2019/20 Eredivisie Preview
Background photo: PMK58, CC BY-SA 4.0
Just over 50 years ago, Dutch football was Europe’s crown jewel. The Eredivisie rose again in the 90s when Louis van Gaal guided Ajax to a Champions League title and Johan Cruijff laid the foundation for Barcelona to become the most prolific team in the new millennium.
As usual, Ajax is at the fore of the latest Dutch Renaissance. It’s easy to forget the Godenzonen were Europa League finalists three seasons ago. Last season’s exploits block out the memory like the sun emerging from behind a cloud bank. In Erik ten Hag’s first full campaign, the Lancers ended their five-year title drought, did the domestic double, stunned Real Madrid and Juventus on the way to the Champions League semifinal and gave the world two of the brightest talents to come along in a generation.
With Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt off to Barcelona and Juventus, Ten Hag faces a stiff challenge to repeat that performance. There are some other Dutch clubs determined to prove the Eredivisie isn’t a one-trick pony. Let’s take a look at the tools Ten Hag still has in his locker and what the rest of the division can bring to bear.
A second lifeline in the relegation playoffs wasn’t enough to save Excelsior or De Graafschap. In truth, it wasn’t a shock for either. Both clubs have spent the 21st century bouncing back and forth between the Eerste and Eredivisie.
NAC Breda enjoyed a smoother ride through Dutch football, maintaining their place in the top flight until the 2014/15 season. Financial issues finally caught up to them and they dropped down to the second tier. They returned two seasons later but couldn’t gain much traction, finishing last in the just-completed campaign, missing the playoff safety net, and plummeting straight into the Eerste Division.
Each of the three exiles wishes to emulate Twente Enschede. Relegated in 2017/18 after 34 years in the Eredivisie, the 2009/10 champions [under Steve McClaren] returned at the first asking by winning the Eerste Division title. The game plan? Stay up for at least 35 this time.
Joining the Tukkers in the top flight are Sparta Rotterdam and RKC Waalwijk. Sparta were perennial Eredivisie participants, direct rivals with Feyenoord until Frank Rijkaard took the reins in 2002/03. After the Castle Lords went down under his leadership, Rijkaard was appointed Barcelona boss and guided the Blaugrana to Champions League glory over Arsenal. Only in football.
After raking in €160 million combined for De Jong and De Ligt, not to mention another €21 for four other players, Ajax took it easy on their rivals, reinvesting less than a third [€58 million] of their proceeds.
The key acquisitions include making Quincy Promes’ loan deal from Sevilla permanent, signing three defenders [Edson Alvarez/Club America, Razvan Marin/Standard Liege, Kik Piere/Heerenveen] to bolster the defence and adding Argentine Lisandro Martinez to the midfield.
Given that financial muscle isn’t that prevalent in Dutch football where only seven Eredivisie clubs field squads whose average player valuation is over €1 million and Ajax [€11.4 million per] are the only ones to reach eight digits, previous champions PSV Eindhoven were the only club to rival the Lancers’ financial commitment.
Mark van Bommel’s side comes in at €7.8 million per player on average. De Boeren purchased RB Leipzig winger Bruma  for €15 million and Stuttgart defender Timo Baumgartl  for €10 million to aid in their mission to recover the Eredivisie crown. The club also added 33-year-old winger Ibrahim Afellay. The 2010 World Cup wunderkind had been well-travelled after failing to catch on at Barcelona but spent six months without a club when released by Stoke last January.
The other two title contenders, Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar both signed new managers this summer. Arne Slot replaces John van den Brom who left AZ to take charge at Utrecht. Feyenoord were caught by surprise when Giovanni van Bronckhorst decided to leave Rotterdam after four years in charge. The 44-year-old had restored hope at De Kuip. Ex-Manchester United defender and Reading manager Jaap Stam hopes to make it a seamless transition. On the bright side, Feyenoord adds four new players, including Swansea duo Leroy Fer and Luciano Narsingh, all on free transfers. Stam made sure former Royals midfielder Liam Kelly was among the group.
AZ wasn’t as active, preferring to focus on promoting from their academy. The Cheeseheads [!] pipped Feyenoord to Southampton midfielder Jordy Clasie who signed on a free after spending last term on loan at De Kuip.
Money talks and empty wallets walk. As the richest Dutch club by far and now also the best run thanks to chairman Edwin van der Sar, Ajax must be considered favourites to keep their freshly won title despite losing two generational stars in the market.
PSV spent to mount a challenge but also lost Luuk de Jong’s joint-league-leading 28 goals to Sevilla while Ajax still have Dusan Tadic who matched that total.
Feyenoord simply doesn’t have the clout to start on level terms with the league’s other two giants. Jaap Stam can get any team to play for him but he’ll sorely miss Robin van Persie’s 16 goals and influence in the clubhouse. While a positive strategist, Stam’s tactical nous must be questioned. It can be argued he disappointed with PEC Zwolle last season. Finishing 13th with a team whose squad value ranks in the league’s upper half isn’t inspiring.
AZ? They simply don’t have the horses.
At the other end, three clubs will be put to the test.
Newly promoted Waalwijk are easily the Eredivisie’s paupers. The club signed five players on free transfers and took a sixth on loan from Anderlecht. The most experienced of the lot is centre-back Lars Nieuwpoort  who arrives from demoted De Graafschap. Their future is grim and the best thing that can be said about that is it’s also the manager’s name.
Recently promoted sides Emmen and Fortuna Sittard barely hung on in their debut Eredivisie campaigns. Neither can afford the investment necessary to consolidate their top-flight status. While Ajax and PSV battle it out to add to their already bursting trophy cabinets, these two will be scratching and clawing to stay out of the Eredivisie cellar.