The 2014 World Cup has seen the Netherlands switch from their beloved 4-3-3 formation to a more pragmatic 5-3-2, the change in approach has had many doubters but after the 5-1 destruction of Spain it has gained a few more admirers. But seeing as the system appears to go against most Dutch principles, will it be used after Van Gaal’s reign?

  • By Harry Taylor
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van gaal sGoing into the tournament many believed that it would be between Chile and the Dutch for who would sneak through in 2nd place, and with the loss of Kevin Strootman many thought that the Oranje had no chance. The loss of Strootman had a severe impact as Van Gaal switched from a 4-3-3 to a 5-3-2 as he felt no player was of the calibre to replace the Dutch no.6. So with the absence of a vital player as well as having an opening tie against holders Spain, the chances of surviving the group looked very bleak. However the change in system ended up paying dividends for the Oranje as they swept aside Spain, Australia and Chile relatively convincingly.

So with the new approach of the Dutch reaping such success, should they consider it as a system to use looking forward? First of all you have to distinguish what you want, whether it be aesthetics or results. The 5-3-2 formation means that the Netherlands often find themselves outnumbered in midfield and therefore not being able to dominate matches in the way we’re used to seeing. Also the build-up play is quite slow causing the Dutch to play it wide to the wing-backs who often play it long up field. Despite this working to great effect, the move from possession based circulation football to pure counter attacking has left a sour taste for any of the romantic Dutch faithful. The purists would rather see the Dutch play a 4-3-3 playing with clear Dutch principles and lose rather than to win by playing against their true philosophy. Therefore if the Dutch do decide to go with the 5-3-2 in the future, then many will feel the Oranje would have lost their distinctive originality of playing for beauty instead of results.

The main influencer to whether this system will stay or go will come down to the next Netherlands coach Guus Hiddink who takes over after the World Cup. The former Chelsea, Real Madrid and PSV manager has an innate ability to make his players fit around a system that is built upon the values of ‘Total football’. Piet de Visser, Hiddink’s coach best sums up the Dutchman here. “(He) is not a coach who always demands the same system for his teams. He looks at the players, gets to know their best strengths and then decides the system.” With this in mind surely he will stick with the 5-3-2 as the Dutch have played so well with it so far, however one factor that will change all this is that Hiddink will have not only Strootman back from injury but also a bunch of highly talented players that will be fully developed. At the moment the squad is seen as young and inexperienced with many players coming from the Eredivisie, but after the world cup players such as Blind, Janmaat, Martins-Indi, De Vrij, Depay etc. will most likely of moved to one of Europe’s top 5 leagues. Therefore the perception of the team would have shifted and people will suddenly start to realise that this is a squad of skilful individuals. And with better players it is more likely Hiddink will try to get the best out of his players by playing a formation such as the 4-3-3 that will enable the Dutch to command games in the manner they are best known for.

What also needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that every young footballer from the Netherlands is brought up playing in the 4-3-3, there play all revolves around Dutch principles which were established 40 years ago. The subsequent effect of this is that all Dutch players are aware on how to perform their roles in this system; therefore moving to a 5-3-2 means undoing all the habits formed by Rinus Michels and co. in the late 60’s with Ajax and later with the national team. The change in the youth development approach from the Netherlands would most likely have an effect on the amount of technically skilled players that emerge from the country as the 5-3-2 can have a reliance on more physical and athletic players. This change also has a heavy dependence on the nation’s domestic teams. Ajax most notably have a strong tradition of possession based football which was their established style of play before the National team, PSV and Feyenoord along with the majority of Dutch teams also play with the 4-3-3 formation and although Feyenoord recently switched to the 5-3-2 towards the end of the season (this is the main reason the current Dutch system is being used) the circumstances of the team played an integral role in the approach and it is most likely they will resort back to a 4-3-3 next season.

So despite the Netherlands current success in this World Cup it is still hard to see this new approach with the 5-3-2 being one that will be used in the future. The way in which the youth system of this country has been set-up it would be extremely difficult to change what has become the Oranje’s DNA. Not to mention Hiddink is a coach that shows tactical versatility but has used a 4-3-3 system or a similar formation at most clubs he’s been at. So even if the Netherlands manage to win their first ever World Cup, I believe that they will revert back to their cherished 4-3-3 approach, looking to dominate matches with technically superior players in an entertaining manner. Therefore I see this change from Van Gaal as nothing more than a short term solution to the problem created from Strootman’s loss, the potential of this nation is too great to sit back and let the opposition play their football, the Dutch are a team renowned for their appreciation of  beauty on the football field and this is the way that it should stay!





Harry Taylor (30 Posts)