Four times. We won it four times. And yet Roma—who have yet to lift club football’s most celebrated trophy—are in the semi-final while we watch the glorious competition that is the Champions League from the comfort of our living rooms. Now maybe you enjoy watching football in HD on your sofa, but we’re sure you’d much rather be taking a train across a border to watch our team in a European semi-final. To be honest, even a group match would do. And so, with just a few days of the season left, dare we hope for Champions League football after the World Cup? After all, it’s where we belong.
The truth of the matter is that Dutch football has taken a big hit in recent years. Our miserable World Cup qualifying campaign, topped off with poor results in Europe, means that we are now in the same position as leagues such as Ireland and Scotland, where even the champions now have to qualify for a place in the group stages. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but this does not mean that Dutch football is on the decline. We’ve got the history and the European pedigree (especially here at Ajax) to put the Netherlands back on the European footballing map.
The question is, can we really do it? Can the team keep a firm grip on second place and then navigate their way through the Champions League qualifiers? The answer is a resounding yes, but it’s not just the players who will have their role to play in making this happen. We have our part to play, too. Regardless of the poor performance that handed PSV the title, it’s time to get behind the team once again and help them get back to winning ways (and hopefully playing the likes of Real and Bayern once again).
This year’s other semi-finalists, Roma and Liverpool, should give us good reason for optimism. Both were unfancied teams at the start of the tournament, but five-time winners Liverpool are now the dark horses to make the final and possibly even win it. It’s an astounding turnaround from teams who both had their problems in the close season and the subsequent winter transfer window.
So, who’s to say that we can’t do the same? Who cares if we have to qualify for the group stages? That’s just one more away trip to enjoy and one more home game to roar the team on. We must keep hold of Matthijs de Ligt and Justin Kluivert, turn our noses up at the massive transfer fees Bayern and Barcelona will no doubt want to throw our way, and focus on becoming the European powerhouse that we once were. If we do this, we can be as good as any team in the world. We almost did it last year in the Europa League, and we need that belief once again.
Four times. We won it four times. Only five teams have won the European Cup more times than we have: Real Madrid, Milan, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Liverpool—European giants each and every one. Now it’s time for this sleeping giant to wake from its slumber and take its rightful place at the table of Europe’s elite. PSV can have their title; we already have four European Cups in the trophy cabinet. Let’s go for number five.
Image by Ron Kroon