Eredivisie: Returning Honor to The Honorary Division Part Two
And now for the stunning conclusion of the two-part series of "Eredivisie: Returning Honor To The Honorary Division." In the previous part (link), I discussed the primary trouble facing the Eredivisie: power-vacuums. In this part, I will detail a number of solutions to this problem, and will hopefully allow the returning of honor to the Eredivisie.
As a brief synopsis, recall that the major problem facing the Eredivisie is the transition of talent; where many of the larger clubs have traditionally used the Eredivisie as a talent farm, robbing the teams in the Eredivisie from establishing a valid, long-lasting team rapport that is evinced from clubs like Barcelona, with career players like Puyol, Xavi, and Iniesta (as well as Messi, for that matter).
There are two primary solutions to this problem that have been employed by even the biggest clubs in the game. We will discuss both of them, and will ultimately settle on a synthesis of the two.
Recovery Plan: Astroturfing
The first problem to address is the domestic power vacuum, and thus, the first method of attack requires massive spending and contract trapeze work; not from the big clubs like Ajax and Feyenoord, but rather from the middle-table clubs like Twente, AZ and the like.
With AZ snatching their first title in some 20 years, and the first title that wasn't taken home by one of the big three in 20 some years, they are in the unique position to bring in better talent to better accentuate their team this year.
The intention is to bolster competition on the domestic level with the big three clubs that tend to dominate matches. What each of these middle table clubs should be doing is investing in young talent (17-20 year olds), and signing them to six year contracts, with high-priced buyout clauses to dissuade the larger clubs from poaching the talent at bargain basement prices.
If the club in question happens to land a talent of the likes of Sneijder, or Van Nistelrooy, there is virtually very little any of the Dutch clubs can do to prevent him from wanting to move on to bigger and better things in this development stage.
This is where the fantastically large buy-out clauses come into play:
If the player is still under contract, and the Real Madrid's, or Manchester Cities just cannot live without him, they will be forced to pay this price. This will provide the club with a bevy of funds to lure in other, bigger name players. However, getting a big-name player to come to a middle-table team in the Eredivisie that doesn't perform domestically on a consistent basis (let alone the international level), especially at the height of their career, is a pipe dream.
In fact, even with the funds of Real Madrid, it's unlikely that any Dutch club could have brought in Kaka or Ronaldo, even the Cream-3. How exactly does one address this problem in the Eredivisie?
There are two solutions that can both be used to satiate this goal:
The first of these solutions is something that is being employed in the MLS: purchase big name players in the denouement of their career. Van Nistelrooy, having been worked out of Pelligrini's plans as being the starting striker, and being over 30, would most likely enjoy a return to his Dutch home in Heerenveen, or PSV.
Theirry Henry would be another interesting choice, given his age, and the exponential expansion of talent in La Liga eclipsing his once lethal right foot. A benefit of these experienced players is they can foster the athletic and mental growth of younger players into the system.
Yet, this half of the plan overlooks its inherent weakness: these players will play for but two or three more years before retiring indefinitely (not every player can be a Maldini).
How exactly does one deal with this potential problem? The team can either heavily invest a manager with a keen eye for talent, or they can use funds to invest in middle-aged players, 25-28, that are in difficult areas in their careers with clubs that aren't exactly producing silverware in the way the board of regents would like.
The latter happens more often than not, and is the other half of the solution posed above for the clubs to pursue. Many clubs invest a lot of their finances in blossoming talents, only to have them not produce, or to have them no longer be an integral part in the club's system.
With Manchester City spending so much in the off-season in the previous two years, the pressure is on to see if their investments will payoff, or if they will ultimately finish fifth, or sixth in the table once again. If they do finish sub-par, their big money players may find themselves on the blighted side, and would like to move on.
The same potential problems plague Real Madrid. If they do not produce, and Barcelona ultimately defend their league titles, a number of transfers-in this year will be looking to move on in following years to either bigger squads, or to teams with at least the potential of producing domestically—or simply where the most money is (many players are indeed this greedy).
If neither of these two teams produce, I can see players like Tevez, Robinho, Higuain, Benzema, Sneijder, and a number of others, looking for greener pastures elsewhere.
Potential problems with this solution range from younger players not wanting to move to a lower-level Euro-league, when they still have the potential of winning in the top-flight leagues, as well as not having the correct price for the players. Both of these problems, however, can be solved with money more often than not.
This, in totality, is a solution employed by many big name clubs to produce the trophy winning teams of lore. However, many of these great teams also share one thing that many of the Dutch teams lack: a solid core. The next section will focus on building that core.
Recovery Plan: Grass-Roots
The first half of this recovery planned is largely a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Basically, what I listed above serves as a weak epoxy to fill the holes in a sinking ship. To better address this problem, the Dutch teams need to create a core of players that will be the engine of the team's system.
This is not easily done. This most often starts at the youth level, molding and later signing career players that will all later suitably perform as club captains. The Dutch youth systems, particularly that of Ajax, are world-renowned for there ability to produce players of fantastic skill.
However, this doesn't have to be limited to youth schools, unfortunately, it must be limited to youth players. Why? Because a small group, four to five, of youth players, who have been playing together for a number of years, build a cohesive unit that can compete with even the biggest of clubs.
So, how does one go about building this cohesive unit? The youth squads and B squads are certainly a start, but it takes more than that. These players must be methodically worked into the starting squad in numbers of two and three, so they can observe how they, each one of the, play against top-flight squads.
For an example of how to implement this type of system, observe how Guardiola, in the past two seasons, has brought up a number of B-squad youngsters to gain some very valuable experience at the professional level, both in the preseason, and the beginning rounds of the Copa del Rey and Champions League.
The problem that will ultimately plague this approach is locking the youth system products down long enough to build the core required for a great team. This is where the synthesis of the two paradigms comes into play.
Recovery Plan: A Synthesis
Which of these plans should the Eredivisie teams employ? Should they invest their money in dying talent? Or should they invest their time in building a core to ultimately have it dissipate to larger, more powerful teams?
The answer is both. In fact, neither of the plans are mutually exclusive: indeed, they both necessarily include one another in order to work. So, how do we go about this?
Start by investing in the youth squads early on! The core is absolutely necessary to the cogs of the squad linking together properly and running as they should. However, in order to get the core to stay together, the team must also begin investing in older players and the middle-agers looking to move on to establish a club prestige.
This should serve as a mentality changer. The intention is for players to change their wishes from wanting to be purchased by Madrid at the highest price, to becoming the Dutch Puyol-Xavi-Iniesta-Messi hookup.
What I envision with this plan is a six to seven year plan, wherein Dutch teams will slowly, but surely, become competitive with Spanish, Italian, German, and English clubs. Indeed, it will take many more years, decades even, to improve the Dutch league to the likes of these others, but I wholeheartedly believe this is the way to do it.
An Entire League Approach
Recall that this approach cannot be limited to the top three teams. Indeed, even the top-middle table, and mid-to-bottom table teams must work as hard as they can to implement this plan in order to establish domestic competition. Teams like Atletico Madrid, Espanyol, Getafe, Tottenham, Everton, Aston Villa, are all upper-middle, to middle table squads, yet they are all competitive with the upper-echelon.
While many players will not likely dream of having the highlights of their career in the ranks of Wigan or Stoke city, they do indeed view their years at the middle area to prove their mettle in the hopes of making it to the top four of the same league. Rather than feeding other, larger leagues, the Dutch league could ultimately hope to feed each other, having transfers of big name players taking place between Heerenveen and Feyenoord, Eindhoven and Willem II.
Thus far, I have detailed a domestic approach to healing the woes of the Eredivisie (as outlined in the first part of this article). However, what's to be done about the Dutch performance on the international stage? As was mentioned, it has been some six years since the last time a Dutch team has progressed to the bracket in the Champion's league, and over 10 years since Ajax have won it.
The approach I discussed will definitely bolster this. In fact, once serious investing has taken place in the Dutch teams, and they begin performing on the international stage again, the rest of this process, creating and maintaining a team core, purchasing and transferring specialist players to work with the rest of the core, will snowball.
This snowballing effect will ultimately lead to the Eredivisie reinvigorating the honor which was once bestowed on them oh so long ago. Only if teams would head such advice...
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