A vote of no-confidence: Code Orange

Confidence. As an old Dutch saying goes: it comes on foot, but it leaves on horseback. It takes a long time to gain, yet losing it can be instant. Having too much of it, and you are not well equipped to deal with the task. Having too little, and you will not succeed. The largest problem in the Dutch national football team (as in many sports and teams) is not the line-up, it’s not the quality of the players, it’s not the coach, it’s not the press or the critics. Yes, all these talkshows and conversations in the pubs might convince you otherwise. But in actuality, It is a lack of confidence. Of trust. A lack of faith in your and your team mate’s ability. The Dutch national football team has been limping around for years with just that blatant lack of confidence. Of constantly feeling something is not right.

Yes, sir. The Dutch team has been lacking confidence in a major way since the debacle of the European Cup in 2012. Yes, there was less talent in the team. A generation of players like Robben and Van Persie was finished. Nobody of that level was ready to take the team into the future. Yes, there are no Robben’s, Kluivert’s or Bergkamps anymore. But even with the Memphis’s and Wijnaldum’s as the most important players, you shouldn’t be utterly defeated in the ways this team has in the past years. Even with these suboptimal players, the team lost to teams that can be described as lesser teams.

The Dutch team has always had flaws. The defense has been poor on many occasions. The system has been wrong at times. Players did not get along or left the camp out of dismay. The team wasn’t a team. But one thing that was was always there was a sense of confidence that seperated Dutch teams from others. A noticable faith in (playing) ability and technique. Sometimes this led to arrogance. But it also led to victory. When the team entered the pitch with this confidence, and these players, you already had a feeling as if you were 1-0 up already. Whether it was Sneijder, Vd Vaart, Bergkamp, Davids, Gullit or Van Basten. There were horrible games played. But there was an underlying belief (sometimes falsely so) that the team was better than the opponent. And that paved the way to results, even in bad games.

Ever since 2012 and the loss in the group stage, we start games with a 0-1 deficit. In 2014, nobody believed in the team and to cope with that doubt, Van Gaal changed the system. His results camouflaged 2 deeper issues. 1 being the lack of talent. But 2, and most importantly, the lack of faith. A lack of confidence in our players. Suddenly, we do not have world class players up front. We have a right back that can run, but cannot play a lick of football. The goalkeeper can’t catch a ball. The system is horrible. Nothing’s right, but oh well; as long as we try. We are small, but we try. That mentality has been there ever since. But, as the saying goes: how are you supposed to win a war with that attitude? If you go onto a pitch with a sense of: let’s make the best of it, instead of believing in the things you are good at and being better than your opponent?

The youth team of the Dutch won the European Cup with Foppe de Haan as coach in 2006/2007. The team he had was arguably the worst youth team we had ever had. Yet it won and beat the odds. With a bit of luck. With a bit of quality. But mostly, with confidence. In themselves and each other. They looked at what they COULD do well, instead of looking at where they lacked quality. That believe in wanting to be better, in positivity, in improvements is what brought them victory. Building confidence, and expanding that. In the senior Dutch team, all you hear about nowadays is about what it cannot do. Where it is lacking. How it is not what it used to be. But what are they GOOD at? What CAN they do?

You can always lose a game. You can always play poorly as well. But exceeding your own expectations is ALSO possible. Ronald Koeman as a coach, has never been known for his brilliant tactics. But what he brought to the Dutch team was confidence. In a game versus France, the Dutch team lost. But they were competing. Suddenly, the team started believing. Wait a minute: maybe we are not as bad as we thought we were. And later on, a couple of months later, the team actually beat France. And Germany. With luck, yes, but they did it anyway. You would be surprised what a person can do with confidence. Every time I see this national team perform, I think: something is missing. On the whole, it’s not right. There is no battle. No passion. No REAL belief in decision making, in your own quality or in that you are better than your opponent. No real belief in each other. One example here is this one.

Matthijs de Ligt. A wonderkid from the Ajax academy. He became the youngest Ajax-captain ever. He played in a semi-final in the Champions League as captain. He is quick, strong, technically gifted and a natural leader. He defended Mbapp√©, Ronaldo and more at 19 years of age. There was nothing he could do wrong and was named the most promising European talent there is. Afterwards, his agent claimed he should move to Juventus to learn how to defend properly. Because that is what Italians are known for; defending. Of course, defending like an Italian is amazing. But, it would take a whole reshaping of what made De Ligt the amazing player he was. Suddenly, he needed to learn how to play without the ball. He needs to worry about spacing, with less confidence on his running ability. Why does the captain of Ajax, known for his skills, need to totally relearn how to defend? And thus the focus shifted to what he was poor at. He can’t man-mark closely. He is not supposed to dribble the ball into the midfield anymore. All his talents, which he was marveled at for, were neglected; now, we are only looking at what he lacks. And here you have him at the European Cup. No confidence. Lacking in belief. Where is that amazing leader that all of Europe wanted to have in their team?

And this happens across the board. The problem is not purely the quality of the players. In every position, the Dutch team has a better player than the Czechs do. Or the Ukrainians. Or the Turks. Or the Scottish. The defense might even be better than the Belgian, the Italian or the English defense. And it’s not the system. You can play 5-3-2, 4-3-3 or 8-1-1; if you leave holes, you’ve got a problem. If your team doesn’t run as much as the opponent’s, you have a problem. And most importantly, if you already doubt yourself beforehand, you start with a 0-1 deficit. With guys like that, you won’t win the war. Without faith, even Andorra-away will be tough to win. The biggest problem with the Dutch 5-3-2 system is not the system, but the message that that sent; you’re not good enough for the 4-3-3. The only player on the pitch with confidence, was the worst quality player on the pitch: Denzel Dumfries. People mention him as the best guy in the team. Quality-wise he isn’t, but he has confidence. That’s why he keeps rushing on that right side. And that confidence proves to be the Dutch’s greatest weapon. Imagine that: the worst player quality-wise being the best player, just by sheer belief and confidence.

Please, let us start games with 1-0 again at the press-conference beforehand. Let us be 1-0 up at the analist-desk. At the practice games. At the national anthem. At the kick-off. They might call us arrogant (and sometimes rightfully so). And maybe we’ll lose 2-1, or 4-0. But at least we’ll have a chance of winning.

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