FROM THE NON-FLYING DUTCHMAN TO THE TINTIN, WE TAKE A LOOK AT THE BEST NETHERLANDS ELEVEN TO HAVE EVER REPRESENTED LA ORANJE
La Oranje has had an army of great players wearing the orange outfit for them. And a few them took the footballing world by storm with their performances on the pitch.
FootTheBall takes a look at the best Netherlands XI of all time.
EDWIN VAN DER SAR
Edwin Van Der Sar, a pure legend at Old Trafford and Netherlands, easily earns the tag of the best Dutch goalkeeper. Winning a Champions League becomes a huge challenge for a lot of players but Van Der Sar had conquered the UCL twice with two different outfits. First, with his boyhood club, Ajax in 1995 and the second came in 2008 with the Red Devils.
The keeper once held a world record when he didn’t concede a single goal for almost 1200 minutes during his stint at the Theatre.
The Dutch brick wall made his international debut in 1995. And since then the man aged like fine wine, rarely being benched. In his 130 appearances for La Oranje, Van Der Sar’s opposite number rarely found the back of the net.
A shield between the posts, he managed to keep 72 clean sheets, an astonishing number. With an amazing height, he was never scared of crosses and aerial duels. A keeper marks the start of a counter-attack for any team and the lanky fellow was a smart customer. He possessed the ability of smart distribution from the back and had quick feet if he was caught in tight spaces. The 2009 UEFA Club Goalkeeper Of the Year now at the post of Chief Executive at Ajax, where he kicked off his career.
The current manager of Barcelona enjoyed a fantastic career during his playing days. Though a defender, Koeman was a goal-scoring machine despite being a trustworthy asset in the backline. After turning out to be a pivotal player for Dutch club Ajax, the Dutch defender decided to shift to their city rivals, PSV, sparking controversy throughout the Netherlands.
But with the arrival of a new manager, the turnaround of PSV started with Koeman being in the thick of things. PSV went on to win the treble as the defender scored 21 staggering goals.
The Netherlands-Barcelona connection once again came in handy, as Koeman made his dream move to the Spanish club. And his arrival ignited the start of a new revolution under coach Johan Cruyff. The Barcelona ‘Dream Team’ went on to win their domestic league four years in a row and also bagged the European title.
A string of unimaginable performances and Koeman was soon donning the Orange jersey. In 1998 Koeman also earned the ticket to West Germany where La Oranje was participating in the Euros. An amazing chance to win silverware, the Dutch team boasted of a really strong squad.
And at the end of the road, Netherland’s went on to achieve glory as Koeman and his squad lifted their first international trophy after ages. Earning an amazing 78 caps for the Netherlands, he netted 14 trophy-winning goals. And after he hung his boots, he had amassed 215 goals, not bad for a man whose role was to play as a sweeper.
VIRGIL VAN DIJK
A modern-day legend, Van Dijk is another product of the Dutch defence factory. Van Dijk has turned out to be a household name all across England and rarely a Premier League XI is made without his name on it. He made a big money from Southampton when the Saints sold him for a whopping 75 million pounds to Liverpool.
And since his arrival at Anfield, Liverpool is once again living their glory days. Jurgen Klopp has guided the team to a Premier League and a Champions League but Van Dijk’s role cannot be understated.
— Virgil van Dijk (@VirgilvDijk) January 24, 2021
Winning the Premier League Player of The Season in his first season for the Reds, Van Dijk earned the much-needed wings to boost his defensive career. His role and position started growing under Klopp as the weights put on his muscular shoulders were handled very well by the Dutch.
The current leader of the ship for club and country, Van Dijk is strong and rarely gives his rival’s breathing space.
Virgil van Dijk. A transformer. A leader. A colossus.
And deservedly, PFA Players' Player of the Year pic.twitter.com/AN9tvroDD2
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) April 28, 2019
The long legs can tackle you from behind and the big forehead is enough to get rid of any aerial threat. He first wore the orange outfit in 2015 and hasn’t looked back since. The legend-in-the-making earned a spot when he was in the top 3 Ballon D’Or candidates along with veterans Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Netherlands under his leadership managed to reach the finals of the UEFA Nations League only to win the silver medal. But the current leader of the Dutch squad, Van Dijk might bring glory to the Netherlands soon.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS- A central defender who was a brick wall in his time is Ruud Krol. The winner of three European Cups with Ajax, Krol was very difficult to get past.
