By Han de Koning, director KingsTalent
‘What a awful practice that was’. I’ve said this many times and also heard it many times from teammates. Fact is that physical practice on the soccer field is seen as an necessary evil in Dutch soccer. In the Netherlands the emphasis of soccer play remains on the tactical and technical part of the game.
We want to dominate, circulate the ball, let the opponent chase the ball and player, control the game by using ball possession. So, in the Netherlands, obviously, the focus remains on this part of the game. But in doing so, aren’t we underestimating the physical aspects of the game? This is a very present-day discussion in the Netherlands in which also the current crisis in the Dutch national soccer team and the poor performance of Dutch clubteams in European competition takes place.
The times that ‘the Dutch style of soccer play’ could beat it’s opponents by tactical superiority are gone. Other countries and foreign club teams have at least caught up to us. When this happened it became apparent that other aspects of the game became more important. Suddenly there is a public demand for ‘real men’ in the defense who can neutralize their man in stead of technical defenders who can contribute to the position plays in possession. But unfortunately these ‘real men’ defenders are being denied their chance in the talent development programs because they are supposedly not good enough soccer players.
Different times require a different approach. Striking to me were the matches of the Dutch national team and the U21 Dutch national team against the United States national teams. These matches were both lost. The way they were lost is clear. The inability of the Dutch teams to beat the US teams technically and tactically was obvious. What remained were matches in which stamina, physical strength and discipline were decisive.
In the US, the way to experience sports is totally different from the Netherlands, mainly when it comes to soccer. Stamina, physical strength and discipline are crucial. Every training it is expected from every player that he gives 100%. When someone doesn’t give 100% he will be disciplined by his teammates and coaching staff. There is a kind of social control that demands every player to give his maximum dedication and effort, every practice, every match. This discipline doesn’t lead to better soccer play per sé, but it does form the base for a determined team with players who will give everything they have until the final whistle of a match.
But what is the right approach? I think that there is no one best approach. There should always be a combination. A soccer team in the US can get a lot better from adding a few tactically and technically strong players to their team. Otherwise Dutch soccer in it’s entirety can get a lot stronger from adding focus to stamina, physical strength and most of all discipline in talent development programs and selection teams.
It’s my opinion that we, in the Netherlands, can learn a lot from the American approach to sports, just as other countries have indeed learned a lot from the ‘Dutch way’ of playing soccer in the past. Coaches and youth trainers who see that another approach to the game is demanded in the Netherlands however probably won’t receive a lot of admiration and credit, but probably will get the results they want in the future.
It is time for a change of course in Dutch soccer development.