Hiddink split shows Clockwork Orange must eye future not past
After a 10 month-long campaign, riddled with problems, poor results and press speculation, Guus Hiddink’s announcement that he has left his post as Netherlands coach came as no surprise to spectators.
As the Clockwork Orange shockingly sit third in their Euro 2016 qualifying group, five adrift of table toppers Iceland and three behind the Czech Republic, will Hiddink’s abrupt exit impact their attempts to progress from Pool A?
“I am sorry that it went this way…it was an honour to again coach the Dutch national team and I wish my successor, the staff and the players every success on the way to the European Championship in France,” Hiddink said in a statement to the media.
The 68-year-old took the Netherlands (18/1 with Coral to win Euro 2016) to a World Cup semi-final in 1998 in his previous stint in charge of his country but, having lost five of his 10 games back in charge, winning just four, his second tenure stacks up badly by comparison.
Clockwork Orange’s national team have, in the past, been notorious for problems with inconsistency and team spirit, as well as possessing a tendency to self-destruct. However, the football-mad nation’s nearly-men tag was almost shaken in impressive style by now-Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal at the 2014 World Cup.
In Brazil, the Netherlands recruited many a neutral to their side with spirited and swashbuckling displays, as Van Gaal proved innovative with a 3-5-2 formation to focus on bringing the best out of key trio Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, despite being severely hampered by injuries to Rafael van der Vaart and Kevin Strootman.
While it would be fair to say Van Gaal’s demanding philosophy may have left the tank empty, with Hiddink a more calm and calculating personality next to his controversial and inspirational compatriot, the Dutch should have had no problems navigating their qualifying group.
With four of the 10 all-time top scorers in Clockwork Orange history at his disposal in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder, plus exciting younger talents including new Man Utd winger Memphis Depay and defenders Karim Rekik and Jetro Willems, fans should rightly expect more.
Seemingly keen to put his own stamp on the squad by reverting to a 4-3-3 and giving important roles to the likes of Ibrahim Afellay, previously left out in the cold, Hiddink left himself open to accusations of tinkering and favouritism.
Clockwork Orange (11/8 to win Euro 2016 qualifying Group A) surprisingly continued to struggle without clear direction, switching between multiple formations, as the under-pressure tactician tried to shoehorn strikers Huntelaar and Van Persie both into the starting line-up, despite the latter’s poor form and lack of suitability to a deeper supporting role.
Changing a winning system usually spells trouble, so perhaps Hiddink should have learnt from Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri’s smart and subtle alterations to the Old Lady, instead of instantly and intently abandoning his predecessor’s tactics.
The future can still be bright for the Clockwork Orange, however, after this bold decision to abandon the current regime in the midst of qualifying. While the Dutch must ensure progression, this should not mean blindly sticking with the old guard, or even a late return to a 3-5-2, but looking to the future.
Assistant coach Danny Blind will temporarily take over the reins, while tabloids will no doubt speculate over whether Ronald Koeman can be captured from Southampton. In the meantime Blind Snr, will face tough choices over whether to stick with the established order.
Fixing the Clockwork Orange’s leaky defence is crucial, so the new coach will have to choose between impressive Willems or son Daley at left back, though the Man Utd man should find a spot in defensive midfield ahead of battle-axe Nigel de Jong, who offers little to a stagnant attack.
Centre half could be refreshed by Rekik and Jeffrey Bruma, who formed an impressive partnership for PSV Eindhoven last season, while senior defenders such as Bruno Martins Indi have looked suspect and shaky.
In the middle of the park, promising Feyenoord midfielder Clasie could instigate a spark and add tenacity instead of ageing Sneijder, though should Van der Vaart impressive at Real Betis a re-call could be on the cards.
Up top, Wolfsburg sharpshooter Bas Dost and PSV poacher Luuk de Jong, who struck 50 between them last term, should be given the chance to supplant Huntelaar and Van Persie if they fail to gel and deliver the goods, while Depay and Robben will also provide plenty of threat if allowed to roam freely from the wings. Despite their abundance of talent, however, Clockwork Orange’s overhaul could be too little too late to reach the France finals.