The Rock of Kampen, a perfect description of Jaap Stam. A legend at Old Trafford, Stam was a headache for his opposite numbers. The bald-defender possessed a remarkable mix of strength, pace, and agility and could dig his team out of pressure situations. The centre-back enjoyed a glorious three years at the Theatre of Dreams lifting silverware left and right.
— Premier League (@premierleague) July 17, 2015
Stam had evolved into a fantastic football player. His appeal was in his elegance: he could steal possession and distribute it quite neatly and correctly. He never dived into a challenge because he always had eyes on his rivals. He was a juggernaut at obtaining territory as formidable on the floor as he was in the sky. The Champions League defender of the Year for two successive seasons, helped the Red Devils to bag the first treble in their history. When playing for his international outfit, Stam was a complete beast.
At the age of 23, he represented Holland for the very first time and accumulated a massive 67 caps for them. Scoring three goals in those, he rarely gave the strikers space to breathe when he was in charge of the back-line. A dejected Stam was betrayed by the man he practically worshipped when he was shipped to Lazio from United but Stam didn’t leave England and Old Trafford without leaving a mark.
FRANK DE BOER
The man in charge of La Oranje, De Boer was nothing short of a legend during his playing career. With the second-most appearances for the Dutch national team, Frank could walk into any playing eleven in the world. But his glittering career rocketed when he wore the Ajax shirt for the very first time. He had all the tricks a defender should own.
— Frank de Boer (@FdeBoerofficial) September 25, 2020
The strength and heart of a lion, Do Boer’s defensive capabilities were excellent. The Dutch like many others was transferred to the Blaugranas for a whopping amount of 22 million. Once again his career at Camp Nou was nothing short of legendary. With an astonishing 112 appearances for the Dutch squad, Boer was inspirational.
The world will remember his name for the 60-yard pass he made to Bergkamp who volleyed a rocket into the goal, kicking Argentina out of the World Cup. Though Boer guided the Dutch to the semifinals and finals of Euros and the World Cup he couldn’t lift silverware with them.
A part of the majestic Milan trio, Frank Rijkaard was special when he had the ball under his feet. Combining with the likes of Van Basten and Gullit at AC Milan, Rijkaard left a mark on the footballing map of the world. Rijkaard was a swift, powerful, strong, and combative holding mid who was lauded by analysts for his muscular and technical qualities, tactical discipline, posture, strategic awareness, and judgment. An adaptable midfielder, his strengths, and versatility opened up too many playing positions for him.
A fulcrum in the Dutch midfield, he guided his team to the glorious 1998 Euro trophy igniting a revamp of Dutch football. The 2-time Serie-A winner with Milan also chipped in with useful goals whenever the team needed.
The Dutch turned manager after retiring from football where he saw the journey of the likes of Messi and Ronaldinho and lived the golden Barcelona days. Sacked in 2008, Rijkaard has completely disappeared from the scene but still, the history books will remember him as one of the greatest there ever was.
There’s no person or word in the world that can illustrate Johan Cruyff’s promotion of football. A magician with the ball in his feet, Cruyff was one player the opposition feared even before the game started. The introducer of the “Total Football” philosophy, the magician took the world by storm by his tactics on the pitch.
Not to forget that under his leadership, the Netherlands found a spot on the 1974 World Cup podium because of his heroics. The Dutch team conceded just 2 goals through their journey but faltered in the endgame.
A 2-1 loss to Germany and Cruyff’s World Cup journey was officially over. The veteran number 17 was synonymous with his jersey number. He controlled the game like it was a game of FIFA, with a flick of a joystick he could dominate the whole pitch. The scorer of the ‘Phantom Goal’ started a revolution when he moved to Barcelona. As a manager himself, the stick-thin veteran brought many accolades to Nou Camp.
A fulcrum in midfield, the orange Dutch jersey suited Cruyff as he represented them 44 times. With 33 goals for his international outfit, Cruyff was phenomenal whenever he had the ball. Cruyff and football is a love story that was written in heaven but was brought down to life by Cruyff.
Ruud Gullit was known for two things during his football life, his superb ball-handling skills, and his trademark hairstyles. Gullit paired his quickness and intimidating physical size with elegant calmness and tactical capability to operate almost everywhere on the pitch. In 1988 Gullit guided La Oranje to silverware in the Euros.
This was the climax of a string of bad luck for the Dutch, who had missed out on the two earlier held World Cups. Gullit, together with a magical orange army of players, was the squad’s leader and a motivating power at the time.
