Three successive major tournament finals and only the third team to win successive World Cup titles after Italy (1934 & 1938) and Brazil (1958 & 1962). What do you mean the Netherlands haven’t done that?
Oh, that’s because this is Championship Manager 01/02.
The Netherlands had usurped France and Brazil as the dominant world forces of international football for one simple reason: between 2006 and 2010 very little teams knew how to cope with playing a five at the back. The system was ever changing but the majority of the shape and fundamentals stayed the same in the intervening four years. Just Andy van der Meyde and Mark van Bommel stood the test of time throughout the three tournaments.
Sander Westerveld and Erwin Kerkhof were the rocks that didn’t face much of a hammering as they were often well hidden by a structurally sound defence. Niels Kamphuis before Theo Lucius would both be marauding right-backs as was expected of Gio van Bronckhorst and Wilfried Bouma on the opposite wing-back flank.
Centre halves such as Kevin Hofland and Jonny Heitinga were given license to come out of the defence with the ball and sit alongside Mark van Bommel at times in a defensive midfield pairing against weaker teams. Two centre backs either side of the ball playing centre half would act as the last line of defence. Jaap Stam and Danny Mathijssen were most effective at this, in a positional sense.
Andy van der Meyde, although utilised in a right-wing role in his club career for Ajax, was used centrally, preferred to Rafael van der Vaart who was more equipped to play centrally. The aforementioned Mark van Bommel was the no-nonsense anchor man in front of the defence who oversaw the entire situation.
Van der Meyde was preferred over his Ajax for his great work ethic and faster pace, allowing him to shuttle both vertically and horizontally. Especially in the 2006 World Cup winning campaign and in Euro 2008, he was used more as a roaming playmaker before being more of a strict deep-lying midfielder in the 2010 World Cup as Netherlands opted for a strikerless formation.
Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and, more recently, Jannes Wolters would sit slightly deeper than Van der Meyde, almost alongside van Bommel, replacing the more attacking centre half when the Dutch were in possession of the ball. Without the ball, van der Meyde was given more license to press as his centre midfield partner would push into a deep defensive midfield role.
Up front is where the majority of the changes happened for the Netherlands over the course of the four years. In 2006, Marc Overmars played slightly off the talismanic Patrick Kluivert who netted seven times despite being suspended for one game. Kluivert would score the winning goal in the final, being used as more of a poacher with Overmars drifting between Davids and Kluivert, supplying the Barcelona forward.
It was a deadly partnership, so deadly that Ruud van Nistelrooy – who had won three Champions League titles in four years with Manchester United, scoring over 40 goals in Europe in that period – would be consigned to the bench. Upon Overmars’ retirement after the 2006 World Cup, he would be favoured alongside Arnold Bruggink in more of an outright attacking partnership.
The old PSV partnership was a lot more static than the partnerships used either side of the Euro 2008 tournament. Netherlands would score 7 in 6 games throughout the tournament and eventually would fall to Italy on penalties in the final. Van Nistelrooy scored 3 of those goals with Bruggink failing to register. Netherlands would keep plenty of clean sheets but would also fail to create, with Van der Meyde misfiring.
Arjen Robben and Youssouf Hersi took over for the 2010 tournament, playing in more of a strikeless formation, giving Van der Meyde more of a backseat in a flat midfield three. Netherlands conceded one goal all tournament whilst sneaked their way to three successive 1-0 wins in the knockout stage. The problem was that Robben and Hersi weren’t as deadly in front of goal as a Kluivert or a van Nistelrooy and the stoic defensive work of the back five helped them massively at the World Cup.
It was only fitting that both ever-presents for the three campaigns both scored in the shootout win, with Mark van Bommel scoring the penalty that won Netherlands their second World Cup.