European Football

The Rotterdam renaissance

 

WHISPER IT QUIETLY, but Feyenoord could be ending an 18-year wait for the Dutch league title. A 2-1 win against PSV Eindhoven, champions for the past two years, has positioned them well to end one of the most barren spells in their history.

Feyenoord are five points clear of second-placed Ajax – the two bitter rivals meet on April 2 in Amsterdam –  and 11 ahead of PSV, who have all but written themselves out of the title race.

It was 1999 when Feyenoord last won the Eredivisie, but in this season of three Rotterdam clubs in the top flight, they have been top since the start of the campaign.

Nobody really saw this coming. PSV and Ajax have dominated in recent seasons and Feyenoord were a very poor third in the Dutch hierarchy, 21 points behind the champions. But last season, they won the KNVB Cup, beating Utrecht in the final.

It was only seven years ago that the club was, from a financial perspective, on its knees. But one of the positives from a grim period was the number of young players that the club developed in the aftermath of its crisis.

Now, the club has one eye on a new stadium. De Kuip is an iconic venue, but is set to be partially demolished to make way for a new ground that will hold 63,000 people. Feyenoord are well supported and average 47,500 at their home games. The project will cost EUR 1.4bn and the stadium will form part of a redevelopment scheme for the Nieuwe Maas area of the city.

On the pitch, Feyenoord have lost just once this season, a 1-0 defeat at Go Ahead Eagles. At home they have been invincible, dropping just four points thanks to draws with Heerenveen and Ajax.

Feyenoord’s march to the title

March 5 Sparta Rotterdam Away
March 12 AZ Alkmaar Home
March 19 Heerenveen Away
April 2 Ajax Amsterdam Away
April 5 Groningen Home
April 9 Zwolle Away
April 16 Utrecht Home
April 23 Vitesse Arnhem Away
May 7 Excelsior Away
May 14 Heracles Home

Although the big clash with Ajax – De Klassieker –  will be daunting for Feyenoord given they have not won in Amsterdam since 2005-06 in the league, De club aan de Maas also have two local derbies to contend with. Both Excelsior and Sparta will be desperate for points given they are too close to the bottom for comfort.

But Feyenoord’s confidence is sky-high at the moment. From goalkeeper Bradley Jones, the 34 year-old Australian who is setting new records for clean sheets, to Danish striker Nicolai Jørgensen, who has been in impressive form, scoring 19 goals and also turning provider when necessary, Feyenoord are on fire at the moment.  Jørgensen joined the club in the summer from FC København for a bargain EUR 3m on a five-year deal.

One of the big inspirations has been another veteran, former Liverpool striker Dirk Kuijt, who has not only contributed in front of goal, but has been an inspiration to Feyenoord’s younger players. He also works well with manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the former international who won over a century of caps for the Netherlands.

Van Bronckhorst was in charge when Feyenoord won the KNVB Cup last season and the odds are that he will lead his side to the championship in a few weeks. The last time Feyenoord fans enjoyed such success the team was managed by Leo Beenhakker and included Denmark’s Jon Dahl Tomasson. Feyenoord won the title by a massive 15 point margin. Ironically, another Dane is leading the charge this time around!

European football needs clubs like Feyenoord, as well as their stable-mates Ajax and PSV, to have a bigger footprint on the international stage. All three are European Cup winners, Feyenoord were the first Dutch club to win the competition in 1970. Feyenoord beat Manchester United 1-0 in the Europa League group stage this season, but they failed to go through. With any luck, they will be playing on a bigger stage in 2017-18.

www.gameofthepeople.com

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