The AC Milan midfielder opened the scoring for the Netherlands in the final with a beautiful header and when the Dutch scored their second goal, silverware was confirmed for them. The 1987 Ballon D’Or winner conquered some accolades at club level too. Considered A reckoning force, trophies followed Gullit wherever he went, be it Italy or England.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS- Wesley Sneijder, the most capped Dutch player was an extraordinary footballer and deserves a mention. Another midfielder from the Netherlands who had a glittering football career was the Dutch Pitbull, Edgar Davids. Very difficult to imagine him without his huge glasses. Another great dutch midfielder produced from their playmaking factory is Clarence Seedorf who had an exceptional career.
MARCO VAN BASTEN
Another disciple of Total Football, Van Basten was a striking monster in his playing days. The striker got an opportunity to play for Italian giants, AC Milan, and oh boy! Didn’t he grab it with both hands? The trio of Van Basten, Gullit, and Rijkaard still haunt the dreams of defenders, and facing them was a daunting task for any opposition.
Worth-mentioning is his volley in the final of 1988 Euros which was eventually won by the Dutch squad. He scored a scintillating volley from a very acute angle and the rooted keeper could only watch the ball tearing apart his net.
#OnThisDay in 1988, Marco Van Basten was awarded the Ballon d’Or for the first time.
The Dutch striker helped the Netherlands win Euro 88 where he was named player of the tournament, scoring five goals including this volley against Russia. pic.twitter.com/iOA7J5ZPym
— 32Red (@32Red) December 27, 2018
The 4 times Serie-A winner enjoyed an amazing stint in Italy where he would rip-apart defences along with his Dutch duo. Ballon D’Or and Van Basten once became synonyms when the Dutch striker went on to lift the prestigious trophy thrice. But his fairytale story had an unfortunate ending as the 1992 FIFA Player of The Year called it a day at a very early age. Still a questionable decision, Van Basten is one of the best players the world has witnessed.
“It’s Bergkamp, ahh it’s magnificent” exclaimed Martin Tyler when Dennis Bergkamp scored one of the most special goals in the history of the Premier League. A goal is synonymous with his playing career ‘magnificent’. The man who was acknowledged by the world for scoring wonder-goals set the Premier League on fire when he became a pivotal player at the Emirates Stadium. Another student of Cruyff’s philosophy of ‘Total Football’, Bergkamp was called the Non-Flying Dutchman due to his fear of flights.
But every defender was scared of the 6-feet man who feared flights. He was part of the Invincible Arsenal squad, a record that hasn’t been broken yet, that stunned the Premier League pundits. Playing for La Oranje, Bergkamp would usually light up the stadium with his marvellous and thunderous strike. One of them came in the dying minutes of the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
A 60-yard long ball was comfortably met by Bergkamp’s right foot before he unleashed a rocket of a volley that found the back of the net as the footballing world erupted in joy. The Arsenal striker scored 87 goals in his time at the Premier League as Arsenal were living their glory days. Under Wenger’s management and Bergkamp’s leadership, the Gunners were crowned champions of England thrice.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS- Robin Van Persie is another player who could have found his place in the best Dutch eleven. The Flying Dutchman was nothing short of excellent throughout his career and he’ll always remember his goal against Spain in the 2014 World Cup.
Arjen Robben was the quintessential classic attacker, with his agility, technical skills, and world-class left foot. Though every manager gave warning signals about his devastating trademark play, defences had no solution to stop him. Whenever the Dutch winger saw space he would cut inside from the flank, leave the defenders on the floor, and unleash an unstoppable missile. The goalkeepers would be rooted to their spot as Robben would already be on his way to celebrate another unimaginable goal.
The winger tried his luck in England with Chelsea and then found home in Madrid. But at last, his club journey came to an end in Germany where he turned into a legend at Bayern Munich. The only drawback of his prestigious career was the number of injuries he suffered throughout his professional career. Nicknamed the ‘Glass Man’, Robben was the heart and soul of the Netherland’s team that were looking to win the 2010 World Cup.
6️⃣ #WorldCup goals
🥈 South Africa 2010
🥉 Brazil 2014
All the best in retirement, Arjen Robben! 🇳🇱🏃♂️💨✂️ pic.twitter.com/EBpB51yDak
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) July 4, 2019
His goal against Spain in the first match of the tournament sent shockwaves around the globe when he was toying with the Spaniards. In his 96 appearances for La Oranje, Robben managed to score 37 amazing goals. A devastating left-foot, a trademark style of play, and a shot power like no other, Robben’s name will be written in the Dutch history books with golden letters.