Kevin Strootman can benefit from Mark van Bommel’s retirement
The news that Mark van Bommel has retired from kicking people at international level so that he can prolong the habit at club level will be welcomed by one man more than most.
PSV Eindhoven’s Kevin Strootman, a reported target for Manchester United, will see van Bommel’s retirement as his opportunity to become a regular for the Oranje. Following on from a Euro 2012 campaign that can only be described as an unmitigated disaster, Holland need new faces, a new generation. Strootman, at 22, can hold down a place as the lynchpin in the centre of the Dutch midfield for the next decade.
Holland’s penetration, or lack thereof, in Poland and Ukraine was put down to slowness in getting the ball forward, according to the iconic Johan Cruyff. He claimed that having both van Bommel and Nigel de Jong starting in holding roles in front of the defence was a hindrance to Holland’s style of play as they were seeing “too much of the ball” and made their attacking transitions too slow to be able to counter effectively. One holding midfielder was considered to be more than enough; the De Jong-Van Bommel axis was tired and tested rather than tried and tested.
However, even when taking out van Bommel for the final group game against Portugal and replacing him with Rafael van der Vaart, Bert van Marwijk’s side were painfully slow in possession and horribly exposed in midfield. De Jong was left alone to support either the inexperienced, 18 year-old Jetro Willems against Nani on the left or Ajax’s Gregory van der Wiel against Cristiano Ronaldo on the opposite side.
Van der Vaart’s inclusion left Holland open without the ball and Portugal took full advantage; their attacking transitions were fluidly swift and led to numerous chances for A Selecção as Holland struggled to contain the onslaught. Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post, Nani forced Maarten Stekelenburg into a fantastic save though he really should have scored, and Ronaldo’s second goal – the winning goal – came from a quick counter-attack.
There were cries before the tournament for Strootman to be given time on the pitch but this was ignored by van Marwijk and he was given a grand total of zero. After a disastrous tournament, though, the contract extension that the manager signed to take him past the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and 2016 European Championships in France could well be torn up.
If, indeed, this turns out to be the case, the new man has to integrate Strootman into the team as quickly as possible. He has the vision, passing range and energy to bring some equilibrium to the national team as a compromise of both a holder and a creator, something that he excelled at in the early stages of his career when playing behind the striker as a trequartista before moving back to become a deep-lying playmaker.
In a side that seems so imbalanced – the front four are often reluctant to track back – Strootman seems like the perfect replacement for van Bommel to allow Holland to progress as a team. They haven’t progressed since Euro 2008, in which they fielded Orlando Engelaar alongside de Jong in the holding role before bringing van Bommel back for the World Cup in 2010 to play with de Jong.
The system has become stale; it is the same outcome, just with different personnel. It is time for change and the change needs to happen now with Strootman at the forefront of it all. Whilst his involvement will not change everything, it would be a start and that, for Holland, would be better than nothing.