The year in the Netherlands - a Dutch review.
From time to time football throws up a surprise , a provincial team come from nowhere to triumph in the league . Most of the time this happens it is down to one thing: Money. Blackburn , financed by Jack Walker's millions , came through to take the league title in England in 94-95 . Deportivo came through to win the Spanish title in 1999-2000 , I have no idea how much cash was thrown at the team to enable them to triumph over the big two in La Liga , but I'm guessing it wasn't cheap.
And so to Holland.
Three teams share the league title and one of them doesn't win it that often. Outside of the big three , AZ were the last team to win the title back in 1980-81 and we have to back to 1963-64 for the one before that , DWS Amsterdam. Well this year in Holland , the football Gods decided to have a little fun
PSV and Feyenoord`s seasons were all but done by Christmas , in fact the Rotterdammers were out of the running by the end of September and lying 3rd bottom of the league as October came to an end . That's a relegation play off place in the Dutch league . PSV had installed new manager Huub Stevens , but reports emerged of some serious disharmony at the Eindhoven giants as manager and players just didn't see eye to eye; results dictated that the manager would go , and he did . Ajax had managed to cling to the coat tails of AZ , but a horrendous start to the new year , coupled with the selling of Huntelaar to Madrid , quickly put an end to any title aspirations and its now been five long years since the title rested at the ArenA. Marco van Basten will get some reprieve because Ajax just don't sack managers after one season.
In November , Ajax fans the world over were in mourning at the death of Sjakie ( pronounce Shah Kee when the fans at the ArenA or De Meer were chanting his name ) Wolfs , Mr Ajax. Sjaak never pulled on the Ajax top as a player , he was the kit man. He was a supporter who one day met some of the players and offered to clean their boots , and 31 years later he was still doing the same job. He didn`t have a contract with the club for the first 20 years , He was merely a supporter doing the job he loved , with the club he loved. Co Adriaanse once decided that he would no longer be allowed to sit on the bench during games or to sit in the dressing room during half time talks: this almost led to trouble in the stands. Ajax fans demanded that he was allowed to return to the bench and chanted so during games , they even set up a "Sjakie on the bench committee". In the end Sjakie was allowed back , Co wasn`t there much longer. The crowds continued to chant his name whenever he would appear at the side of the park or during the warm up. How many kit men over the world can have that said about them? The first game after his death was PSV at the ArenA , the sound of the Ajax crowd chanting the name of this old Ajacied for almost 20 solid minutes and the sight of banners around the stadium with his face on them reduced my Mrs and I to tears. I`ll leave the last word on the club he loved to him:
"That's the magic of Ajax", Sjaak said, "everyone within the club is always regarded as equally important. We're doing it as a family. As a team".
He is sadly missed . Rest In Peace , Old man.
Steve McLaren has done a real job with FC Twente, currently they sit in 2nd place one point clear of Ajax in the chase for the CL spot and with both teams due to meet on the last day of the season in Amsterdam, it could be all up for grabs . FC Twente`s very existence was in doubt in 2002-2003 , to have come back this far in such a short space of time is phenomenal . It just shows that it can be done , even when the future looks like an absolute minefield.
Heerenveen and FC Groningen managed to keep their interest alive longer than most expected , Heerenveen currently occupy 4th place , one point ahead of PSV and the last automatic place for the Europa league while Groningen sit in 6th and should certainly be in the play offs. On the subject of play-offs , thankfully the Dutch have done away with the crazy system they had in place with regards to the CL 2nd spot. They still know that the current system is not perfect and tried something unusual but it wasn't working , but at least they tried something different rather than just turn a blind eye and believe that everything was perfect . Perhaps we should take note, the current Scottish split is nothing short of nonsense and has to be changed.
A huge talking point this season was the news that Roda and Fortuna Sittard would merge to form Sporting Limburg and for a part of the season this has dominated the fortunes of Roda , stuck near the bottom of the table and looking to crash out of existence but recently it was announced that it was all off . Roda are still in serious trouble at the bottom of the league though , and will probable be left in the relegation play offs. Its good that both clubs will survive but for how much longer in the current financial climate . Time will tell but we get closer and closer to a new regional team in that area.
The last twist of fate is at the other end of the table , Volendam ( 24 points ) and De Graafschap ( 25 points ) meet on the last day of the season: it should be a winner takes all situation as the bottom team are automatically relegated but we need to see what happens with Roda (25 points ) . My gut feeling is that it will be a shoot out between the first two.
The cup also sees none of the big three left in. Twente, Heerenveen, Volendam or NAC Breda will lift the trophy. It will be a big day for whoever takes it but the cup doesn't have the same feel that it does here or in England.
So to Alkmaar and a second league title all but sown up . They threw it away two years ago - slipping up against Excelsior on the last day of the season - but lightning won't strike twice here; 4 games left and 11 points clear and a place in Dutch football history for Louis Van Gaal . It looked for a long time as if they would be able to clinch the title in Amsterdam but they should get the points to seal it this weekend , and I'm glad about that in a way. Van Gaal still has real standing with most Ajax fans but celebrating a title win at the ArenA with another club...?
Here's to next year , and hopefully Steve McLaren's new accent!