Time to shine: The comeback of eredivise football

When the stadium lights in Groningen were turned off on Sunday, 8 March, the person who threw the switch may not have realized how metaphorical that simple action would be. Having just lost to PSV, FC Groningen would be the final host for the 2019/20 Dutch Eredivisie season. The Dutch Eredivisie would be shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be 189 days until the next competition match could take place. Ironically, it would also be FC Groningen that would be the source of hope for a new season.

At the top of the table, four teams separated themselves from the rest during the voided Eredivisie season. Usual suspects Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord were joined by surprise contenders AZ at the top of the ladder. Ajax ended the shortened campaign in first although Alkmaar’s AZ would beg to differ as to who had the best papers for European football. Despite some important departures, notably Hakim Ziyech and Donny van der Beek, Ajax have consistently replenished their squad with new talent, so it’s no surprise to see them as favorites for the 2020/21 title. Erik ten Hag’s side will look to newcomers such as the Brazilian Anthony to see Ajax lifting the Eredivisie trophy once again after what we all hope will be a complete season.

PSV are the most likely challengers for the title. German Roger Schmidt has since been appointed as manager, and Eindhoven side welcome back some vital players back from injury, enhancing their title hopes. The 53-year-old Schmidt arrives with 16 years managerial experience across Germany, Austria and more-recently China. He is known for his fluid, slick attacking style which should fit PSV’s squad perfectly. The Eindhoven team have secured the services of Philipp Max to fill a hole left by left-back Ricardo Rodriguez.

AZ’s youthful side were surprising challengers before the premature end of the Eredivisie season. They were extremely stingy at the back, conceding few chances. Calvin Stengs, Oussama Idrissi and Myron Boadu all remain at the club, so it’s unlikely AZ’s attacking game will see any decline. Last season, they were tied on top on points with Ajax and looked the more likely to win the title before the KNVB made the decision to end the season. The disappointment cannot hold them back and if they can keep the core of their squad in place – they could push Ajax and company to the limit once again.

When Feyenoord Rotterdam hired Dick Advocaat in late October 2019, it’s fair to say it wasn’t an appointment that thrilled the supporters. However, by the early end of the season, he had made them the Eredivisie’s in-form side, losing just one of his 22 games in charge. Feyenoord gave ‘The Little General’ a one-year extension in April, and he immediately began preparing his side for the 20/21 season – one which will surely be his last as a manager.

FC Utrecht are the best of the rest. Since the turn of the new century, Utrecht have only been in the top four once, in 2016/17 under Erik ten Hag but the years since have been stable despite a constant change in head coaches. Jean-Paul de Jong lead Utrecht to a fifth-place finish in 2017/18, then handed the baton to Dick Advocaat who finished sixth and then current head coach John van den Brom booked another sixth position in the 2019-20 Covid-shortened season. As always in Utrecht, expectations are high this season, as they aim to go one better and break into the top four but more like they will finish mid-table alongside the likes of Heerenveen, Vitesse and Willem II.

At the lower end of the table, RKC Waalwijk and ADO Den Haag could count themselves very lucky to have avoided being dropped last season, when no promotion/relegation between the Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie was confirmed soon after the league’s abandonment. Unsurprisingly, both sides are expected to struggle in the upcoming campaign, starting as favorites for relegation. Fortuna Sittard are another team that look sure to suffer this season having put up discouraging numbers in 2019/20, while FC Emmen, PEC Zwolle and VVV Venlo may be dragged into a relegation fight after mid-table finishes last season. Sparta Rotterdam and Heracles Almelo should be too good to be in danger of the drop.

Looking to a likely winner of the scoring competition, Cyriel Dessers and Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord) topped the scoring charts in the 2019/20 Eredivisie season, grabbing 15 goals each in a what was a close race prior to the campaign being cut short. Dessers has since moved away from Dutch Football and almost half of Berghuis’s goals came from the penalty spot, meaning a new name lifting the golden boot is likely.

Meanwhile, the team that turned the lights out on the 2019/20 season, FC Groningen, has managed to capture a lot of the spotlight for the upcoming season. Earlier this year, the team announced that footy superstar Arjen Robben would return to the team where his stellar career began to show his support for his old club in these difficult times. It was a story that captured the imagination of football fans throughout the country and in fact the footy world. No matter what comes of it, the gesture is a lovely reminder of how the beautiful game can shine brightly.

Written by John Mahnen