“The KNVB has decided to dismiss head coach Danny Blind from his role immediately,” The KNVB statement read as a calamitous 18-month reign as Netherlands boss came to an end.
Less than 24 hours after his side crashed to a 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria that leaves them in great danger of missing out on the World Cup, Dutch football’s governing body seems to have reacted quickly to a calamity. But if anything, it has not come immediately enough.
"We have for some time seen an upward trend after the failure of last year," KNVB director Jean-Paul Decossaux said. "We were pleased. But we always felt that it was paper thin."
How the KNVB could have been pleased in any way is rather confusing. Blind leaves his post with a record of seven wins, three draws and seven losses and only three of his victories came in competitive matches. The bizarre decision to give a full debut to 17-year-old centre-back Matthijs De Ligt in an unstable defence on Saturday night will go down as the moment which sealed his fate. But with his questionable selections, dismal, arguably non-existent, strategy and lack of credentials for the role meant this moment seemed imminent even before he took over.
Blind’s move from assistant to head coach was announced well before it happened. The KNVB appointed Guus Hiddink as the main man to replace Louis van Gaal after World Cup 2014 and lead the team to Euro 2016. Afterwards, inspired by the success of Germany with Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low, his assistant Blind would succeed him for the 2018 World Cup campaign.
With a shift in generations and Van Gaal’s use of a 3-5-2 counter-attacking system, it seemed Ronald Koeman, who had been using a similar system at Feyenoord and was interested in the job, was the most reasonable candidate. When he rejected the chance to assist Hiddink and succeed him afterwards, a risible offer for an experienced manager on the rise, the KNVB stuck by its template and Blind was the option.
It was a perplexing and unpopular decision from the beginning. Hiddink had tried and failed with Oranje already and his style was completely different to Van Gaal’s. Furthermore, Blind had only been a coach for a year – a dismal one at Ajax in 2005-06.
Still, the KNVB had confidence in it. In ditching the more counter-attacking style Van Gaal had used to secure a bronze medal in Brazil, the leaders of Dutch football wanted to return to the nation’s principles of playing attractive, passing football.
It has been no such embracing of the philosophy of the nation’s golden era, though. It has been a mockery of it.
Hiddink’s failure saw his time come to an end during the qualifying phase. His team lacked direction, attacking potency and defensive organisation. It left Blind in a situation that could not be rescued and at first, he was given sympathy for coming into a team in such bad shape. The lack of stars in the team meant he would be given some leeway, but the emergence of Georginio Wijnaldum in the Premier League, Kevin Strootman’s return to form at Roma and Bas Dost’s new effectiveness, the performances never improved.
Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder are the last remnants of the previous generation and the new crop needed a more tactically astute leader capable of creating a strong unit – a style they could adhere to long-term and develop. As a nation which prides itself on bringing through young talents, there should be reason for optimism given the players available, but that has been killed under Hiddink and Blind.
And so, Blind has carried on leading a raw group of players into further humiliation. With France six points ahead, Sweden three and Bulgaria two, it is hard to see how this situation can be rescued, but the problems exist well beyond there.
Koeman was one of few options available to replace Van Gaal, but now they are even thinner and confidence in the KNVB is staggeringly low after the serious of curious decisions.
This is a team lacking any sort of direction or understanding of what is being asked of it, but the talent is there in the likes of Wijnaldum, Strootman, Memphis Depay, Rick Karsdorp and Quincy Promes among others. The organisation must choose carefully this time and lay out a reasonable long-term plan. Otherwise, this is another generation that will go to waste.