My Greatest Netherlands XI - Gary Thacker

For a greatest Netherlands XI we've turned to author and football journalist, Gary Thacker.

Gary writes and talks about football across a number of platforms and is a member of the Senior Management Team of These Football Times. Amongst the many footballing books that Gary has had published is the fantastic Beautiful Bridesmaids Dressed in Oranje: The Unfulfilled Glory of Dutch Football

So here Gary shares his greatest XI from the many legends who've graced those famous Oranje shirts...

4-3-3 Netherlands XI

The Starting XI (4-3-3)

GK: Edwin van der Sar

For all the footballing quality produced by the Netherlands over the years, the man between the sticks has always been a bit of a problem. The fact that Jan Jongbloed played in two World cups underscores the point. Dependable, rather than spectacular - and that's no bad thing for a goalkeeper - Van der Sar probably just edges out Jan van Beveren for me, but it was close.

RB: Wim Suurbier

Vastly underrated defender often lost in the shadows of the dazzlingly bright lights of the Ajax and Dutch national teams of the time, Suurbier was the ideal totaal voetbal defender. Comfortable on the ball and a real threat going forwards as well as being the iciest cool of defenders.

LB: Ruud Krol

A Rolls Royce of a footballer. Played as a full back for much of his career before seamlessly switching to a Libero position later. Silky skills tempered with more than enough physicality when required and an iron will to win. Truly exceptional talent.

CB: Barry Hulshoff

A man who scored no less than 6 goals in his 13 appearances for the Oranje, before being struck down by injury approaching his prime. His absence from the 1970 World cup team may well have been the key factor in the Dutch finishing as much loved runners-up, rather than the greatest team ever to win the world cup alongside Brazil in 1970.

CB: Rinus Israël

"Iron Rinus" also suffered cruel injuries and although he made a couple of substitute appearances in the 1970 World Cup, he was far from fully fit. The first captain of a Dutch team to lift the European Cup when one of his goals helped Feyenoord defeat Celtic in 1970.

DM: Johan Neeskens

The man who allowed Cruyff to play. The engine room of the team with a fuel tank that never seemed to register empty. And yet this key factor camouflages a talent and versatility probably unmatched at the time. As the final piece in Michels's Ajax jigsaw and later the same coach took him to Barcelona as well. No doubts as to why!

MF: Johan Cruyff

The man himself! Probably the best player I have ever seen in real life. Dancing feet, the acceleration of an F1 car and the intelligence to run a game off the cuff through the sheer weight of his personality and drive. Once described as Pythagoras in Boots, his waving, swaying runs leaving opponents trailing in his wake were a joy to behold.

MF: Willem van Hanegem

Very much the Yang to Cruyff's Yin. Not that there were elements of the ‘dark arts' in Van Hanegem's game, but his light was always shaded in the Dutch team by Cruyff. Yet, many Dutch fans of the time would laud his performances as being equal to, or often better than, Cruyff's. Together they made the perfect constructive midfield pairing. Not the pace of Cruyff, but the vision and ability to spot and exploit a defensive weakness was a rare talent. Could pass the ball through the eye of a needle and a much-underestimated goalscorer to boot.

LF: Rob Rensenbrink

Dutch football's Snakeman is another of those often underrated heroes in Oranje. Playing much of his career in Belgium and hauling trophies with Anderlecht, he missed out on the glories of Feyenoord and Ajax but shouldn't hide his talent. A scorer of big goals as well as lots of goals, but for a few millimetres he could have made the Dutch world champions in 1978.

CF: Marco van Basten

Another Dutch talent destroyed by injury. Some players are very much of their time and age. Not so with Van Basten. A player who shone so brightly in the 80s and 90s, his skill set would fit neatly into any of the top teams of today. 128 goals in 130 Eredivisie games for Ajax and 91 in 148 Serie A games speak for themselves.

RF: Dennis Bergkamp

Perhaps one of the few players of the modern era that would drop nicely into the Dutch teams of the early 1970s. A rare talent that coaxed the ball under his spell with effortless ease. His goal in the World cup against Argentina was like Ambrosia from the gods of Football.


GK: Jan van Beveren

Probably the most unlucky goalkeeper in the history of European international football. Despite being the best man between the sticks by a country mile in the Netherlands and one of the stop stoppers on the continent, he missed out on two World Cups and a European Championships due to the political machinations that haunted Dutch football at the time. Replace Jongbloed with him in the 1970 World cup Final and...

DF: Jaap Stam

A more untypical footballer would be hard to conceive, not that such a description demeans his ability. The sort of centre-back every successful team has. His time at Old Trafford marked him out as one of the best defenders in the world. The only player that Ferguson ever admits to regretting selling.

MF: Ruud Gullit and Arjen Robben

Two different players. One has power, poise and purpose. The all round ideal footballer who could play anywhere in an outfield position and deliver outstanding performances. Robben the was the knife, the stiletto delivering with searing pace.

LW: Robin van Persie

Modern day fans would perhaps consider him a shade unfortunate not to get into the first eleven, but being a reserve to Van Basten is an achievement not an insult. On his day he had it all, despite hardly having a towering physique. His diving header in the Brazil World Cup remains one of the iconic images of football.


Rinus Michels

Who else could it be? Well, Stefan Kovacs ran him very, very, close for me. With Michels being Dutch however, that swings it in his favour.

Beautiful Bridesmaids Dressed in Oranje book

This Netherlands XI was selected by Gary Thacker, the author of Beautiful Bridesmaids Dressed in Oranje: The Unfulfilled Glory of Dutch Football.

You can find Gary on Twitter and details of where to buy his book on Pitch Publishing: