Holland have reached their first World Cup final since the the 1970s, when they won the hearts of many football fans across the globe for their exciting, revolutionary ‘Total Football’ system. There has been much discussion about the nature of Bert van Marwijk’s current Dutch side – it certainly isn’t Total Football, but is it even typically Dutch? Raphael Honigstein wrote an interesting piece before their semi-final with Uruguay on this subject, concluding, “It’s high time the old stereotypes were ditched, regardless of the result. Dutch football itself already did it a while back. Maybe the rest of the world should follow suit.”
The Dutch have won every World Cup game so far, but their progress to the semifinal has been accompanied by very somber tones in the international media. Many pieces have read like full-blown obituaries: "Total Football," the famous free-flowing, attacking philosophy of the Oranjes, is dead, they say, replaced by an ugly, win-at-all-costs mentality epitomized by serial agitator and all-around bad guy Mark van Bommel. The class of 2010 compares unfavorably with that of 2008, many say, too, because coach Bert van Marwijk has curbed the offensive instincts of the Marco van Basten-led side that destroyed France and Italy with the best football of the competition in the European championship.
If you put this theory to the players themselves, they're mildly amused. Van Bommel (who plays for the German club Bayern Munich) agrees that this "Elftal" has more of a destructive, defensive capacity than its predecessors, and his partner in front of the back line, Nigel de Jong (who played for Hamburg before joining Manchester City in January 2009), has admitted to being influenced by the organizational emphasis of the Bundesliga. "We have learned that you have to keep a clean sheet, first of all," the 25-year-old de Jong said.
But this sense of realism should not be confused with a radical departure or even a betrayal of the grand Dutch tradition. It's always been there, to greater or lesser extent, over the course of the last 30 years. Mourning the demise of "Total Voetbal" these days makes as much sense as lamenting the switch from black and white to color television or the disappearance of horse carriages from city centers. The Dutch moved on decades ago. Most casual observers have simply been too lazy to notice it.