mohamed moallim

Reinvented by de Boer, Ajax’s Daley Blind transforms into the ‘Dutch Lahm’

By Mohamed Moallim

Innovation swirls around Ajax like leaves, in the Vondelpark, on a blustery autumn’s day. “Almost every club tries to imitate them,” Aad de Mos, who managed them between 1980 and 1985, recently said. “But they are unique and two steps ahead [of their rivals].” What kept Ajax ahead of the game, and could do so again, is the education their footballers receive. One such individual is Daley Blind son of club legend Danny.

His impressive displays at left-back over the last eighteen months cemented his position as one of the most improved footballers in the Netherlands, but the last few months has seen him reinvent himself, moving into the heart of midfield where he continues to excel.

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Goalscorers don’t sit on benches and neither should Huntelaar

By Mohamed Moallim

It’s reached the point where Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is no longer frustrated; this summer will be his fourth successive tournament with Oranje, under a third different manager, but Huntelaar’s situation remains the same. If not for Robin van Persie he would be the undisputed Dutch ‘number nine’.

Huntelaar or Van Persie intensified during the build up to Euro 2012. It turned into a debate that divided the nation. The former came out on top in every newspaper poll; however the opinion that mattered belonged to then manager Bert van Marwijk, his decision was already made, opting for Van Persie, off the back of a breathless season in England even if Huntelaar matched him stride for stride in Germany.

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Luuk de Jong, Huntelaar and Dost represent the evolution of the Dutch number 9

By Mohamed Moallim

It’s strange, in a sort of good way, how a song can remind you of someone, their image instantly etched into your mind. "The Saints Are Coming" (Green Day/U2 version), is one example, the goal music at De Grolsch Veste – home of FC Twente – now forever associated with Luuk de Jong, largely responsible for many of its airing last season, now plying his trade in Germany he’s hoping for a similar amount of encore performances.

His departure last summer, along with Bas Dost who moved from Heerenveen to Wolfsburg, confirmed the long-held view: one of the Netherlands chief exports is ‘number nines’. Both are the latest in a long line of Dutch strikers, a lineage as decorated as Italian defenders, but what excites most onlookers is not their records (which speaks for itself) but their gradual evolution: getting better, more uncanny in front of goal, both – notably De Jong – determined to be become renowned for scoring in the unlikeliest of situations. Ultimately to attain the title of number nine par excellence.

After conquering the Eredivisie a logical step would be the Bundesliga. A league equally synonymous with great strikers: Gerd Müller, Uwe Seeler, Klaus Fischer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to name but a few. Those illustrious figures of the past serve as a inspiration just like compatriots Henk Groot, Willy van der Kuijlen, Marco van Basten and Ruud Geels. On arrival it meant three Dutch numbers 9s in the same foreign league. The other, is already a household name and last season’s Bundesliga golden boot winner – first Dutch striker to do so – Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

As time move so do trends, today for most up-and-coming strikers Huntelaar is their reference. Though the striker many still attempt to emulate is Van Basten still held as a beacon, ultimate example of near perfection, technique and finesse intertwined in unadulterated ruthlessness.

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The Dynamic Danes continue to explode at Ajax

By Mohamed Moallim

Morten Olsen, national team coach of Denmark, can be forgiven if he decides to start shuttling between Copenhagen to Amsterdam on a regular basis. He would though have a very good reason. Ajax, where he won the double in his only full season before leaving unceremoniously, is again preying on his mind.

Outside his homeland no club other than Ajax boasts a larger Danish contingent, compatriots with pivotal roles, who aren’t just there to make up the numbers. 

Their 3-1 victory over PSV last Saturday was a testament, spearheaded by one of the most naturally gifted footballers to leave the land of Hamlet in recent years, Viktor Fischer.

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Vilhena ready for the next stage after emerging from Feyenoord's fountain of talent

By Mohamed Moallim

Ask a manager about the value of camaraderie and you could be there for a while. Ronald Koeman is no different, his situation unique to most, is common within the Netherlands, and even then it’s different. No better demonstration this season and explicitly in Feyenoord’s recent game against FC Twente. It would end goalless, but the headline was already written, one that embodies the clubs resurgence heavily characterised by a youthful feel.

When it comes to youth football the Rotterdammers are at the forefront, their academy Varkenoord – reinvigorated by club icon Wim Jansen first as manager then as technical advisor – been voted three years running as best in the Netherlands. It’s this coupled with talents given a chance at first team level – averaging seven graduates starting per game – that has eroded fears of losing them before a professional contract can be presented (see Karim Rekik and Nathan Aké). Those waiting to break through can look to the Twente game.

Koeman, who arrived in the summer of 2011 with reputation as a champion of youth development, started with four of the clubs brightest recent graduates: The Four Musketeers. It was their first ever appearance together; Jordy Clasie the most experienced, and Feyenoord’s metronome, flanked by wingers Jean-Paul Boëtius and Anass Achahbar and mercurial talent Tonny Vilhena alongside in midfield.

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The Best of Football Writing in 2013

This is the third year that The Best Football Writing list (2012, 2011) has come into existence. We’ve seen blogs come and go, as well as writers rise and get the recognition they deserve. 2013 was no exception, but the continued domination of social media in sport created a new landscape for writing. With a flood of information hitting us every day, it can be difficult to find the long reads amongst a pile of memes.

This year’s list was the hardest to compile, but there was hardly a shortage of quality writing. In fact, we were overwhelmed with tweets and emails recommending great writing in football. While we don’t know what’s in store in 2014, we’re proud to present The Best of Football Writing in 2013.

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