the key dynamics of the 4-3-3. But the small digression meant that Cruijff did not like it.
The fact that Cruijff did not like it means that Van Marjwik never really had the freedom to do as he pleased. He had trouble integrating the players into a system that was a confusion of the established system, and the system he really wanted. Questions always arose. Should it be Robin Van Persie, or Klaas Jan Huntelaar. Where should Rafael Van Der Vaart play? Questions that in all fairness to him would significantly trouble any manager. For a manager who was up against both tradition and social icon, the odds were clearly against him.
Then there was the issue of the egos. The egos existed within the team. In a way, the egos were a creation of the system. The system demanded that every player believe in themselves. Believe that they were better than the rest. It came to be called ‘the Amsterdam bluff’. The belief that made others believe that they had lost even before they stepped onto the pitch. Now, the belief was proving counter-productive. The belief went from the team level to the individual level. Individuals believed that they were better than even their own teammates. Huntelaar and Van Der Vaart complained at not being started when according to themselves, they were the best. It created tension within the team.
In the end, Van Marjwik had to put out a broken team. He was cautious at first because his forward players did not want to defend. They did not want to defend because they have been taught to believe that 4-3-3 is an attacking system. And when in caution he played two defensive midfielders, he was accused of being too negative.
But he was only negative because he had to be. His attackers could not defend, or rather did not want to. This is because the system they had been taught all their lives was to attack. Attack in 4-3-3 fashion. They did not want to defend because whether or not they didn’t, there was always someone who would justify their actions. That someone was Cruijff, who was there when the system was created and has done the most to ensure it is sustained. Cruijff has never been wrong, except of course in 2007.
En route to victory in 2007, the Dutch U-21 defeated a Portuguese U-21 side that had Joao Perreira, Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Silvestre Varela, Hugo Almeida, Rolando and Luis Nani in its ranks. How ironic it would be that these players would be in the Portugal squad that would knock out Holland in Euro 2012. A Holland side that had just two players from that class of 2007. Only Ron Vlaar and Tim Krul have graduated from that blasphemic 4-4-2 side. The side that defied the system. The system which may have now led to failure.
The time may have come for the system to be re-examined. That however is unlikely, for Cruijff will not like it at all.
Then again, in Kelsenian terms, if a revolution is successful, it becomes the basic norm.
The time has come for an Oranje revolution.
This post was made by guest blogger Mr Mike Njoroge, follow him on Twitter at @Mikenjoro
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