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Despite their prolific record of producing young talented players, the Netherlands traditionally did not have much pedigree in international youth competitions – that has now changed.
UEFA European Under-17 Championship runners-up in 2005 and 2009, they broke their duck in the 2011 final in Serbia, winning 5-2 against a Germany side who were also their opponents 12 months later. It was a close affair, the Oranje prevailing in a penalty shoot-out in Slovenia. Now an unprecedented hat-trick is in their grasp, in May's finals in Slovakia, but first Albert Stuivenberg's side must negotiate this month's elite round.
Stuivenberg's recent squads have yielded the likes of Jeffrey Bruma, Daley Blind, Ricardo van Rhijn, Jordy Clasie and 2011 alumni Jetro Willems and Tonny Trindade de Vilhena for the senior side. As Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) technical manager, Mohammed Allach oversees their development. He spoke to UEFA.com about the importance of success in the U17 competition.
UEFA.com: What impact have the U17 victories had on football in the country?
Mohammed Allach: A big impact, a very positive impact. Everybody is very proud. We are a small country, with 16 million inhabitants. Compared to some of the big countries, I think we are doing very well. But you have to see it this way: football has made us really proud.
UEFA.com: What has been the key to the recent success?
Allach: That is not easy to explain. I think we have to go back to basics. Dutch football has been developing very well since the 70s and in the last 10-15 years, youth football has developed very well. There is much less emphasis on how the leagues should be, and more focus on getting the best players to compete with the best players and play alongside the best players. We have looked very closely at our academy, and how we educate coaches.
One thing that is very much underestimated is that we have a unique standard in terms of organised clubs. This means that we can make it possible for every child who wants to play football to do so.
Every talent has a platform to develop; they have access to good coaches and can play in good competitions. That's where you can lay foundations for the success of Dutch football.
UEFA.com: What do you wish players to take from these U17 tournaments?
Allach: First it is very important that our players are faced with and get to know international games. They play against other countries, with different visions, and a different style, and a different mentality. I think it's very good to get a taste of different cultures, that the real boundaries disappear and that we allow our players to get these experiences.
The other side of this story is: they can measure themselves. As a rule, these competitions, qualifying matches and tournaments are harder for these players than their regular leagues. For us it is very important that our players get some experience at the highest level.
UEFA.com: How important is it for youth teams to replicate the style we see from the Netherlands at U21 and senior level?
Allach: Well, there is a very clear vision behind that. We have a very clear style of football, and we're developing it as well. We educate our coaches accordingly.
We believe that with Dutch football, we always have to base things on our culturally determined football vision. That's 'holy' for us, and we connect certain core values to it.
We always want to play dominantly, and take the initiative. And we want to play attacking football. For us, that is the only way to distinguish ourselves. Again, we are a small country, so we have to avoid ending up in the grey mid-table area, and we have to promote our own ways as much as possible. Only then will we have a bigger long-term chance on an international level.
UEFA.com: How have you seen improvements in the likes of U17 winners Kyle Ebecilio and Nathan Ake, for example?
Allach: I noticed with these boys that they were very hungry for success. And we also made it clear to them that these chances are unique. At the end of your career, it is very nice to be able to look at a CV with a couple of big tournaments on it that you've won. They're taking that experience with them to U19 level, and it gives them a lot of hunger.
They've done it with the U17s, and now they also want to qualify with the U19s. Besides, the U19 team haven't managed to qualify for a final tournament [since 2010], so we are dealing with a very hungry group here and they definitely want to qualify. They are bringing the U17 experience with them, and we are very proud of that as well.
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