The good, the bad and the Eredivisie

How bad is the Dutch league?

It’s a question various punters and thinkers have been mooching over in cyberspace’s most cavernous recesses.The evidence that the Eredivisie is as dire as Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol is so scanty that even James Woods’ superheroic prosecutor Shark would struggle to persuade a jury.In essence, it rests on two premises:1. Many Eredivisie teams are so rubbish Ajax and PSV can run up cricket scores against them.2. Because of this, Ajax and PSV, accustomed to playing only a handful of truly competitive games a season, stumble in Europe. PSV’s glorious run to the 2005 UEFA Champions League semi-finals already seems to belong to a bygone era. That’s one problem with football today. The hype is so unremitting that time – especially remembered time – is being accelerated.

Last gasp Ambrosini header sends Milan, not PSV, into CL final

The first point is actually true and should be borne in mind by any scout inclined to recommend the expensive purchase of an Eredivisie striker. Okay, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Romario and Ronaldo all came good, but there is always the risk that you’re buying the new Mateja Kezman. In 10 out of 17 league home games last season, Ajax scored four or more goals. In four of those matches in the Amsterdam Arena, they put five or six past their hapless opponents. They weren’t as consistently free-scoring on the road but they made up for that by humbling De Graafschap 8-1. That wasn’t even the widest margin of victory: Heerenveen beat Heracles 9-0 last October with Afonso Alves scoring seven. Alves has since moved to Middlesbrough where he has proved especially prolific against teams from Manchester. If the Brazilian striker played United and City week in week out - on last season’s form - he’d average 95 goals a season.

The goalscoring madness didn’t even end there. Heerenveen also beat Vitesse 7-0. Utrecht scored seven (against Sparta Rotterdam), while Feyenoord, Sparta Rotterdam and Willem II bagged six in a game and Groningen, Heracles, NEC, PSV and Roda all ran up five goals in a match. 

Alves spanks home another for Heerenveen The second point is also true. Ajax didn’t even make it to the qualifying rounds of the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League (knocked out by FC Twente before Macca arrived with his imperfect Dutch accent) while PSV have, post-Hiddink, done well if they reach the last eight. But you know what? I don’t care. Stuff the purists. In my sadder days, the highlight of my weekend was the Sunday afternoon massacre when, live on Sky Sports (as it was then), Rangers or Celtic would thoroughly demolish a minnow from the SPL. And this season I’ll be tuning in, whenever the conclusion of successful domestic diplomatic negotiations over TV access allows, to watch Marco van Basten’s Ajax in the fervent hope they play more like the brilliant Oranje of the Euro 2008 group stages than the dismal Oranje of the 2006 World Cup.

Van Basten: Hoping to bring the good times back to Ajax 

Ajax averaged a mere 2.76 goals a game last season. At home, that average soared to 3.35.Which, to me, is kind of the point. Every year, Richard Keys and his army of cohorts bill the Premier League as the best in the world. But wouldn’t life be more enjoyable if England had the most entertaining league in the world.In Europe, it’s hard to beat the Eredivisie (although the Bundesliga runs it close) for sheer fun. Ligue 1, where often nothing happens in the first 20 minutes of a game (and by nothing I mean no shots, no corners, no discernible attempts to score a goal) should pay heed.“Give the people something to enjoy” was Sir Matt Busby’s motto.

In a game increasingly vexed by stupid, megalomaniacal tycoons, hysterical tabloid exclusives and the economic imperative to win, Busby’s maxim may be the game’s best hope of avoiding death by hype.