Jump directly to the content

News Corp is a network of leading companies in the worlds of diversified media, news, education, and information services.

DREAM TEAM

Your Sun

A News UK Company
TOP
DUTCH COURAGE

Remembering the season Real Madrid boasted all the best Dutch players on the planet

The likes of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart were all on the books at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The conveyor belt that is Real Madrid’s Galactico-orientated transfer system has seen some sensational names come and go at the Santiago Bernabeu since the turn of the millennium.

Florentino Perez’s two reigns as president in the Spanish capital have seen the world transfer record smashed time and time again.

But during his three-year absence from the helm between 2006 and 2009, when Ramon Calderon was in the hotseat, a strange phenomenon occurred at Real.

Calderon was a divisive president

Reuters
7
Calderon was a divisive president

Calderon and his right-hand man Predrag Mijatovic set about turning Spain’s great club a new colour – orange.

That’s because in just over two years, six Dutch players arrived at the Bernabeu as part of a Netherlands-flavoured revolution.

Which Dutch stars were brought in?

At one point in the 2008/09 season, Real had Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Royston Drenthe all on their books with ultimately very contrasting fortunes.

Van der Vaart’s left foot was one of the best in the game

Reuters
7
Van der Vaart’s left foot was one of the best in the game

Huntelaar was the last to arrive in January 2009; signed from Ajax to add goals to the Real frontline in their bid to catch Barcelona in La Liga.

Did the Dutch ploy work?

Initially, yes.

In the previous season, four of the six –  excluding Van der Vaart and Huntelaar – were key or peripheral members of a squad that went onto win La Liga comfortably.

Robben seemed to improve as his hairline receeded

Reuters
7
Robben seemed to improve as his hairline receeded

Under Bernd Schuster, Los Blancos finished nine points clear of closest rivals Villarreal with an out-of-sorts Barcelona a distant third.

Where and when did it start going wrong?

The face of the man who changed the landscape in Spain

Reuters
7
The face of the man who changed the landscape in Spain

That sizeable gap between the sides signalled time for change in Catalonia and the arrival of Pep Guardiola flipped everything upside down.

In the 2008/09 season, Barcelona turned the tables on their great rivals, battering them 6-2 at the Bernabeu in May which ultimately ended the title race and resulted in a final nine point cushion.

The Dutch players experienced mixed campaigns.

Both Van Nistelrooy (10 goals) and Huntelaar (8 goals) were rotated in attack with Raul and Gonzalo Higuain preferred, but still managed better than one-in-two goal ratios.

Huntelaar struggled to dislodge Raul from the starting line up

Reuters
7
Huntelaar struggled to dislodge Raul from the starting line up

Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Robben were the side’s main creative forces but lacked the star quality that say a Cristiano Ronaldo could consistently offer.

Real were dumped unceremoniously out of the Champions League and Copa del Rey by Liverpool and minnows Real Union respectively while that embarrassing defeat to Barca capped a vastly underwhelming season.

When and why did the Dutch era come to an end?

Mega-money moves for Ronaldo and Kaka ultimately needed to be funded somehow, so the Dutch contingent were effectively all transfer listed.

Strangely enough, Van Nistelrooy in June 2009 urged all of his international compatriots to leave with one exception: himself.

Van Nistelrooy was evidently selfish on and off the pitch

AP:Associated Press
7
Van Nistelrooy was evidently selfish on and off the pitch

Calderon’s departure paved the way for Perez’s return, which in turn catalysed the Dutch dismantlement.

Instead Portuguese players and staff where prioritised in preparation for the arrival of Jose Mourinho, with Ronaldo, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho and Fabio Coentrao all new signings.

In hindsight, was it wise?

In reality none of the Dutch six will be remembered that fondly in Madrid.

Robben, Sneijder and Van der Vaart all went onto enhance their careers after their departures while Van Nistelrooy was in his twilight years during his spell there.

Sneijder went onto bigger and better things at Inter Milan

AP:Associated Press
7
Sneijder went onto bigger and better things at Inter Milan

Huntelaar’s move to the Bernabeu proved a step too far for his ability while Drenthe was at Reading just a year later and retired by the age of 29.

On paper it should have worked, but on reflection Guardiola’s instant impact at Barcelona exposed its flaws.

You can pre-register for Dream Team’s fantasy football game below…