It's been 38 years! Since those fateful 90 minutes in Munich's Olympiastadion, not I nor my country has quite recovered. Of course, Michels came back 14 years later, but there was by then a whole new generation. Marco van Basten, the legend of that game with his volley... he was 10 in 1974. There was still Arnold Muhren, who was by then 37, but the rest of the team was completely different, and the style was different; it was good but not what we did. We were revolutionary, we were brilliant, we were beautiful, no team could ever play like us. But I have hopes that soon, one will.
As I write this, Dutch football is in a state of disarray. The national side came closer to winning the World Cup than it ever has done before, even back in the 1970's, but something was missing. And that thing was dignity, that thing was beauty. Never shall my country play like that again. The man responsible was one of the most technically gifted players never to star for the Netherlands, managing one cap in 1975. He was a rebel, the fans loved him, and his dark long hair. But no. Bert van Marwijk is not like that any more.
"In the space of two hours, they destroyed a 40 year tradition.. dragged it through the s**t..."
And that was one of the more mild mannered complaints. At the World Cup in South Africa, the Dutch side reached the final, yet from the experts and ex players, there was a lot more malice than applause. The Dutch side was not at all Dutch. They were more like the cynical Argentines from the 1978 World Cup Final. I didn't play in that tournament. But they were going to get a win no matter what, they would triumph and nothing would stop them. Except a team that played how they should have done. Whilst being Dutch, an Amsterdammer, and desperately wanting Arjen Robben to tuck home when clean through on goal, when Andres Iniesta hit his low drive past Maarten Stekelenburg, I cheered. They were my team, the Dutch were some foreigners, they couldn't be Dutch. How had van Bommel not been sent off, for that dangerous lunge on Iniesta just 21 minutes into the game? When Nigel de Jong planted his boot into Xabi Alonso's chest, not even half an hour had been played and I just couldn't watch. The Spanish committed some fouls too, mainly Sergio Ramos, but he was from Madrid. Arjen Robben went down too easily, I thought. Sneijder too. Van Bommel should have his 4th or 5th red card of the game when he studded Xavi almost a minute after the ball had gone. Sneijder was lucky after going in with a high foot that Busquets nearly managed to evade his flying boot. Robben flew through the air after a slight touch. De Jong attempted to headbutt an opponent, and ended up missing and winning a free kick! The referee was all over the place. Van Bronckhorst sandwiched someone alongside Kuyt, and a minute later tripped up Villa. The fouls later on in the game... they were unfathomable. How could a team play so dirty? And the most beautiful team of them all? It was all too much to bear. The Spaniards, were gentlemen. When Jonny Heitinga was sent off, the only surprise is that it wasn't sooner. And when the goal came.. I was cheering for Spain and had been for a long time. This was not a Dutch team. When Iniesta scored, he lifted up his shirt to reveal a message. "Dani Jarque, siempre con nosotros." His former Spanish teammate Daniel Jarque had died of a heart attack the year before.
I hoped that the coach would change his ways. I didn't want to see that again. But I was now powerless, reduced to a footballing romantic who can teach you how to lose 4-0 in a European Cup final but no more. These days, the public wanted victories. About a million people were expected to up at Schiphol airport to congratulate the team! There was exceptions. One disgruntled fan told the English journalist David Winner, writer of the book Brilliant Orange, to rewrite his book as 'Criminal Orange'. I would happily write the foreword. When I saw on a leading Dutch website that van Marwijk was to be knighted... I haven't touched that website since.
Euro 2012 was even worse. The terrible football wasn't bearable at the World Cup and I'm not sure it would have been even if it had won Holland the trophy. In fact, that would be criminal, and I don't think I was the only Dutchmen praying for Spain to win. The Euro's qualification had gone well, with 23 points from 10 games. There was even the case of a new record win, 11-0 over San Marino. But it was only San Marino, and we had failed to beat sides we had played at the World Cup when we faced them in friendly matches. So I was sceptical going into the Euro 2012 tournament and even more once I saw the groups. There was Germany, our great rivals. Portugal, with the best player in the world. And Denmark, who knocked us out of Euro 92. I thought that we could beat Denmark easily. Portugal would be a tougher test but one that we could win. Germany, perhaps not, but we could eke out a result. After a bit of thought I decided that we could go all the way. Our opening game was against Denmark, a crucial game considering that both Germany and Portugal would certainly win, and given that it was the first game, I knew how it could affect the team's morale. It was going well, too, until just 24 minutes in. Michael Krohn-Dehli, the Danish striker, slotted through the legs of Maarten Stekelenburg. The 35,00 in attendance were in shock. But the truth is that it was not going well for Holland and they were not playing well. The Oranje dominated possession and had tons more shots. But while the Danes put all of theirs on target, we managed to send 20 of ours spiralling over the bar or rolling harmlessly past the post. As the Slovenian referee blew the full time whistle, I wondered how we would cope.
The answer was very badly. Our next game was the toughest one, against Germany, in Kharkiv just as were all our other games. Again we went behind on 24 minutes. Mario Gomez took a fantastic touch on the turn as a pass sent him clean through on goal, and he slotted in to give the lead to the Germans. Gomez got his and Germany's second just before half time after another great passing move set him up for a great effort from an angle. We had enough chances to get back into it, as we dominated the Germans in a way that nobody expected. In the end it was quite an eerie repeat of the 1974 Final. We had our chances to kill the Germans off, but we didn't take them, and they won 2-1. This time it was also 2-1, as Robin van Persie hit home with 20 minutes left on the clock with a cracking effort, but the damage had been done. The next game against Portugal was winner takes all. Germany, I thought, would beat Denmark, and they did, which meant that this game could lead to us qualifying for the knockout stages. Rafael van der Vaart opened the scoring on 11 minutes with a peach of a goal; a curler that flew into the corner cleanly off the playmaker's boot. We had a hope. Moments later we were greeted by the news that Germany led Denmark thanks to Lukas Podolski. But then things all went pear shaped. Cristiano Ronaldo, the dangerman, was slipped in by a sublime Pereira pass, and as Ron Vlaar desperately lunged at the Portuguese's feet he lobbed the ball into the back of the net. Then on 80 minutes, disaster struck. Portugal hit on the counter, Nani had the ball out wide, and after running past backtracking defenders at blistering pace, he crossed the ball along the grass towards Ronaldo, who shaped to shoot. Gregory van der Wiel dived in to block the shot, but the showman Ronaldo feinted onto his other foot leaving only a fooled Stekelenburg to beat, and he beat the ball forcefully into the bottom left corner. The orange clad supporters stopped bouncing around as van der Viel lay dejected on the turf and Ronaldo slid towards his teammates on his knees. A triumphant red pile of delighted Portuguese players formed in the corner. I switched the TV off. Holland had disappointed once again. And van Marwijk was no longer the hero. I wrote in my column in De Telegraaf my feelings in full. I felt compelled to. I wrote my honest opinion, and I thought that some of Holland's best players, your Arjen Robbens, your van Persie's, the players that were most important... they had failed to deliver. The problems arose from sloppy build up play, which led to us being hit on the counter by Portugal, and our failure to complete passes and take our chances. We had 44 attempts on goal in just 3 games, but we only scored twice. It was not good enough.
I hoped that at least Spain would continue their passing football to win beautifully as they should. They tried to do that, despite claims that they were too boring, and proved their critics wrong with an emphatic 4-0 win over Italy in the final, with the Italians having beaten favourites Germany in the semi final. But before the final, something else happened. Bert van Marwijk resigned from his duty as the Netherlands manager. As I say,
every disadvantage has its advantage.