The Netherlands have bowed out of Euro 2020 after a 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic in the last 16, a round or two prior to what many expected from them this summer.
The Oranje are brimming with both young talent and useful experience, despite the absence of Virgil van Dijk. They weren’t the favourites, but you’d definitely say they’re among the seven or eight best teams in Europe.
And hey, maybe if Matthijs de Ligt didn’t receive a red card for his combo foul on Patrik Schick and blatant handball, then we might not be discussing a premature exit. But that’s tournament football – there’s always a bit of luck and fortune/misfortune involved.
Barcelona-bound Memphis Depay and skipper Georginio Wijnaldum grabbed the headlines during the group stage as the Dutch sealed a perfect Group C record. But the youngsters also made a name for themselves, notably Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch.
The 19-year-old walked into midfield against Austria and North Macedonia and looked like a seasoned veteran, displaying a calmness and maturity that should be years beyond his game. With considerable speed and size about him too, you’d be forgiven for thinking Johan Cruyff had specifically designed Gravenberch as the ideal midfielder to play total football.
Of all the talk of modern midfielders needing to be ‘unlocked’ or ‘freed’, Gravenberch looks like the kind of player who needn’t be put in either bracket – he doesn’t need his hand held, but as he grows older, can almost certainly be the one to provide that help for others.
It’s no surprise that he’s been linked with a move to Liverpool as a possible replacement at club level for Wijnaldum. Jurgen Klopp has built a winning formula upon the base of midfielders who can do it all, who put in 8/10 performances every week. The chance for the German to nurture an already dependable player in Gravenberch must have Kopites licking their lips.
Frank de Boer could do little to legislate for De Ligt’s silly red card, but at least he knows going forward that even the next generation of Dutch superstars beyond the Juventus defender are capable of stepping up.
The Netherlands exited Euro 2020 with a whimper – Marten de Roon couldn’t get close to his Czech counterparts, Frenkie de Jong spent much of the match whining and complaining, and captain Wijnaldum – hailed for his Frank Lampard impressions in the group stage – was nowhere to be seen, completing just ten passes in 90 minutes.
The need for a player like Gravenberch is obvious, and the Dutch can count themselves lucky that they have a prototypical total footballer to build around for the 2020s and beyond.