Ajax celebrate their title success

Having gone head-to-head for the Eredivisie title on the final day of last season, Ajax and Twente will again be big favourites to collect silverware during this campaign.

Their only likely challengers will be PSV, who finished third last term. Without the national crown since 2008, the pressure will increase on coach Fred Rutten, who surprisingly kept his job despite fierce criticism,
to do better. The Eindhoven club have been helped by their local council, who have bought their stadium and training complex. In return, PSV will pay rent for the next 40 years, but the deal means the 18-times champions have money available to strengthen their squad.

Belgian winger Dries Martens and Holland midfielder Kevin Strootman, both from Utrecht, and Feyenoord’s Georginio Wijnaldum have already been signed up, but it would do PSV no harm whatsoever to find a decent striker. Leaving are winger Balasz Dzsudzsak (to Russian club Anzhi Machakchala), reserve Danny Koevermans (Toronto), Marcus Berg (back to Hamburg after a disappointing loan spell) and Jonathan Reis (last year’s main striker until he suffered an horrific knee injury and now walking out for free). The board hope highly paid skipper Orlando Engelaar, who was the fans’ scapegoat last season, will find another club in order to raise more cash.

AZ, fourth last year, have lost key players Stijn Schaars (Sporting Lisbon), Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (Ajax) and Mexican Hector Moreno (Espanyol), while several others, such as the expensive Argentinian goalkeeper Sergio Romero, will probably follow. So far only striker Ruud Boymans (VVV) has come in as AZ continue to suffer from their financial troubles of a few years ago. However, coach Gertjan Verbeek is a master at creating a mentally and physically strong team so the Alkmaar club ought to remain a contender for a Europa League ticket.

Den Haag, who surprisingly clinched the last Europa League spot after the play-offs, are in danger of collapse. Inspirational coach John Van den Brom has abandoned ship to join his first love Vitesse, while Russian striker Dmitry Bulykin (back to Anderlecht after a loan spell) and Slovakian winger Frantisek Kubik (Kuban Krasnodar) have also left.

Last year’s assistant Maurice Steijn has been put in charge but he is aware that players such as Timothy Derijck, Jens Toornstra, Lex Immers and Wesley Verhoek are likely to be sold before the start of the season.
So far, second division players Paul Mulders, Wouter De Vogel and Marc Hocher, along with Slovakia defender Filip Luksik, are the only new arrivals.

Groningen, who missed out on the Europa League after losing on penalties to Den Haag, have had to reshuffle their defence after skipper Andreas Granqvist (Genoa) and left-back Fredrik Stenman (Club Brugge) moved on. Swede Emil Johansson (Molde) and Kees Kwakman (Augsburg) are the new boys. Providing winger Zoran Tosic and striker Tim Matavz stay, Groningen are serious candidates for European football.

Whether Feyenoord can wash away last season’s shameful 10th place depends on the help of extended investors. Despite young striker Luc Castaignos’ departure to Inter, money remains tight in Rotterdam and coach Mario Been quit during the pre-season build-up after the first-team squad were reported to have lost faith in his ability. New coach Ronald Koeman could face another difficult campaign.

Heerenveen have stuck with coach Ron Jans, despite a mediocre performance and his falling out with striker Bas Dost, while it will be interesting to see how Utrecht invest the money from the sales of Strootman, Mertens and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon). Rival clubs should be aware that Utrecht will be knocking on their door. Utrecht owner Frans van Seumeren is demanding a Europa League play-off spot and with the right investment they are serious candidates.

Dark horses Roda and Heracles, who reached the play-offs last term, have held on to key players and will again be battling for European football, while Vitesse, who say they will be champions within three years, are also aiming for a Europa League spot – and providing the millions of Georgian owner Merab Jordania are well spent, new coach Van den Brom could repeat his performance at Den Haag last season.

Cash-stripped NAC Breda and NEC Nijmegen, who have lost the league’s top scorer Bjorn Vleminckx to Club Brugge, look set for a mid-table spot.

Down at the bottom, new coaches Glen De Boeck at VVV, Andries Ulderink of De Graafschap and Excelsior’s John Lammers will all be happy just to avoid relegation. The latter will depend on the leftovers of satellite club Feyenoord. A remarkable transfer is that of Excelsior’s Roland Bergkamp, who follows his second cousin Dennis overseas. However, his destination isn’t Arsenal but Brighton.

Promoted RKC Waalwijk are the main candidate to drop, just as they did two seasons ago. The club with the lowest budget have no money to strengthen their squad.

Klaas-Jan Droppert

Key dates
Season starts:

August 5, 2011

Winter break:

December 19, 2011

to January 19, 2012

Season ends:

June 6, 2012