History was made in Holland as the big three finished outside the top two for the first time half a century.
By Klaas-Jan Droppert in the Hague
For the first time in 50 years none of Holland’s big three (Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord) finished in the league’s top two spots. Back in 1959 Sparta and Rapid JC (a predecessor of Roda JC) took the glory; now AZ and FC Twente will compete in the Champions League.
AZ, who won the title 28 years ago, clinched their silverware after a run of 28 matches without defeat. Coach Louis Van Gaal gelled a bunch of talented youngsters into a hard to beat collective, but the big question is what will happen next season now the coach has signed a contract at Bayern Munich? Will his disciples follow his example and abandon the ship or will they stay on board?
The Alkmaar club aren’t the only ones deserving of praise; much applause should also go to FC Twente. They managed to qualify for the Champions League qualifiers for the second consecutive season.
When coach Fred Rutten left for an unsuccessful spell at Schalke, chairman Joop Munsterman picked up the telephone to call Steve McClaren. To his surprise the former England boss accepted the job. At first the feeling was that an Englishman in Enschede would be an awkward choice, but McClaren adapted quickly. Despite losing Orlando Engelaar and Karim El Ahmadi he cleverly continued Rutten’s good work and their replacements Theo Janssen, Cheikh Tiote and Kenneth Perez proved to be instant hits. So were the performances of youngsters Eljero Elia and Marko Arnautovic, whose breakthrough McClaren was largely responsible for.
McClaren had hoped to finish his first Dutch season with a trophy, but Twente lost the Cup Final to Heerenveen on penalties after an exciting match had ended 2-2 after extra time. Youssouf Hersi scored for Twente in the 118th minute to send the contest into the shootout – but then missed the decisive penalty.
Ajax finished third despite having the most expensive forwards in the league; their inconsistency cost them dearly.
PSV also failed to deliver by finishing fourth. Former player and coach Huub Stevens wasn’t the right person to clinch a record fifth consecutive title. The club’s South American players, particuarly, had a problem with his tough dog image.
Stevens was one of nine coaches who lost their jobs this season. That means that half of the Eredivisie teams replaced their coaches, although two of them stepped down to concentrate on their managerial duties.
One who was fired was Gertjan Verbeek, halfway through a dramatic campaign at Feyenoord. The Rotterdam club lost no fewer than 13 matches this competition, including against all of the bottom four. However, under caretaker Leon Vlemmings Feyenoord at least reached the seventh spot, which is good enough to compete with FC Groningen, NAC Breda and FC Utrecht for a Europa League ticket.
Heerenveen were already certain of European football but will skip the preliminary rounds after winning the Cup Final. The Frisian club had a good season, although laidback coach Trond Sollied almost lost his job. Danijel Pranjic, the Croatian allrounder, had a terrific season, scoring 16 goals and has attracted the interest of clubs from wealthier leagues.
At the bottom it was a state of great tension until the last match day. Heracles Almelo and ADO Den Haag clinched their points to stay away from the play-offs. So it was down to De Graafschap, Volendam and Roda JC to decide which club would be relegated directly and which two would enter the play offs against six second division teams.
Bottom club Roda JC had a miraculous and unexpected escape by winning at Feyenoord. It was the only good news in a disastrous season. The Kerkrade club are heavily in debt and planned a merger with neighbour and second division club Fortuna Sittard, also in dire straits. Much to the disapproval of both fan bases a new club seemed to be born. A new name (Sporting Limburg), a new kit and the new base (Roda’s Parkstad Limburg stadium) were announced. However, the provincial government of Limburg then decided to withdraw their proposed £5million financial support because Fortuna hadn’t cleared their debts as agreed.
The fans were delighted but both clubs now face an uncertain future. It’s possible that professional football in Holland’s coal mining region has come to an end.
At least, sportingly, Roda still have a chance to stay up. And so have De Graafschap, for whom a draw against Volendam kept them off bottom spot.
That means that Volendam, last year’s second division champions, were relegated for the ninth time, a Dutch record. They will be replaced by champions VVV Venlo who dropped down last year.
Coach of the season
Louis Van Gaal (AZ)
Last year he almost resigned, but only the players persuaded him to stay. This season he created a solid team with many individual talents. A 28 unbeaten run led to AZ’s second title and Van Gaal’s sixth (three at Ajax, twice at Barcelona).
Player of the season
Mounir El Hamdaoui (AZ)
Dutch-born Moroccan international has finally fulfilled his prophecy. This season he combined vast individual skills with prolific goalscoring. The league’s top scorer with 23 goals.
Newcomer of the season
Eljero Elia (Twente)
Was a reserve at relegated ADO Den Haag two years ago, now a hot property for many foreign clubs. Blossomed first under Fred Rutten and later Steve McClaren. A speedy and skilful right-footed winger who can score goals as well.