After winning last season's Eredivisie title, FC Twente must learn to cope with the unique pressure of being champions when the new campaign gets under way in the Netherlands.
Twente's title trimph was a historic event and not only because it was the first for 'De Tukkers'. With the Enschede outfit succeeding AZ Alkmaar as champions, it was also the first time in over 50 years that two teams from outside Dutch football's traditional top three had celebrated successive titles, since DOS Utrecht and Sparta Rotterdam took the crown in 1958 and 1959.
This may represent a wind of change through Dutch football but it remains to be seen how long it can last, particularly given Twente must deal with two key summer departures. Coach Steve McClaren left for VfL Wolfsburg and was replaced by Michel Preud'homme, while captain and striker Blaise Nkufo moved to MLS side Seattle Sounders, having scored 114 goals in 223 Eredivisie matches for Twente. The man charged with filling his boots is Marc Janko, an Austrian forward who hit 75 goals in 108 Bundesliga outings for FC Salzburg.
Twente's players have to cope with another change according to new coach Preud'homme – namely the potential burden of being the team to beat. "Our opponents will be more motivated as they're now playing against the champions," said the Belgian. "For the players that is a new experience, and they have to learn to live with the label of champions. Our job is to drawn strength from last season's title, instead of it being a burden." Preud'homme's pedigree augurs well at least – he led R. Standard de Liège to the Belgian title in 2008 and KAA Gent to the Belgian Cup and second place in the league last term.
After the success of AZ and Twente, it is AFC Ajax of the traditional powers who look best-equipped to reassert their authority, having finished only a point off the top in 2009/10. Coach Martin Jol strengthened his attack by signing Mounir El Hamdaoui from AZ, meaning they now have the 2009 Eredivisie top scorer alongside last season's leading marksman Luis Suárez in a potentially formidable attack. Jol, who resisted the overtures of English side Fulham FC to remain at Ajax, said: "I came here last summer to be successful, build a good team and have fun. And those three things are also important for me this season. Exciting times await Ajax."
As for PSV Eindhoven, third last term, they have strengthened in attack with the arrivals of Jeremain Lens and Marcus Berg, from AZ and Hamburger SV respectively. Coach Fred Rutten believes his side will be strong enough to battle on three fronts. "With the experience we have and the development we are going through, we'll raise the bar. Our goal is still the same. We want to be involved in every competition for as long as possible, and try to win them in the end." Other teams who will hope to push on this season, if not for honours then at least for Europe, are AZ, Feyenoord, FC Groningen, SC Heerenveen, Heracles Almelo and FC Utrecht.
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