In a bid to clinch their first national title since 2008 – and, more importantly in financial terms, qualify for the Champions League after four consecutive years away – PSV have brought Dick Advocaat and Mark Van Bommel back to Eindhoven.
Advocaat was previously PSV coach from 1995 until 1998, winning the title in 1997 and the Dutch Cup a year earlier, and he returns after not renewing his contract to lead Russia’s national side. Van Bommel won four national titles and a Dutch Cup with the club between 1999 and 2005, and he joins from Milan at the age of 35.
Last year PSV were everybody’s favourites for the title after the local council rescued them from a perilous financial situation by buying the club’s stadium and training ground for ¤50million. In return the club agreed to pay rent for the next 40 years. When sporting director Marcel Brands stood on the steps of Eindhoven city hall and announced to fans that Dries Martens and Kevin Strootman had been bought for ¤30m, the crowd chanted that the title was already theirs. Later, the arrival of Timothy Derijck, Przemyslaw Tyton, Georginio Wijnaldum and Tim Matavz only increased the expectation.
Until the winter break all went well, with PSV just behind leaders AZ, but the second half of the season proved disastrous. Coach Fred Rutten lost his grip and paid with his job. Caretaker boss Phillip Cocu steered the side to Dutch Cup Final success, but third place in the Eredivisie meant no Champions League football once again this season.
The experienced Advocaat has the task to deliver success, as he has done in the past, and Van Bommel will be key in his strategy. Having just retired from international football, he should be the team’s motor, along with Strootman.
PSV strengthened their defence by signing Denmark’s Matthias “Zanka” Jorgensen from Copenhagen and also acquired Heerenveen right-winger Luciano Narsingh. Striker Ola Toivonen’s future is uncertain, however.
For once, Ajax enjoyed a quiet pre-season. The champions did lose skipper Jan Vertonghen to Tottenham Hotspur but that didn’t come as a surprise. In fact, coach Frank De Boer was expecting national team right-back Gregory Van der Wiel to leave as well. De Boer now has the opportunity to build a team around youngsters from the club’s academy, and Danish teenage striker Viktor Fischer and right-back Ricardo Van Rhijn look set to make the breakthrough.
Only NEC’s Danish playmaker Lasse Schone has been signed so far, although Niklas Moisander of AZ is viewed as a serious contender to replace Vertonghen. De Boer also hopes he can convince defensive midfielder Vurnon Anita to sign a new contract instead of moving to Newcastle United.
A big relief was the departure of Mounir El Hamdaoui to Fiorentina. The striker, banished to the reserves after a dispute with De Boer, had previously refused to co-operate with a move to Italy, leaving Ajax saddled with paying a salary of ¤1.8m for an unused striker.
Like PSV, Twente are seeking rehabilitation and the Enschede club are title contenders once again after a miserable previous season. New signings Dusan Tadic (Groningen), Tim Breukers (Heracles), Andreas Bjelland (Nordsjaelland), Robbert Schilder (NAC) and Felipe Gutierrez (Universidad Catolica) have given Steve McClaren’s squad an impressive boost. They have lost winger Ola John (Benfica) and striker Luuk De Jong (Borussia Monchengladbach), while defender Douglas is also likely to be on his way if chairman Joop Munsterman’s asking price is met.
Twente are starting their season early, in the Europa League preliminary rounds and the big fear is that they could fizzle out in the decisive stages of a long campaign.
Last year’s runners-up Feyenoord have lost key players such as midfielders Karim El Ahmadi (Aston Villa), Otman Bakkal (Dynamo Moscow) and, most notably, striker John Guidetti (returned to Manchester City after a loan). However, the arrival of Lex Immers (ADO Den Haag), Daryl Janmaat (Heerenveen), Ruud Vormer (Roda JC) and John Goossens (NEC), plus Norwegian pair Harmeet Singh (Valerenga) and Omar El Abdellaoui (Manchester City) means Ronald Koeman’s squad looks strong again.
At AZ, much depends on whether playmaker Rasmus Elm and defender Moisander stay. They have already lost Brett Holman (Aston Villa), Simon Poulsen (free agent), Charlison Benschop (Brest) and Ragnar Klavan (Augsburg). Elm’s brother, Viktor, from Heerenveen is the only decent new signing for a club that has struggled since the collapse of sponsors DSB.
Heerenveen coach Marco Van Basten will have to do without Bas Dost, who has moved to German club Wolfsburg, and PSV new boy Narsingh. The most notable signing is Ghanaian striker Matthew Amoah, who has had spells at Vitesse and NAC.
Much will again be expected from Vitesse. Georgian owner Merab Jordania is desperate for the Arnhem club to join the championship race and he will put pressure on ex-PSV coach Rutten, who took over this summer. Jordania is a close friend of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, whose Champions League winners have already loaned them Patrick Van Aanholt. He may not be the only summer arrival from Stamford Bridge.
Groningen and NEC could be the surprise packets. Despite losing Tadic to Twente, Groningen’s new coach Robert Maaskant, who won the Polish league with Wisla Krakow, has a good squad and new signings Mitchell Schet (RKC Waalwijk), Genero Zeefuik (PSV) and Michael De Leeuw (De Graafschap) will only add to that. NEC coach Alex Pastoor could benefit from new boys Evander Sno (RKC Waalwijk), Geert Arend Roorda and Michel Breuer (both Heerenveen).
ADO Den Haag, RKC Waalwijk, Roda JC, Utrecht and VVV-Venlo, could either finish with a Europa League ticket or face the drop. They are of roughly the same strength, cash is in short supply and they regularly lose their best players to the top five. NAC Breda have more serious financial problems and may struggle, as could neighbours Willem II, who came up via the play-offs.
Fellow newcomers PEC Zwolle, with former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam as assistant coach, will also do well to avoid the drop. Since returning to the top flight the club have reverted to their old name, having changed to FC Zwolle after going bankrupt in 1990. They will hope to take advantage of their artificial pitch – they and Heracles are the only clubs in the Eredivisie with such a surface.
By Klaas-Jan Droppert