A look at the greatest players from the Netherlands illustrious footballing history, in no particular order.
Superb attacking talent who could play either as a right winger or as a striker. Rep's professional career started with Ajax in 1971 and by the time of the 1974 World Cup he’d already won two Eredivisie titles and two European Cup. His form going into that World Cup saw him become a key part of the side that thrilled the world and came so close to lifting the trophy. With Cruyff not playing in Argentina in 1978 he was even more important, and had another fine tournament as Holland again finished runners-up.
At club level Rep left Ajax in 1975 and spent eight seasons in Europe, continuing to score and create goals at Valencia, Bastia and Saint-Étienne, with whom he’d win the title in 1981 alongside Michel Platini.
Another legendary Dutch player who doesn’t get the wider acclaim that he deserves.
Nicknamed “de Kromme" (the crooked), a reference to his bandy legs, Van Hanegem was a fantastic left-footed midfielder, renowned for his vision and passing ability. A Feyenoord legend having played with the club for ten years over two spells at De Kuip. His main spell there, in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, was a golden period for the club, and saw Van Hanegem help them to win three Eredivisie titles, a European Cup and a UEFA Cup.
In the 1974 World Cup he would line up on the left side of midfield in the 4-3-3 formation, with Rensenbrink on the left side of attack ahead of him. In the national team, he was part of a fantastic midfield alongside the likes of Feyenoord team-mate Wim Jansen and Johan Neeskens. Whilst the attacking players such as Cruyff, Rep and Rensenbrink would get most of the plaudits, it was the likes of Van Hanegem who were helping make the team tick.
What a player, and what a perfect team-mate for the likes of Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit. Whilst they tended to get the headlines with their goals and flair, Rijkaard was quietly going about his business behind them, making central midfield or defensive roles look like a walk in the park! Rijkaard must’ve been a dream for his managers, they could almost give him any role or task and he would do it, his versatility was such an asset for every team he played in. Whilst his strength and tackling saw him become best known as a defensive midfielder, he was surprisingly elegant too, and he was technical enough to play his part in more advanced roles, whilst his relentless energy meant that he could play as a box to box midfielder if need be. Rijkaard was rewarded with a fantastic career with both Ajax and Milan, winning league titles and European Cups with both teams, whilst he was also a key part of the Dutch team that lifted their first international trophy when they won Euro ‘88.
The first superstar of Dutch football, Faas Wilkes made a name for himself at Xerxes Rotterdam just after the 2nd World War, his 49 goals in just 71 matches alerting Italian giants Inter Milan who then brought him to Serie A. His game wasn’t just about goals though, Wilkes had a great range of skill, particularly his dribbling and was extremely creative for his teammates too. His own goals kept on coming though, and he averaged a goal every other game for Inter during his three seasons at the Sam Siro before moving to Torino and then Valencia. His goalscoring continued at international level too, his time with the national team saw him score 35 goals in just 38 games, an incredible scoring rate that made him the top goalscorer for the Netherlands right up until 1998. It should be noted that Wilkes was actually unable to play for the national team for six years during his career because his move abroad as a professional player prevented him playing for the national team!
One of football’s greatest defenders in the 1970s, Ruud Krol was a perfect fit for the Total Football of both Ajax and the national team, his intelligence, versatility and ability to contribute in both defence and attack meant he was a crucial part of both teams. He played primarily as a left back, such as in the 1974 World Cup final, but could play in any defensive position and also in midfield. At the 1978 World Cup he captained the Netherlands to the final, this time playing as sweeper, but just missed out on lifting the trophy as the hosts beat them in extra-time.
A one club man for Ajax from 1961 to 1974, Keizer’s exploits for the club are often overlooked by the English-speaking media in favour of Johann Cruyff. Yet Keizer’s contribution to the golden age of the club was phenomenal, his performances on the left wing devastating, terrorising defences with his dribbling and dangerous crosses with that sweet left foot of his. He also weighed in with more than his fair share of goals, scoring nearly 150 goals in his 13 years, not bad for a winger.
Whilst Ajax had there own legendary left winger in the 1960s and 1970s in Piet Keizer, their fierce rivals Feyenoord had their own - Coen Moulijn. His skill on the ball saw him likened to other legendary wingers, such as Garrincha and Stanley Matthews, and it was often said that for pure individual skill he was probably more blessed than even Cruyff. In his 17 years at De Kuip, he would help Feyenoord to five Eredivisie titles and also play in the club’s finest moment- beating Celtic in the final of the 1970 European Cup.