The future's bright; the future's… – Oranje out to break shackles of boredom under Koeman

·4-min read

Team identity is a huge part of football and arguably valued more than ever before by the average fan – but that importance reaches an altogether different level for the Netherlands.

Total Football remains synonymous with the Oranje despite the concept – which essentially relates to every player being able to fulfil any out-field role in the team – having its roots in the 1970s. Or at least that's when the Netherlands adopted the philosophy.

Ever since, the Dutch have been associated with on-pitch intelligence, fluidity and technical ability, which has often manifested in proactive and attack-minded football.

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"Boring" has rarely been an accusation one could level at the Dutch, but it was a term that came up with increasing regularity towards the end of Louis van Gaal's reign.

Friday's opening Euro 2024 qualifier against France in Paris will begin Ronald Koeman's second spell in charge, and qualification for next year's tournament in Germany is by no means his only objective.

The Netherlands' Qatar 2022 campaign wasn't exactly bad; things could've gone a lot worse than losing to eventual winners Argentina in the quarter-finals.

Instead, the main takeaway from the tournament among fans was how the team played, rather than the results they got.

Van Gaal and the players were routinely quizzed on the perception of the team playing "boring" football. It was even put to them that fans were "grinding their teeth" in frustration.

"That's disappointing but I don't agree with you. That's your opinion but I don't think your opinion is the correct opinion," Van Gaal defiantly snapped back after sealing progress from Group A. "I think everyone would be rather proud we are progressing to the next round. I think things are not as bad as you say they are."

In the same press conference, Van Gaal told another Dutch reporter to "go home" if he was bored by their brand of football. This narrative ran throughout their time in Qatar.

"Of course we want to [play in a Dutch style], but in the end you want to win and this is the most important [thing]," Davy Klaasen said.

At no point was such a comment more relevant than after the last-16 defeat of the United States. The Netherlands had only 41.6 per cent of the ball and spent a lot of the game under pressure; yet they won 3-1.

It wasn't exactly vintage, but they got the job done. And let's not forget, they only fell to the eventual champions in a penalty shoot-out.

Of course, it was in the wake of that ill-tempered game when even Lionel Messi joined the chorus of criticism.

"Van Gaal says that they play good football, but what he did was put on tall people and hit long balls," Messi said.

The expectation, however, is Koeman will freshen things up. At least, that's what he's aiming to do.

"I saw moments in matches when I thought, 'This can be different, this must be different,'" he said of the Netherlands' World Cup campaign when presented as their new coach in January.

"In the Netherlands we try to play — and that is often the most difficult path — good, attractive, attacking soccer. Twenty internationals without losing — it would be unbelievable if I also manage that. I think it can be done differently and I want to do it differently."

It was an early declaration of intent from Koeman, seemingly adamant to embrace the attacking talent at his disposal perhaps a little more than his predecessor.

The format of European Championship qualification should also offer a degree of security to Koeman, with the top two from each group going straight into Euro 2024.

France will obviously be daunting opposition, but otherwise the Netherlands should be confident. The other three teams in Group B are the Republic of Ireland, Greece and Gibraltar.

The Oranje's preparations haven't got off to the best of starts given a host of players have been laid low by a virus sweeping through the camp.

That's certainly not the kind of excitement fans nor Koeman will have been hoping for, but in the long run it's possible to see supporters having a little more pride in their team once again.