Feyenoord…the only way is forward

Image Courtesy Twitter (@Feyenoord)

An Eredivisie title after 18 years is definitely worth celebrating. But once the euphoria is over, the Rotterdam side has to make sure that this triumph is not a false dawn.

It’s been more than a week now.

For sure Rotterdam is still celebrating.

Why not? It is a well-deserved success.

“The emotions involved with Feyenoord can be extreme and you see now that because they are so close to their first title since 1999 which is such a long time that you must not underestimate the emotions that play a part in such a situation,” former manager Ronald Koeman was quoted as saying days before the shield was sealed.

Read in the papers and websites how supporters clashed with the police after Feyenoord failed to seal the title — after a surprising 0–3 defeat to lowly Excelsior — during the penultimate round of matches.

The same sources reported Rotterdam’s mayor (Ahmed Aboutaleb) had invoked his emergency powers for large parts of the city centre and banned alcohol sales in the area around the station ahead of Feyenoord’s final league match against Heracles Almelo, in an effort to curtail further trouble.

That Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side won 3–1 and sealed that elusive title meant ecstasy for the entire city, and perhaps agony for the authorities. Perhaps not.

Even as the Feyenoord team paraded the shield through the streets of Rotterdam, and many fans gathered at the city’s central Hofplein square to celebrate, there were few reports of stray incidents.

It had been a long wait. An 18-year drought to be more precise. The Feyenoord fans were palpably delighted to see their beloved team secure their first championship of the millennium. And they celebrated in the manner only they could.

As the dust settles down on the success it is time for the management to assess, evaluate and introspect.

A history to be proud of…

Saying Feyenoord is one of the most successful clubs will be akin to stating the obvious.

A haul of 15 Eredivisie titles and 12 KNVB Cups places the Rotterdam side third behind Ajax and PSV.

It is also one of the few clubs never to have been relegated from the top flight.

Also, Feyenoord is the first Dutch club to win the European Cup (1970) — precursor to the Champions League, the UEFA Cup (1974) — precursor to the Europa League as well as the Intercontinental Cup (1970) — precursor to the World Club Cup.

Besides, it remains, following Ajax’s loss to Manchester United in the Europa League final. the last Dutch club to achieve success in Europe — the UEFA Cup in 2002.

Reality bites

Having said that, fact remains most of Feyenoord’s success happened decades back.

The glory years of 1960s and early 1970s — when the club pocketed six league titles and had multiple successes in Europe — were followed by relatively bleak periods.

In the 30-plus years since Feyenoord has witnessed relative lack of success, managing to add only four Eredivisie titles to their collection.

Still considered one of Dutch football’s traditional Big Three, Feyenoord’s predicament has a parallel in Sporting Lisbon.

Just like Sporting in recent years has lost considerable ground in Portugal, to Benfica and FC Porto, Feyenoord have fallen way behind traditional rivals Ajax and PSV.

Even third place hasn’t been a guarantee in recent years.

False Dawn

The 1990s raised hopes anew.

Multiple KNVB Cup successes peaked with the league triumph under Leo Beenhakker. When Bert van Marwijk led the side to UEFA Cup success in 2002, beating Borussia Dortmund in the final at the De Kuip, it marked the icing on the cake.

However, in the final analysis it proved to be a false dawn.

Instead of building on the success, Feyenoord found themselves deep in doldrums.

Financial troubles, multiple off-field changes, poor on-field performances not only had the club flirting with bankruptcy but also hovering close to the relegation zone.

Dominated in the derby

For years the match up of Ajax and Feyenoord was the most important in the Dutch footballing calendar. Der Klaasieker (The classic) wasn’t just the clash of two of The Netherlands’ greatest clubs. It was the clash between the country’s two largest cities.

It still is. Only the result has become a foregone conclusion.

The balance of power has clearly shifted to Amsterdam in recent years, with Ajax bolstering their overall record to 68 wins — against 44 losses — in 155 clashes between the two clubs.

So much so that ahead of their meeting this April, Ajax captain Davy Klaassen declared “We have a better team.” His team went onto beat Feyenoord comfortably and throw open the league.

The Rotterdam side had to rely on a helping hand by the defending champions (PSV) to reclaim their advantage.

The 10–1 drubbing at the hands of PSV in 2010 is still afresh in the fans’ minds.

Truth be hold both Ajax and PSV have better sides than Feyenoord at the moment, the league result notwithstanding.

Don’t let go

Failure to hold onto their best talent has been to Feyenoord’s detriment in recent years.

Like most Dutch clubs the Rotterdam side has also served as a feeder to the bigger leagues in Europe and have been forced to sell their best players.

Besides the club’s getting out of financial mess in 2011–12, the appointment of former player Ronald Koeman as manager sparked a revival.

However, even as the results improved Feyenoord lost key players like Daryl Janmaat, John Guidetti, Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi during the period.

When Koeman left for Southampton he took with him both Graziano Pelle and Jordy Clasie. More importantly, the replacements haven’t exactly of the desired level.

Van Bronckhorst had to literally start working from scratch. Now as the team celebrates a title triumph the picture doesn’t look rosy either.

Three days after the success the man whose three goals sealed the title (Kuyt) hung up his boots.

A few days later Eljero Elia, who played a key role in the success story, announced his decision to move to an unheralded Turkish outfit (Istanbul Baseksahir), something he later denied.

Within days of the triumph Feyenoord had lost a key player, almost lost another.

The likes of Rick Karsdorp, Terence Kongolo, Tonny Vilhena, Jens Toornstra and Nicolai Jorgensen are attracting interest from lucrative leagues across Europe.

Steven Berghuis is on loan from Watford. Going by the manner the Hornets ended their Premier League campaign as also the Dutchman’s form, it won’t be a surprise if he is recalled.

To cut the long story short if Feyenoord want to maintain their success they have to retain their best talent. Going by things, they have their work cut out.

Let the former players help the club move forward

No one knows what is good for the club than someone who has played for it.

In recent years, for example, Feyenoord has benefited immensely from three of its former players.

Koeman’s appointment sparked a revival and Feyenoord finished second on two occasions in the former Barcelona star’s three seasons in charge.

Then it was Van Bronckhorst who first guided the team to a first trophy in eight years — the KNVB-Beker last year and then that elusive Eredivisie title.

And in both the above successes another player, Dirk Kuyt, had a significant influence.

“I want to remain associated with Feyenoord. We have achieved great things the last two years and I am happy to be guided in my new role with the club,” announced Kuyt, even as he decided to quit his professional career on a high.

Feyenoord can benefit immensely from his diligence and experience.

The challenge for Kuyt and Van Bronckhorst will be ensure that Feyenoord’s successes in the last two years is no flash in the pan, and this revival is no false dawn like the 1990s.

To help sustain the success the Rotterdam club not only has to hold onto its best players but also make acquisitions that will help mount a significant challenge in Europe.

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