To tell the story of Oranje the story of Rinus Michels needs to be told. But to tell the story of Rinus Michels the story of the great Ajax side of the 60s needs to be recounted. And no story can be told without delving into the characters – Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens — that bind the narrative.
Unfortunately, to dig deep into the rich history of Michels, Ajax, Cruyff and Neeskens it would require a book that has no epilogue and a pen that does not cease to write. Things would have been a lot easier had the present Oranje coach, Louis van Gaal, borrowed the Pensieve from the Harry Potter realm, and allowed us to leisurely browse his vast trove of memories. It is of utmost pertinence because van Gaal saw the birth of Oranje through the eyes of a 20 year old.
42 years ago, van Gaal, playing for the Ajax second team, was struggling to get into the first team that was being dominated by Cryuff and Neeskens. It was coached by none other Michels. It was during this glorious era that Michels had introduced the concept of Total Football.
Four decades later, there will a sighting at the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean; a ship with orange flags flying from its masthead will make port at the sandy beaches of Brasil. Louis van Gaal and his motley crew will have made the journey from the lowlands of Holland to conquer Brasil once again like their forefathers from the Dutch East India Company did 400 years ago.
Their journey to South America was easy as they have won nine out of the 10 qualifiers. However, an injury to midfielder Kevin Strootman might force van Gaal to abandon his favoured 4-3-3 formation and adopt 5-3-2 instead. This quality is perhaps what sets apart van Gaal from other managers. Brutal pragmatism combined with the willingness to put on a spectacle.
And a spectacle we shall get when the Dutch will meet defending champions Spain in their first game of the campaign. At least three generations of Dutch football players had coaching stints in Spain, and they had perfected the art of Total Football at FC Barcelona. It was rebranded as Tika-Taka and Spain has been its disciples ever since.
Netherlands are sure to leave a mark on this World Cup; if not on the tournament, Nigel de Jong would at least ensure that he leaves his footprint on an opponent’s chest.
Possible playing XI:
Players to watch: