Revelling in Rotterdam: Feyenoord are champions

THE EREDIVISIE has its champion for 2022-23 in the form of Feyenoord, who won their 16th title with two games to spare. The Rotterdam-based club have lost just one league game, a 4-3 defeat against PSV Eindhoven and have been in top place since November and have been on a 25-game unbeaten run. It has been a good all-round season for the club – they also reached the semi-finals of the KNVB Cup, the last eight of the UEFA Europa League and won 3-2 in Amsterdam against their old rivals Ajax, who have been a little out-of-sorts.

Feyenoord’s coach, Arne Slot, is now being eyed by a number of clubs, including Tottenham Hotspur. Slot took over in 2021 and has an impressive win ratio of around 65%. If Spurs want Slot, they may find they have to pay a high price for him, although there is talk of a lucrative new deal being tabled by Feyenoord after their second Eredivisie triumph in the 21st century. Although the offer may be high by Dutch standards, it may not be enough to stop the London club from luring Slot to the Premier League.

Feyenoord’s outstanding performance this season has overshadowed Ajax, who spent three times as much in the transfer market and received almost six times the transfer income of the champions. Over the past five years, Ajax have spent over € 300 million while Feyenoord have paid out just € 63 million and PSV € 96 million.  In 2022, Ajax sold the likes of Antony (Manchester United €95m), Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United €57m), Ryan Gravenberch (Bayern Munich €19m) and Sébastien Haller (Borussia Dortmund € 31m) for sizeable fees.

Ajax have had some problems to deal with on and off the pitch, notably claims of sexual harassment, accusations that fans have been chanting anti-semitic songs and the usual internal politics. Little wonder that their image has suffered as a result. According to the Hendrik Beerda Brand Consultancy, Ajax are the third most popular sports club brand in the Netherlands, the first time they have not been number one. Feyenoord are the top brand and PSV in second place. 

While Ajax failed to make much of an impression in Europe, finishing third in a UEFA Champions League group that comprised Napoli, Liverpool and Rangers and then going out of the Europa League at the hands of Union Berlin, Feyenoord won through their Europa group, finishing ahead of Midtjylland, Lazio and Sturm Graz. They were eventually eliminated in the quarter-finals by the team that beat them in the Conference League final in 2021-22, Roma. AZ Alkmaar have enjoyed a decent Conference League run and are 2-1 down after the semi-final first leg to West Ham United. PSV Eindhoven, who won the KNVB Cup recently, were knocked out of the Champions League by Rangers in the play-off round.

Inevitably, Feyenoord’s success has alerted clubs of the quality of some of their players. Their most coveted players are not all Dutch, however. Their leading scorer is 21 year-old Mexican centre forward Santiago Giménez, who has averaged a goal every two games since joining Feyenoord in 2022 from Cruz Azul. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but has 10 caps for Mexico. Among the clubs interested in Giménez are Benfica, Manchester United, Tottenham, Brighton, Sevilla and Atlético Madrid.

Another notable player is Netherlands-born Orkun Kökcü (22) who has Turkish and Azerbaijani roots. He has played for the Turkish national team 20 times and is Feyenoord’s captain. Arsenal and Aston Villa are among the clubs looking at a midfielder who could cost as little as € 30 million. His contract runs to 2025 but media reports suggest his agent (his father) has already started talking to clubs, so Kökcü could be the next big name to leave the Eredivisie.

Arne Slot has a reputation for developing talent and the likes of Kökcü have clearly benefitted from his methods. He is also a personable fellow and popular with his players. Slot likes to adopt an aggressive, attacking approach, either in the form of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation and is fond of using wingers. He also demands an all-out press to win the ball when not in possession. Hence, Feyenoord have a very strong defensive record and have conceded just 28 goals and enjoy a positive goal difference of 50.

Rotterdam marked the team’s title win after their 3-0 win against Go Ahead Eagles on May 13, with more than 100,000 people filling the centre of the city. School children were given the day off to join in the celebrations. Slot was delighted with the outcome: “Winning the championship is great, but achieving it with Feyenoord has something special, seeing what it does to all these people here and because it doesn’t happen every year,” he told Dutch media.

Eredivisie: Can Feyenoord become champions again?

FEYENOORD and PSV Eindhoven meet this weekend in the Eredivisie, a game that could strengthen the home side’s position at the top of the table or revive PSV’s title bid. At the same time, Ajax, who are one point behind PSV, could still have a say in the race for the top, although the reigning champions are in a state of flux at the moment.

Ajax sacked manager Alfred Schreuder a week ago after a run of seven games without a win, handing the job until the end of the season to John Heitinga, who moved across from Jong Ajax to take charge. His first game, away at Excelsior, ended in a 4-1 victory.

It was always going to be difficult for Schreuder to take over from Erik ten Hag, especially as Ajax lost Antony (€95m) and Lisandro Martinez (€57.4m) to Manchester United, Ryan Gravenberch to Bayern Munich (€ 18.5m) and Sébastien Haller to Borussia Dortmund (€31m). Ajax’s chief executive, Edwin van der Sar, said the sacking was “painful but necessary”.

2AZ Alkmaar191243402440
3PSV Eindhoven191225472338

It’s still too early to concede the title, but Ajax cannot afford any more slip-ups. They have drawn far too many games and also lost to PSV and AZ Alkmaar. Their Champions League campaign also ended in the group stage after they lost four of their six games in a group with Liverpool, Napoli and Rangers. They will resume their interest in Europe in the Europa League.

Feyenoord, meanwhile, have lost just once (against PSV) and are two points ahead of AZ. They have been boosted by the goals of Danilo Pereira da Silva, a 23 year-old Brazilian striker signed from Ajax, and their young Turkish skipper, Orkun Köksü, both of whom have eight goals in the Eredivisie. In defence, goalkeeper Justin Bijlow has kept nine clean sheets in his 19 league appearances. Feyenoord’s last Eredivisie success was in 2017 when they pushed Ajax into second place by one point.

Feyenoord’s president has spoken out about the gap between the Eredivisie and the Premier League, who regularly raid the Dutch league for reasonably-priced talent. Three of their stars, Tyrell Malacia, Luis Sinisterra and Marcos Senesi joined Manchester United, Leeds United and Bournemouth for fees totalling € 55 million. While losing top players creates problems, the money is hard to resist for Dutch clubs. It has almost become a way of life and a crucial part of the Dutch football business model. Feyenoord are not as proficient as the other big two clubs in the Netherlands in making profits from player trading.

Interestingly, Dennis te Kloese’s comment in the media came as leading French journalist Julian Lauren was talking about the massive imbalance in European football, created by the Premier’s wealth, the inability of other leagues to keep pace and the threat of the Premier’s counterparts becoming feeder leagues.

Feyenoord, with an average gate of 47,500 at their iconic De Kuip stadium, generated € 87.2 million in the 2021-22 season, of which only € 8 million was attributable to domestic broadcasting. The Eredivisie made the mistake of agreeing a 12-year deal back in 2013, which really puts Dutch clubs at a disadvantage. Feyenoord’s income is over € 100 million less than Ajax’s combined revenues and just slightly less than PSV’s earnings of € 93 million. Although Feyenoord have a lot of ground to make up, they are currently in a much better places than they were a decade ago when their financial situation almost tipped them into oblivion.

PSV, currently in third place, lost a few players in the transfer window, notably World Cup stand-out Cody Gakpo, who moved to Liverpool for €42 million and Noni Madueke to Chelsea for € 35m. Gakpo will be very difficult to replace, but PSV have secured three loan signings to reinforce their squad: Fabio Silva (Wolves), Patrick van Aanholt (Galatasaray) and Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund). 

AZ Alkmaar are currently in second place but nobody really expects them to win the title. They are coached by London-born Pascal Jansen,  the son of a pop singing duo from the early 1970s. Their recent 5-5 draw with  Utrecht showed they know how to score – and concede – goals and they have one of the Eredivisie’s top scorers at the moment in 24 year-old Greek striker Vangelis Pavlidis.

Games to come
Feb 5 2023: Feyenoord v PSV
Feb 19 2023: Feyenoord v AZ
Mar 19 2023: Ajax v Feyenoord
Apr 16 2023: PSV v Ajax
Apr 23 2023: Ajax v AZ
May 28 2023: AZ v PSV