The new season in Holland promises to be an open contest with champions AZ one of several clubs challenging the traditional supremacy if the big three.
By Klaas-Jan Droppert in the Hague
Predicting who will win this season’s Dutch title requires more guesswork than ever as the gap between the traditional big three (Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV) and the new teams on the block closes faster than ever.
There is also a crucial external factor that makes such predictions even more difficult: with wealthy Spanish and English clubs making a habit of signing Eredivisie players in the final days of the transfer window, Dutch teams have virtually no chance of hiring decent replacements.
Champions AZ have lost mentor Louis Van Gaal to Bayern Munich and it is left to new coach Ronald Koeman to repeat last year’s success. Influential chairman Dirk Scheringa will probably focus on their first Champions League appearance, and in Koeman – admired
for his international experience – he has hopefully signed the right man.
However, the big question will be whether the European games impact on their domestic campaign. So far the Alkmaar club have kept their squad together, but Moussa Dembele and Mounir El Hamdaoui are hot properties and could still be snapped up.
Twente coach Steve McClaren would like to go one better than last season when his side finished league runners-up and lost in the Dutch Cup Final. However, he has suffered serious blows with winger Eljero Elia moving to Hamburg and defender Edson Braafheid signing for Bayern, while injured striker Marko Arnautovic is likely to join Internazionale during the winter break. In come left-back Nicky Kuiper from Vitesse, Chelsea’s Slovakian winger Miroslav Stoch, Iraq midfielder Nashat Akram and South Africa forward Bernard Parker, who scored both goals in the 2-0 win over New Zealand at the Confederations Cup.They have also signed Costa Rica striker Bryan Ruiz, for a reported club record fee of £4.3million, from Belgian side Gent.
Martin Jol has the massive task of leading Ajax to their first title in six years. Many think he can do it, but much will depend on how he copes with a powerful board. “Jol is in charge – but has he got the power?” Johan Cruyff asked recently.
Jol is looking for experience to supplement his young squad but a number of central defenders (Braafheid, USA’s Oguchi Onyewu) and strikers (Elia, Marcus Berg) opted against a move to Amsterdam. He eventually signed Cameroon defender Timothee Atouba from his previous club, Hamburg. Ajax have also lost Belgium defender Thomas Vermaelen to Arsenal, but Holland keeper Maarten Stekelenburg has decided to stay after being dumped by former coach Marco Van Basten last year.
PSV will probably restore order and be a title contender again after last season’s fiasco under Huub Stevens. Former Guus Hiddink assistant Fred Rutten has taken over and the club’s South American contingent will feel much more comfortable under him than the disciplinarian Stevens. New signings Andre Ooijer (Blackburn) and Orlando Engelaar (Schalke) will play key roles.
Money is tight at Feyenoord and it’s down to coach Mario Been and advisor Leo Beenhakker to pull off some quality signings. External financiers have paid for the signing of Dani Fernandez (on loan at NEC last season), Aleksandar Ignjatovic (on loan from Serbia’s Borac Cacak) and Sekou Cisse (Roda JC), but may not be enough to clinch a European spot.
Cup winners Heerenveen will target another European place but have lost their best player, Danijel Pranjic, to Bayern Munich and only a couple of little-known foreigners, including former Arsenal trainee Michal Papadopulos, have arrived. But as the signings of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jon Dahl Tomasson proved in the past, the Frisian club have a good scouting network.
Groningen will have the same goal in mind and Ron Jans, the longest-serving coach in the Eredivisie, is more than capable. However, they need to replace Marcus Berg, who has joined Hamburg.
Dark horses NAC Breda surprisingly took the last European place in last season’s play-offs. Promising coach Robert Maaskant has managed to keep his squad together and might pull off another stunt.
Utrecht and Vitesse have a history of internal chaos while life without Been will be hard for NEC Nijmegen, although they hope they have signed the “new Dirk Kuyt” in Belgian lookalike, striker Bjorn Vleminckx from Mechelen.
Willem II should be too good for the relegation zone but Den Haag, Sparta, Roda JC and Heracles could all end up in trouble. The first two have goalkeeping problems, while Roda, on the brink of bankruptcy, have low expectations after a narrow escape in the relegation play-offs.
Heracles ditched coach Gert Heerkens in favour of Gertjan Verbeek, who will try to show in his second spell in Almelo his disciplinary methods are more suitable there than at Feyenoord. He will have to do it, however, without top scorer Ricky Van den Bergh, now at Den Haag.
Promoted VVV-Venlo and RKC Waalwijk have a realistic chance of staying up. Despite having the lowest budgets in the league, both have a number of players with Eredivisie experience. With Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda staying at Venlo and Ajax reserve goalkeeper Dennis Gentenaar arriving, VVV could finish higher than Limburg rivals Roda.