This weekend, Feyenoord triumphed 3-1 against Heracles and claimed their first Eredivisie title in the new millennium.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst, current manager and former Arsenal and Barcelona great, masterminded the emphatic journey which saw them pip Ajax to the post by one point.
The surge in form for the Rotterdam based club is being credited to van Bronckhorst, his ability to motivate players and direct this team with both youth and experience. Despite losing and drawing to Ajax, Feyenoord were the more consistent of the two in the long run and easily overcame any challenge from last year’s champions PSV.
The likes of Dirk Kuyt, former Liverpool attacker who contributed 38 goals during van Bronckhorst’s two year tenure, Brad Jones, another former Liverpool man, Jens Toonstra and Eric Botteghin all demonstrated stringent efficiency and valued experience throughout the campaign, providing Feyenoord with the base to develop their younger players.
In comparison, Lasse Schone is one of Ajax’s only regular starters over the age of 25 and it’s much of the same story at PSV, where attacking and admittedly, superlative, young talents are used in bulk. The issue with this method lies in problem-solving; Ajax’s only downfall during what was an exciting campaign is the ability to overcome opponents who are ‘parking the bus’, or finding alternative methods to break through when plan A doesn’t go to plan.
With the talent the Amsterdam outfit have at their disposal, if they had the experience to nurture their talent it could have been a walkover. But don’t be fooled, Ajax and PSV are not the only sides harbouring young talent as Feyenoord displayed some of the most sought after students of football in Europe.
Feyenoord academy graduate Rick Karsdorp generated a lot of steam and showed his creative capabilities during this term, and Tonny Vilhena, although temperamental at times, is a force to be reckoned with and reminiscent of Edgar Davids in midfield.
Nicolai Jørgensen, although 26 and hardly young, demonstrated he can replicate former goal-scoring form shown during his time in Copenhagen. 25 goals in all competitions during his first season in the Netherlands draws worthy praise from various suitors throughout the continent, with a few Premier League clubs looking at the 6ft 3 Danish striker.
Jørgensen’s efforts this season, despite earning him the Golden Boot, is only the end product to what was an all round commendable team effort. Five Feyenoord players had five or more assists this season, with three netting more than ten goals.
Former Juventus starlet Elijero Elia, who was brought into the club following a relatively disappointing stint at Southampton, has been rejuvenated at the club. His electric pace has often carved holes in their opponents defences, allowing the more calculated, gradual runs of Kuyt, Toonstra and Jørgensen to present goal-scoring opportunities.
This team was so perfectly poised, balance in every sector blending youth and hardheaded experience to formulate a title winning team. Their situation this season is comparable to Chelsea’s Premier League success, glory achieved through consistency and guts. Ajax much resembled the Tottenham side of this season, oozing with fresh legs and mesmeric ability but lacking the maturity to clear the final hurdle. Whilst PSV were too late to the party to mount a serious challenge regardless of their emphatic wins towards the back-end of the season, much like Man City.
Quarter-finalists in what has been a memorable KNVB Cup this season means they weren’t able to retain the trophy earned last year, but falling to the eventual champions Vitesse is a more dignifying way to depart.
Feyenoord now need to capitalise on this promising season, this should not be the final stage but a large step towards becoming something great. They have won the league 15 times, behind both Ajax and PSV, and sit second for KNVB Cup triumphs behind the ever-present shadow casters Ajax. This recent season, however, is possibly the biggest achievement due to the growing gap since their last title in 1999.
A single European cup success in 1970 is more a memory for Dutch football’s sovereignty on football than Feyenoord’s greatest days, emulation of such accomplishments is surely the next stop.
They have the opportunity to do this as long as they can maintain the current core of the team. Most of the aforementioned players are likely to stay, with perhaps the exception of Jørgensen, and additions need to be made throughout the squad. Dirk Kuyt announced his retirement this week following hit hat-trick heroics which crowned de club aan de Maas as champions, and at 35 Brad Jones’ days look numbered and the club should seek an appropriate long-term replacement.
Aside from Feyenoord’s meticulous jubilation in the league, it has been all in all a brilliant season in the Netherlands. Vitesse, another team awash with home-grown prospects, laid claim to their first KNVB Cup win in their 125 year history, and we are all aware of Ajax’s enticing Europa run earning them their first European final in 22 years.
A dramatic season from start to finish, the Eredivisie this year has given us moments of magic, tantalising attacking play and, more importantly, a diverse collection of champions.