When Bert van Marwijk was replaced by current Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal after a disastrous Euro 2012, it seemed clear to everyone that a rejuvenation-scheme of some sort was about to take place within the Dutch camp.
Van Marwijk’s men, the story went, had peaked during the Netherlands’ excellent World Cup run in 2010. Supposedly, that was the reason they weren’t hungry anymore, and why they had failed so horribly in 2012. Stars like Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van der Vaart were just too satisfied, and consequently, they weren’t prepared to work hard anymore, people thought.
In this regard, Van Gaal seemed like the perfect appointment. The Dutchman had won the Champions League with an Ajax team comprising mostly of youngsters back in 1995. At Barcelona and Bayern Munich, he had promoted players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Toni Kroos to their club’s first team. Building a solid team with youngsters had always been one of Van Gaal’s strongest points.
Unsurprisingly, Van Gaal immediately gave the likes of Bruno Martins Indi, Jordy Clasie, Daley Blind and Jeremain Lens the chance to make their debuts for Oranje. The new boss was indeed building his squad around youngsters, and Sneijder, one of the 2010 squad’s pivotal players, lost his place in the team.
Van Gaal was not afraid to publicly explain the reasoning behind this particular decision. Sneijder, who had spent too much time on the bench at Inter, was accused by Van Gaal of "not getting the message," as reported by Eurosport.com.
Some thought these harsh words were part of a strategy to motivate Sneijder. Others thought Van Gaal was expressing the painful truth. In any case, it looked like there was every chance Sneijder would not even be part of Van Gaal’s World Cup squad.
But early in March, disaster struck. Kevin Strootman was heavily injured in an AS Roma match. Not long after, it transpired that there would be no way he’d be fit in time for the World Cup in June.
After this turn of events, all bets were off again. Kevin Strootman had been a vital player in the system Van Gaal had been building toward, and even though there were several options, Van Gaal decided it was too difficult to simply replace the midfielder.
Consequently, Van Gaal decided to change the whole system. As pragmatism took the place of idealism, the Dutch boss had his men line up in an unusual 5-3-2 formation in the Netherlands’ latest friendly against Ecuador.
In part, this new system relies on a true No. 10, a playmaker who is relieved of his defensive duties by the two more defensive-minded midfielders and three centre-backs behind him. Seeing as Sneijder still had the Turkish cup final to play with Galatasaray, PSV youngster Georginio Wijnaldum was given a chance in this position against Ecuador, but now that Sneijder has joined the squad, it seems likely that he will get back his place in the first XI—should Van Gaal decide to stick to the new system.
Should Van Gaal decide to stick to this system in Brazil, the duo in front of Sneijder will likely be formed by Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. Oranje, in other words, would once again be constituted by three veterans of the 2010 campaign.
Doubtlessly, Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder would be relishing the chance to redeem themselves after Euro 2012. With Van Persie and Robben both being 30 years of age, and Sneijder 29, there’s every chance this will be their last opportunity for success.
Back in 2012, Van Gaal came in and shifted focus to a younger generation. But as things are looking now, the goals will have to come from the old guard. If this assertion doesn’t motivate Sneijder to reach the level of football he displayed in 2010, then what will?
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