Exclusive: Q&A with Football Oranje's Michael Bell
Over the weekend, Dutch football expert Michael Bell took the time to share his thoughts with The Boot Room.
Michael is the founder of Football-Oranje.com which, in its third year now, has become the biggest English speaking website for Dutch Football, catering for everything from the Eredivisie to the national team.
Stemming from his successes with Football Oranje, Michael has seen his work featured in the Metro and has also appeared on popular radio station talkSPORT.
The last four Eredivisie campaigns have all seen Ajax emerge as Champions. This season, however, with a 14-point lead at the top of the table it appears as though the title will be going to PSV. What has been the difference this season for the men from Eindhoven, and where have Ajax gone wrong?
Last season was transitional for PSV, they had a new coach who lost several key players and had to rebuild with the youth of Karim Rekik, Memphis Depay and Adam Maher. Injury to Georginio Wijnaldum derailed them greatly and their inexperience was exposed time and time again. However, after the World Cup PSV refused to part with their stars and with the signing of Luuk de Jong everything has clicked into place. Rekik and Bruma have formed a solid partnership in defence while the link up play of attacking trio Depay, De Jong and Luciano Narsingh has been lethal. Other clubs in the title race have dropped points left right and centre but PSV have been unstoppable and Phillip Cocu deserves big credit.
Ajax have been very disappointing this season. Losing Daley Blind and the experience of Christian Poulsen in the summer hit them really hard. Frank de Boer has struggled to find the perfect starting eleven, while the uncertainty of the coaches future and over key players such as Lasse Schöne and Niklas Moisander won’t have helped. I just think the last few seasons were too easy for the club and that has led to staleness. Big shake up is needed for next season, but the likes of Bazoer, Sinkgraven and Kishna are exceptionally talented and can re-vitalise the club.
At the other end of the table, Dordrecht are languishing in last place and have recently parted ways with manager Ernie Brandt. Do you see any chance of them avoiding the drop?
No I really can’t see Dordrecht surviving at all. They have improved a little since the winter break, but NAC Breda and ADO Den Haag bought wisely in January and they should have more quality to pick up the points they need to survive. Dordrecht losing Giovanni Korte to injury early in the season basically killed their chances.
PSV manager Phillip Cocu was recently quoted as saying that he expects star-man Memphis Depay to leave the club at the end of the season. Do you think it is a necessary step for young players like Depay to leave the Eredivisie in order to improve, and where do you think his most likely destination will be?
Leaving the Eredivisie too soon has stunted a lot of careers, you just need to look at Marco van Ginkel to see what happens when you move to quickly or pick the wrong club. However, in Depay’s case it has become obvious that he has outgrown the Eredivisie and to fulfil his potential a move to a bigger league is crucial.
Cocu said he thinks Depay will leave this summer, but PSV are heading for the Champions League and it will need be a big bid and a strong club to lure him away from Eindhoven. If I had to pick a club for him in England then it would be Manchester United because I think his relationship with Van Gaal would get the best of him.
With Ajax, Feyernood and PSV all still competing in the knock-out stages of the Europa League, could this be the season for a Dutch team to earn European honours again?
My heart says of course a Dutch club can go far in the Europa League, AZ Alkmaar reached the quarter finals last season, and Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord have the quality to go even further. However my head says that by next week two of the three clubs will probably be knocked out (PSV and Feyenoord) and I don’t think Ajax are playing well enough to trouble the likes of Liverpool, Inter, Tottenham or Wolfsburg who are the favourites in my opinion.
A ‘Golden Generation’ in Dutch football is reaching its twilight with the likes of Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder (amongst others) all into their 30’s now. Do you feel that the exciting crop of youngsters coming through can emulate, or even surpass the successes of the incumbent?
Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder and Van der Vaart have been world class players for the past ten years and they almost brought the World Cup to Netherlands twice. It’s hard to determine whether the new crop will be able to surpass them and actually lift the trophy, but there are certainly a lot of exciting players coming through.
Depay is the poster boy of the new generation but there are countless other midfielders and wingers coming through such as Klaassen, Bazoer, Sinkgraven, Ould-Chikh, etc., while for the first time in years quality defenders are being produced. Lazio have just bought Wesley Hoedt from AZ while Terence Kongolo and Sven van Beek have the potential to be the best partnership since De Boer and Stam.
The Netherlands U17’s and U19’s are among the strongest sides of their age group and for me the future of the Oranje is very bright.
Since joining Bayern Munich in 2009, Arjen Robben has become one of football’s global superstars and has been instrumental in both Bayern and The Netherlands’ recent successes. Has he reached the level where can he be mentioned in the same breath as Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten?
I don’t think any footballer that Netherlands produce will ever be mentioned in the same breath as Johan Cruyff, he was just too influential not only to Ajax or the national team, but to the country as a whole. However, Arjen Robben has certainly earned the right to be named as the best Dutch footballer since Bergkamp and Van Basten. His importance to Netherlands and Bayern Munich is huge and he carries his sides almost single-handedly at times, but sadly we live in a generation that is so focused on Ronaldo and Messi that Robben will probably never receive the plaudits he deserves.
Former Feyenoord manager Ronald Koeman’s early success at Southampton has been largely credited to the signings he has brought in throughout the season. Are you surprised at how well former Eredivise stars such as Graziano Pellè and Dušan Tadi? have adapted to the Premier League?
Dušan Tadi? was for me the best player in the Eredivisie last season. I was not surprised when Koeman moved so quickly to bring him to Southampton and I knew he would be a success. The Serbian just oozes quality and I think he will keep getting better and better for Southampton.
I was a little unsure on how Pellè would do in the Premier League, but he has been great and deserved his call up to the Italy squad. His strength and quality in the air has seen him adapt quickly to the English game and like Tadi? I think he will be even better next season.
Former Dutch international Eljero Elia has seen his career stall over the last few seasons. Do you think that his move to Southampton could provide him with the platform to get back into the national team?
Elia’s career has been such a disappointment for me. Seeing him at the World cup in 2010 I thought he was going to be huge, but it just never happened.
However, I think in Koeman he has a coach who believes in his talent and he has impressed me so far in the Premier League. Robben and Depay own two of the definite winger spots in the Netherlands squad, but there is no reason Elia can’t be challenging Quincy Promes or Luciano Narsingh for a place. A confident Elia would be a massive asset to Netherlands with his pace and skill.
Jordie Clasie and Kevin Strootman have both been linked with a move to Man United in the summer. Do you see either of them as the solution to United’s midfield problems?
A fully fit Kevin Strootman would definitely improve the Manchester United midfield. His drive and leadership on and off the ball is something which the club has lacked this season and Van Gaal should do anything he can to bring him to Old Trafford in the summer.
Clasie is a wonderful little player, but I got the feeling that Van Gaal didn’t particularly trust him in the Netherlands midfield due to being a little lightweight. Clasie loves a tackle and his passing is terrific, but don’t Manchester United already have Daley Blind for that role? Clasie I think would fit in well at Southampton or even Arsenal if he was to move to England.
Finally, much has been said of Louis van Gaal as manager of Manchester United. What have you made of his start at the club and do you think that he is the right man for the job moving forward?
It might go against popular belief and the feedback we get from Manchester United fans on twitter, but I think Van Gaal is doing OK. After the hugely disappointing season under Moyes, Manchester United sit fourth, on course for the Champions League and are in the FA Cup quarter finals. Yes a lot of money was spent and some of the performances have been scrappy but I think Van Gaal is still the right man for the job. He said it would take a while for the club to play the way he wants and I think Manchester United have to be patient.
Next season will be the real test.
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