What a difference a year makes. With the football season playing catch up after last year’s Covid-19 lockdown across Europe, it is Holland’s fans who are left ruing how time has left its mark on their squad.
Last March Ronald Koeman’s outfit were being mooted as one of Euro 2020’s leading contenders with the tournament on the horizon, and for good reason.
Koeman had led them out of the international wilderness and into their first major competition since the 2014 World Cup and he followed that by sending a warning shot to the rest of the continent by steering them to the final of the Nations League (beating England 3-1 in the semis) before they narrowly lost to Portugal.
There are concerns Holland aren’t as strong now as they were last year with Euro 2020 coming
Frank de Boer has replaced Ronald Koeman as manager of the Dutch side and has work to do
But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit a year ago, Europe went into an almost blanket lockdown and when it came out the other side, a sequence of events in the footballing world began that have seemingly eroded Holland’s chances of winning a second major international trophy.
It started with Barcelona. Quique Setien hadn’t done much to inspire anyone into thinking he was a long-term solution at the Nou Camp but when Barca were ripped up and torn apart 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League, his departure was simply inevitable.
They turned to Koeman, who had never made any effort to hide his desire to one day manage Barcelona. Since his playing days for the Catalan club, where he scored the winning goal in the 1992 Champions League final, he has held a deep infatuation with Barca.
Even in his time as Everton boss, Koeman would drive into the Finch Farm training ground with ‘BAR’ on his car number plate. Everyone knew his ultimate goal was to take the reins at the Nou Camp and when they came calling, he just couldn’t say no.
Koeman had led Holland out of the international wilderness – Euro 2020 will be their first major tournament since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
The major issue for Holland now is the fitness over captain and star defender Virgil van Dijk
In September 2020, Holland brought in Frank de Boer as head coach. He’s a Dutch hero and played 112 times for his country, including at two World Cups, but he took the reins at a difficult time in his career.
After an encouraging start to life in the dugout with Ajax he lasted a matter of months at Inter Milan and then just four Premier League games at Crystal Palace. He headed Stateside and won the US Open Cup in his first season with Atlanta United but was sacked in July 2020 after going winless in the MLS is Back Tournament.
It was a rocky start to life in the international scene as well. He didn’t win any of his first four games as Dutch boss. He has since claimed victory in the next two but the pressure is on to make a strong start in World Cup qualifying this week, where Holland face Turkey, Latvia and Gibraltar.
That campaign begins without Holland’s captain, Virgil van Dijk and the expectation is that De Boer will be without the man many regard as the best defender in the game for this summer’s tournament.
The 29-year-old was crocked by a reckless challenge by Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in October, leaving him with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The 29-year-old was left crocked by a horrid challenge from Everton keeper Jordan Pickford
Van Dijk’s rehabilitation is steady – Jurgen Klopp doesn’t think he will be fit for the tournament
Van Dijk has posted frequent updates of his rehabilitation on Instagram, both in Dubai and back at Liverpool’s Kirkby training base and is yet to give up hope on being fit for the tournament.
But Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp doesn’t expect Van Dijk or England’s Joe Gomez, who is sidelined with the same issue, to recover in time for the competition.
HOLLAND’S EURO 2020 FIXTURES
June 13 – Ukraine (Amsterdam)
June 17 – Austria (Amsterdam)
June 21 – North Macedonia (Amsterdam)
‘To be honest the information I have at the moment, it will be unlikely,’ Klopp said. ‘Not that I wouldn’t let them go but because of the extent of the injuries.’
Even if Van Dijk does make it, how sharp will he be? He won’t be the player he would have been last summer, that is for certain.
Van Dijk’s team-mate for both club and country, Georginio Wijnaldum, is likely to take the Dutch armband in his absence but the midfielder’s long-term club future is currently up in the air.
Wijnaldum is in the final months of his Liverpool contract and wants to remain at Anfield but he and the club are at impasse in negotiations. Liverpool are reluctant to provide the length of the terms Wijnaldum wants as he is 30.
If a deal isn’t struck, Koeman’s Barcelona are the leading candidates to sign Wijnaldum on a free but Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan have also been linked with a move. For all concerned in the Dutch camp, they will want Wijnaldum’s future to be sorted before the tournament begins.
The same applies to forward Memphis Depay. Koeman and Barcelona are also leading the chase to sign him on a free with his deal expiring at Lyon but as of yet, there is no firm outcome.
And there are other players in the Dutch fold with their club futures in the air. Donny van de Beek is clearly unfancied by Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and not only will he be joining the Dutch fold with less confidence than he would have after his final season with Ajax, but he will surely be looking to make a move away from Old Trafford in the summer window.
Georginio Wijnaldum has questions on his club future that need sorting before the tournament
Donny van de Beek has had a hard year at Manchester United and would be forgiven for looking to move to a different club in the summer transfer window
Left back Patrick Van Aanholt is also in the final months of his deal with Crystal Palace. Sportsmail reported on Monday that Turkish side Galatasaray are sizing up a move for the left back and are prepared to offer an increase on his £55,000-a-week terms.
Holland’s tournament begins on June 13 against Ukraine. They will go on to face Austria and North Macedonia in a group where they are overwhelming favourites to emerge from and reach the knockout rounds.
But between now and then, De Boer needs to show the rest of Europe that his squad is just as dangerous now as it was a year ago, starting with Wednesday’s tricky match with Turkey. The rest of Europe will watch on with added interest.