After losing four times since Adrie Koster took the helm at Jong Oranje, the Netherlands U21 team failed to qualify for the European U21 Championships in Czech Republic next summer and, with that, the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The question that everybody is asking now is: where did it go wrong?

  •  By Bas Vos
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The U21’s were having a fantastic qualifying campaign – winning five games and drew one in and against Slovakia – until Louis van Gaal took the coach, Albert Stuivenberg, in his staff at Manchester United. The KNVB appointed Adrie Koster, a coach not known for his performances, but rather with his failures to win trophies. He never won a single top division trophy, only winning the promotion play-offs with Excelsior in 2002 and the Eredivisie for reserve teams with Ajax in 2009, and he lost the Cup final in 1992 with Roda JC against Feyenoord.

With not qualifying for the Euros, the Netherlands automatically failed to qualify for the Olympics. This looks like a problem for Oranje, since the qualification for the Olympics goes via the U21 Euros in 1992 (objective: reach the semi-finals), the Netherlands only qualified once: in 2008 in Beijing, by winning the European Championships in 2007 on home soil.

Let’s first take a look at the players that played. In the biggest win in the qualifying group stage, which is 6-0 in and against Georgia, the line-up was as follows:

Warner Hahn; Joshua Brenet, Mike van der Hoorn, Stefano Denswil (Timo Letschert 74’), Nathan Aké; Kyle Ebecilio, Adam Maher (captain), Tonny Vilhena; Quincy Promes, Luc Castaignos (Davy Klaassen 81’), Jean-Paul Boëtius (Guus Hupperts 66’).

The unused players on the bench were Mickey van der Hart, Sven van Beek, Thomas Bruns and Lesley de Sa.

Of the starting eleven, only four played the away match against Portugal: Hahn, Brenet, Aké, and Maher. That may point out that the wrong players were called up, however there were key players injured (like Depay and Van Ginkel) and new talents stood in (like Manu).

However, there may also be a lack of communication between Guus Hiddink and Koster. From the Netherlands senior squad called up during the U21 play-offs, there were five players under the age limit, and they all surely would have played a huge role: Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Joël Veltman, Davy Klaassen and Quincy Promes.

I don’t think they would mind it going to the U21 team for this kind of important matches and surely the final tournament if they reached that. Cor Pot, the former coach of Jong Oranje, said this in an interview two years ago, after they secured qualification for the 2013 EC:

Everyone who can play wants to play for Jong Oranje. That is very positive. The atmosphere is always wonderful; we have a fantastic team, with the staff. You can see that by players who aren’t called up or put outside the match squad that they appear in the dressing room. 

The communication between U21 coaches Cor Pot and later Albert Stuivenberg and senior coach Louis van Gaal was always superb. Prior to the 2013 U21 Euros, Van Gaal waited with calling up his squad for two friendlies before Pot assembled his squad, resulting in a very strong Jong Oranje that reached the semi-finals. When Hiddink and Koster took over, the communication seemed to fade, since strong U21 players started on the bench in the senior team, like the aforementioned Veltman, Klaassen and Promes.

But most of all, it seems that it went wrong in the attitude of the new coach. A very reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous told me that Albert Stuivenberg is much stricter than Adrie Koster. That could be a factor, since players of that age can get distracted of transfer rumours about them that can be lucrative. If it’s true, the KNVB itself is to blame, since they know Koster as a former Netherlands U20 coach.

Personally, I would have kept Stuivenberg, if that was possible. A double job as an assistant-manager at a club and a national youth coach is far from rare. It’s a huge blow that he left. The fact now is that we won’t see the Netherlands men’s football team at the Olympics until at least Tokyo 2020, and we need to reach the semi-finals of the 2019 U21 European Championships to finally reach it again after Beijing.

Bas Vos (12 Posts)