Arsene Wenger has spoken of Holland as one of his favourites at this World Cup and, after two solid but underwhelming victories against Denmark and Japan, he feels the Dutch have lost an inferiority complex that has dogged them so persistently since the 1974 World Cup final.
Anna Enquist, a Dutch psychoanalyst, said of that first lost World Cup final:
“1974 was actually very painful to us all. We can’t admit to ourselves that something can be so important. But it matters very much. There is still deep unresolved trauma about 1974. It’s a very living pain, like an unpunished crime.”
The reason for such pain is multi faceted: it was Holland’s first World Cup appearance since 1938, the national team boasted their strongest ever group of individual talents who had monopolised the European Cup with Ajax and Feyenoord (Cruyff, Neeskens, Krol, van Hanegem et al), and they played a brand that captivated the world football consciousness. What’s worse is the manner in which the final, played against serial iconoclasts West Germany, was lost: Cruyff snaked into the penalty area and was fouled for Neeskens to convert a penalty. Holland’s ball retention was mesmeric – insolent even – but instead of pushing forward to score another they wanted to solder home a point to the West Germans: to prove, unequivocally, that they were better. Jan Mulder, former Ajax player and now Dutch football columnist elaborates:
“It was a kind of complex to show their superiority, but in reality it was an inferiority complex…You have the memories of the World Cup finals you’ve seen on television…and now you are in that position. It’s horrible! The Dutch got vertigo.”
There have been false starts in the past where Holland have flattered and then faltered; the team’s showing at Euro 2008 was spectacular until eventually being undone by injury (to Robben) and superior tactics and execution by Russia in the quarters. But, two years on, the team’s nucleus is more seasoned and accustomed to more successes: Sneijder is off the back of an incredible season with Inter Milan, Robben was in blistering form for the last half of Bayern’s campaign, and Van Persie – despite his 5 month layoff – is a talent of sublime and utterly Dutch imagination. Winning solidly without too much admiration is probably being welcomed in Holland and the importance of dealing with the pressure of being favourites in a group is not lost on Arsene Wenger:
“The Dutch are one of my favourites. They have tremendous potential. If you look at their players, they must be among the main contenders. They no longer have an inferiority complex.”
His words also finely encapsulate the paradox of the Dutch condition since 1974: individually they should always be contenders, yet their output on the international stage has lacked consistency, belief, and teamwork at the critical moments. This year is no different; unconvincing and tactically faltering performances have been enough but nothing close to the potential that the team possesses.
A worry for the Dutch public will always be belief; if a team with Johan Cruyff, one of the greatest players in the history of football, and individuals who excelled in the team ethic of total football could not win in a World Cup final then how can Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and an injured Arjen Robben do any better? But I think it is also fair to say that any talk of an ‘inferiority complex’ will only truly be banished when victory on the international stage is achieved.
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Other articles about the Dutch national team history:
Brilliant Orange, David Winner