LONDON (Reuters) - There has been much soul-searching in the Netherlands since they failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup with many predicting the production line of Dutch talent has ground to a halt.
Former Ballon D’or winner Ruud Gullit does not subscribe to that theory but fears the obsession with plastic pitches in the Netherlands poses a grave threat to their chances of a revival.
Plastic pitches are frowned upon in Europe’s top leagues but six clubs in the Eredivisie — Heracles Almelo, PEC Zwolle, Excelsior, ADO Den Haag, Roda JC and Sparta Rotterdam — play on fully artificial surfaces.
Gullit believes it is time to rip them up before they do lasting damage to Dutch football.
“I’ve said all along we can’t have these pitches but in Holland they were promoting it,” the former Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven, AC Milan and Chelsea midfielder told Reuters at the Esports Insider Super Forum at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.
“The people who were promoting it had an interest in it and are now on the board of the KNVB (Dutch soccer federation). Now we know it’s ridiculous but to reverse it will be a difficult.
“We’ve gone backwards. It’s destroyed our football. It’s a different game, totally different. If (every league) played on plastic I would accept it but we have six in the Eredivisie and it’s outrageous.
“Now we are finding that players don’t want to come and play in Holland because of it and young players want to leave.”
“All the youth teams should play on real grass. The crazy thing if you want good natural grass, Holland is the place to come. We have the best natural turf in the world!”
Gullit was assistant manager to Dick Advocaat last year when the Dutch failed to qualify for their second successive major finals having also missed Euro 2016.
The three-times World Cup runners-up and 1988 European champions will host England on Friday not in anticipation of a glorious summer but seeking signs of recovery under new manager Ronald Koeman.
“Don’t forget we reached the final in South Africa (2010) and were third in Brazil (2014) so as a small country we can still be very proud,” Gullit said.
“It goes in waves. England qualified and congratulations to them. I think Holland are lacking the (Robin) Van Persie’s the (Wesley) Schneiders the (Arjen) Robbens coming through, those exceptional talents, but it will come back.
“One of the problems is the young talents can go to Premier League academies when if they stayed in Holland they would get first-team football. The captain of Ajax is 18.”
While the Dutch are in a slump Gullit, who managed Chelsea and Newcastle United, believes England have the talent to go a long way in the World Cup, but says exhaustion will undermine their chances of making a big impression.
“I don’t think they can win it,” he said. “They will be exhausted. They play such a tough schedule in England.
“I think they have a better chance in Qatar in four years because it will be in November which is when English players are fittest and at their maximum. But in Russia it will be hard.
“The problem is that after a long, hard season it’s so hard to re-boot and re-charge for the World Cup. It’s a mental and physical thing. I think that’s why you’ve not seen any of the big stars really producing at the World Cup since the 1990s.
“Nobody, not even Ronaldo or Messi, is at their best at the World Cup. You want it but your body says it needs some rest.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond