“If I spit, they will take my spit and frame it as great art.” — Pablo Picasso
Picasso must’ve chuckled in his grave. For this time, an artist’s spit wasn’t framed as great art. In fact, a flying ball of gooey spittle was all it took to wipe art away from the most artistic sporting canvas of them all, the Dutch football team.
That mass of phlegm was slurped down from Frank Rijkaard’s (one of the custodians of Holland’s great legacy) nostrils and into his mouth, ejected almost instantly on to the permed blond mop of Germany’s Rudi Voeller. Then he did it again. Suck, collect, spit, red card.
Those two minutes of ugly madness had put a slobbering and sobering end to an era known as Totaalvoetbal, where Holland were the artisans who had created the fascinating sculpture of beautiful football.
It had occurred at the San Siro in Milan on June 24, 1990, during a World Cup pre-quarterfinal fixture between bitter rivals West Germany and Holland. Just two years before, when the two sides had met in the semi-final of the 1988 European Championships, Marco Van Basten’s 88th minute winner had taken Holland on to the cusp of an unfulfilled promise — that of framing their unique art-form with a trophy.
The promise, of course, was kept with a screaming volley by Van Basten in the final against USSR — giving Holland their first and only major trophy. It was tangible proof of good trumping evil in the end. It had vindicated the likes of Johann Cruyff and Rinus Michels (captain and coach of the Dutch team at the 1974 World Cup respectively) who had shocked the world with the free-flowing madness but had lost to the regimented method of West Germany in the final.
For 14 years they had stuck to their principles, making the taste of success sweeter when it arrived in 1988. Then, it all came to a sticky end in Milan. Following Rijkaard’s red card, Holland lost 2-1 and were catcalled all the way back home from Italia ‘90. And for a further 14 years, it hardly got any better.
Yes, there were flashes of getting their acts back together at the grandest stage, such as the individual excellence of Dennis Bergkamp, whose magical finish against Argentina that took them to the semis of France ‘98. And of course the Class of 2010, who reached and lost the final in South Africa against Spain. But it was precisely this team that exemplified just how far the apple (or orange, in this case) had fallen from the tree.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Oranje were said to have been bickered with infighting off the field. And on it, they were methodical to continued…