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.

AZ Alkmaar challenge the Dutch “big three”

A YEAR ago, Ajax were the darlings of Europe as they disposed of Juventus and Real Madrid and looked set to reach the UEFA Champions League final. In 2020, Ajax have left the European stage already having lost to Getafe in the Europa League, and they are being seriously challenged at the top of the Eredivisie.

Ajax were recently beaten by AZ Alkmaar at the Johan Cruyff Arena, a result that put the victors level on points with their hosts and reminded the Amsterdam club’s fans that they are going to have to fight hard if they want to regain their domestic title.

AZ’s win completed the double over Ajax (they won 1-0 earlier in the campaign at home) and have, uniquely, emerged triumphant at all three of the Netherlands’ blue riband clubs, having won 3-0 at Feyenoord and 4-0 at PSV Eindhoven.


Key facts: AZ Alkmaar

Founded 1967
Nickname Cheeseheads
Home ground AFAS Stadion (17,023)
Average gate 10,522 (2019-20)
Major honours 2 x Eredivisie title; 4 x KNVB Cup wins

AZ also went out of the Europa League at the last 32 stage, losing to Austria’s LASK, but they have rarely let-up in the Eredivisie. They have the best defensive record – just 17 goals conceded in 25 games – and only Ajax have scored more goals than Arne Slot’s team. Slot felt AZ were unlucky to get eliminated by the team from Linz: “I don’t feel like we have been beaten by the best team we have played this season. In my opinion, Antwerp (who AZ met in the group stage) were a better team.”

AZ have been fielding up to half a dozen players under 25 years of age and some of the youngsters have been catching the eye of Europe’s big clubs. Just as Ajax’s youth became very fashionable in 2018-19, AZ have been attracting scouts from England, Spain and Germany to their home games this season. Slot believes that five of his exciting squad could make the Netherlands’ squad for the European Championship.

While midfielder Calvin Stengs and striker Myron Boadu are now Dutch internationals, goalkeeper Marco Bizot is on the brink of a cap. Slot also thinks Teun Koopmeiners and Owen Wijndal could also step up.

Boadu has been a sensation this season and has netted 14 goals in the league in 23 appearances. He scored on his international debut against Estonia in November 2019. A strong and quick striker, Boadu was turned down by Ajax earlier in this career. He looks certain to leave Alkmaar in the summer and is likely to earn the club between €20 and € 30 million. Newcastle United have been keeping a close eye on the Amsterdam-born, 19 year-old.

Winger Oussama Idrissi, a Morocco international, is also coveted by other clubs. He joined AZ from Groningen in 2018. He has interested West Ham United, Leicester City and Everton, so he could also be heading to the Premier League in the summer. He has become an exciting player after being a typically mercurial wing-man in the past.

Stengs is one of the Eredivisie’s most productive players this season and he’s also been called-up by the Dutch national team. Barcelona have been eyeing the 21 year-old and he’s naturally been watched by Ajax, even though it is unlikely that AZ will sell him to the reigning Dutch champions.

Given that AZ may lose their top talent, it may be a case of now or never for this group of players in the red shirts of “the cheeseheads”. The club has only won the Eredivisie twice, 1981 (double plus UEFA Cup finalists) and 2009. Their last major honour was the KNVB Cup in 2013.

They have a good chance, for Ajax seem to be out-of-sorts after a European exit, defeat in the KNVB Cup semi-finals and the 0-2 home loss at the hands of their nearest rivals for the title. It should be an interesting finale in the Netherlands.


Photo: PA