The first game in Holland's World Cup qualifying campaign should suggest how they will shape up under Louis van Gaal
Let's look on the bright side. If Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scores one more goal for his country, he can equal the number of Oranje goals attained by Johan Cruyff. And let's face it, the Dutch national team could really use a good news story these days.
It has not been a period in their history that will be remembered fondly. The horror show of the European Championship, which served up a trio of painful performances that left Edwin van der Sar, for one, "in shock", was clearly a rock bottom moment. From that point, it was depressing to start the new chapter, under Louis van Gaal, with a 4-2 defeat to Belgium in August's friendly. That the team were not able to bounce back knocked a little more stuffing out of them. All in all, expectations heading into a round of World Cup qualifiers are cooler than they would normally be. There has certainly been enough food for thought to keep a glutton busy for a while.
Under the circumstances, Van Gaal is a reasonable choice to try to push the Dutch back on track, starting with a rendezvous with Turkey at the Amsterdam ArenA on Friday, followed by a trip to Hungary on September 11. Although the 61-year-old had an uninspired spell in charge just over a decade ago, which culminated in the failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, there was no other obvious place to turn once Bert van Marwijk slunk away. Guus Hiddink, Frank Rijkaard, Dick Advocaat and Marco van Basten have all had a turn over the past few years. Van Gaal brings a record of having produced winning teams at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, so there is no reason to assume he cannot break what is currently a losing habit. "We at the Oranje are really working for a new start," said Urby Emanuelson.
There were few objections to Van Gaal's appointment. He has far more natural authority than his predecessor – if he fixes you with one of his hardest stares he has the capacity to make you wish the floor would open up and eat you up – and that toughness, that bristly side to his character, is bound to have an effect on the team. He may well ruffle some feathers.
Already Van Gaal has proved he is not afraid to make big decisions, irrespective of the status of the players concerned. Some important personalities have been excluded from this squad (Rafael van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong, Ibrahim Afellay and Gregory van der Wiel), but with the caveat that Van Gaal does not think they are prepared enough to take part this time. "They have not played much and are busy with transfers. You have to be fit in order to perform well and these guys have not played enough. The door is still open for them, though," he explained. So far, so reasonable, even if it is brave to leave aside four key members of the squad.
Unsurprisingly, not everybody took it well. "I am fully match fit and really wanted to be part of the team for the match against Turkey. It's very disappointing," mused Van der Vaart.
But the most important choice Van Gaal has made so far has been to back Huntelaar as his preferred striker ahead of Robin van Persie. Arguably he was a little premature and would have got away with hedging his bets for a while, but that is not his style. Before the start of the season, favouring Huntelaar was perceived as entirely reasonable. Van Persie has struggled to excel for the national team. But the choice seems a less straightforward one now that Van Persie is showing off his wares at Manchester United and looking every inch the man in form.
If Van Gaal can find a solution that keeps both Van Persie and Huntelaar firing for the national team – and without any evidence of any sour faces – it will go a long way to convincing people that the Dutch can rebuild.
Van Gaal will introduce some new blood, and – it is hoped – some fresh optimism.