Feyenoord celebrated their first Eredivisie title in 18-years with an incredible street party in the centre of Rotterdam on Monday. The achievement of the club is even more remarkable when you consider that only seven years ago they were days from bankruptcy. 

  • By Michael Bell
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De Kuip was the scene for a remarkable story on Sunday as Feyenoord beat Heracles 3-1 with a hat-trick from veteran Dirk Kuyt sealing their first Eredivisie title since 1999. For the casual Eredivisie viewer, Feyenoord has always been a part of the top three in the Netherlands with Ajax and PSV, but this hasn’t always been the case in recent times and seven years ago the club almost ceased to exist.

Heading into the 2010 Eredivisie season, Feyenoord were on their knees with financial mismanagement over the previous years leaving the club crippled with debts and without the resources to survive. Coach Mario Been was forced to rely on youngsters with a transfer budget non-existent and they won only two of their opening nine games heading into an away trip with PSV on Sunday the 24th of October. The Phillips Stadion was the location for one of the darkest days in the history of the club with Feyenoord on the end of a 10-0 beating which led to Been offering his immediate resignation. The club didn’t accept, mainly because they couldn’t afford to.

A day later as Feyenoord’s shocking defeat became news around Europe, an emergency meeting was held between the board of directors as they discussed how they were going to prevent the club going under.It had survived for 102 years, but the directors had to find an agreement on investment in four days or bankruptcy was inevitable.

Salvation came on the third day with a group of investors known as the vrienden van Feyenoord (friends of Feyenoord) agreeing to take on the clubs debt, which was around €35 million, huge for a Dutch club. They didn’t loan the money to the club instead, they paid for 49% of shares in the club. The investors stood to earn their money back through outgoing transfers over the coming years.

The club limped to a 10th place finish that season, but in the summer they laid the groundwork for success. Martin van Geel became technical director of the club and after Been was sacked, Ronald Koeman came in. Star players such as Georginio Wijnaldum, Leroy Fer and Luc Castiagnos left to keep the books balanced, but a new wave of talents emerged including Jordy Clasie and Tonny Vilhena.

Under van Geel’s careful and penny-pinching leadership and Koeman’s tactical nous, confidence was restored in Rotterdam and in their first year together the club finished second. Koeman remained for another two years, which saw Feyenoord flirt with the championship but ultimately fall short. Away from the pitch, Feyenoord still needed to bring in the money and the sales of Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Jean-Paul Boetius, and Graziano Pelle brought millions into the club and allowed the board of directors to start buying back shares from the investors.

After Koeman left, Fred Rutten was given the reigns for the 2014/15 season but he was sacked before the campaign ended with the club finishing in a disappointing fourth spot and missing out on European football.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst then took charge of the first team, with Dirk Kuyt rejoining the club on a free transfer from Fenerbahce. Kuyt promised to lead the club back to the Eredivisie title on rejoining, but in the first year, he had to settle for the KNVB Cup, which was Feyenoord’s first silverware since 2008. Feyenoord performed well in the league, but a run of seven straight losses at the turn of the year ruined their title chances, with PSV triumphing.

However, the KNVB cup win ignited the hunger for success and last summer for the first time in years, Feyenoord didn’t feel the need to sell off their star players, with Eric Botteghin, Karim El Ahmadi, Tonny Vilhena and Terence Kongolo all staying, while van Geel brokered clever deal’s to bring in Nicolai Jorgensen for a small fee and Steven Berghuis from Watford on loan.

The added quality of Jorgensen up top was the final piece of the puzzle for Feyenoord as they led the Eredivisie from week one to thirty-four and deservedly lifted the Eredivisie trophy on the final day of the season. Kuyt fulfilled his promise, but the day would have been even sweeter for El Ahmadi, who is the only player still at the club who played in that horror 10-0 defeat to PSV seven years ago.

The future for Feyenoord now looks nothing but bright. Shares being bought back from the investors means Feyenoord are on their way to complete control of the club again. A loan was recently agreed with the city council on a brand new state of the art stadium to be built on the Rotterdam river. This will be the biggest stadium in the Netherlands and will bring in, even more, revenue to the club once its completed in 2022. Champions League group stage football returns to De Kuip next season, and the club are planning to add new faces to their squad this summer to maintain their challenge for the title next year.

This success wouldn’t have been imaginable seven years ago when the club was hours from bankruptcy, but Feyenoord has been completely turned around with van Geel, Koeman and van Bronckhorst all playing key roles. There is no reason why the success won’t continue for Feyenoord for years to come.

It is definitely exciting times in Rotterdam.

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