Venue: De Kuip Stadion
Sunday 19th February 2018
Written by Will Randle
Tulips? Clogs? Goldmember? I’m sure these are all images that are conjured whenever Holland is mentioned, but for me the first thing that comes to mind is football. As an advocate (or should that be Advocaat?) of the beautiful game, the Eredivisie seemed the logical choice for my latest ground-hop. Way back in September I decided on Feyenoord and with the news that Robin Van Persie had returned to his hometown team around a fortnight before my trip, I was glad I plumped for the Rotterdam club over their Amsterdam rivals Ajax. Why Feyenoord? Two words: ‘’De Kuip’’.
Old-school stadiums have always been a favourite of mine and by all accounts, I’d been reliably informed that ‘’The Tub’’, as it’s known in English, was the grandest of all in Europe. By the time of my first glimpse of the ground from the Erasmus bridge, I found it hard to disagree. With its red and blue seats and magnificent oval roof, I imagine that this is as close as I could get to the Old Wembley. Inside the arena, a novel feature was the use of ‘’Muntens’’ or little coins bearing the club crest used to purchase food and drink. 12 Euros afforded me 5 of the local currency which stretched to 2 pints of Heineken, a snack of two croquettes in a bread roll and a coffee ; which I deemed to be a fair exchange rate. With around 20 minutes to kick-off and suitably refreshed, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the homecoming hero Van Persie was in line for his first start since his return.
In a patient game which bared very little resemblance to the high-pressing style I’ve grown accustomed to in England of late, Feyenoords’ classic 4-3-3 formation saw RVP take the number 10 role. Despite the Rotterdammers’ careful and considered approach, they were hardly in the game during a first half in which Left Winger Jean-Paul Boëtius, expected to provide a creative spark, repeatedly came unstuck against his full-back. Indeed, despite all the home sides’ possession, it was Heracles who created the better of the chances during the opening 45 minutes; Breukers failed to hit the target, whilst Kuwas looked to be through but for a late offside flag. Vermeij also had an opportunity to test Brad Jones but the Australian was equal to his effort.
The second half started in a similar fashion with an attempt from distance by Kristoffer Peterson hitting the underside of the bar but it was Van Persie who demonstrated his feather touch and clinical finishing, breaking the deadlock around the hour mark. After receiving a pass just outside the box from Vilhena, RVP cushioned the ball with his wand of a left foot before placing it past Castro with a passed finish. Despite the lack of anything that got the Feyenoorders off their seats during the previous 59 minutes, as the ball hit the back of the net, the entire ground appeared to shake.
This moment aside, there was little else to get excited about, until Paul Gladon fired wide during the closing stages, when he looked set to equalise for the visitors from Almelo. Come full time, I was already analysing the match that had just gone and couldn’t help but feel as though I’d just witnessed an almost alien version of the game I watch every week back home.
Firstly, the full backs would barely touch the ball in their own half, their job more reminiscent of a deep lying midfielder in build-up, underlapping simply to recycle. The time and space afforded to them in the final third saw plenty of overlapping runs, but despite the not inconsiderate aerial threat of Jorgensen, the pullback was almost always favoured. Secondly and much more strikingly different, was the time and space afforded to almost every player on the pitch. Both teams played as if there was an unwritten rule, allowing your opposite number to settle and find his pass. Defenders appeared to be much more concerned with defending space and territory, blocking passing lanes and forcing the ball wide, with little desire to press and apply pressure to the ball. While this would appear to gift the opposition the opportunity to either thread a through-ball or strike from distance, this also seemed to be governed by a form of gentlemanly conduct, restricting the player in possession to recycling the ball around the edge of the box, looking to bring the full-backs into the game.
One can’t help but be impressed by the overall technical ability of every one of the 22 on the pitch, with lots of first-time passes out of defence and excellent takes from supporting players, but the lack of direct play developed from being frustrating to almost farcical. As pleasing on the eye as the Dutch game is, you’d feel that based on the patterns of play in this fixture, a direct player with an eye for goal would dominate the league. Overall, I enjoyed my visit to the Kuip, and feel as though there is plenty both the Dutch, with their emphasis on technique and the English, with their high-tempo, aggressive style of play could learn from each other.
Will Randle follows both Everton and Lowestoft Town FC and is a lover of all things football. Will is a keen fan of continental football, as well as an FA Level 2 qualified coach.
You can follow Will on Twitter: @WillRandle92
My thanks to Will for giving his permission to use this article. It’s certainly an interesting diversion from EPL and Non-League Football. Cheers Will!