Sulking, moaning & fighting: How the Netherlands' Euro 2012 campaign collapsed in chaos

Bert van Marwijk's squad are facing scrutiny after having returned home from Poland and Ukraine following a failed campaign both on the pitch and off it
By Ben Hayward & Peter McVitie

There is, as is often said, no ‘I’ in team. There is also no ‘I’ in Netherlands but, it seems, plenty of individuals. The Dutch disappointingly dropped out of Euro 2012 earlier this week following a desperate demise in the 'Group of Death'.

Early signs were worrying. Full-back Gregory van der Wiel appeared more concerned with his hair and clothes than bonding with his team-mates, hiding behind his headphones and isolating himself from the rest of the squad; Robin van Persie and Ibrahim Afellay were caught up in their supposed superiority and disliked for their arrogant attitude among the group; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart were bitter about their exclusion and set about disrupting the already acerbic ambience, the latter almost to the point of exile.

Things were far from harmonious – and all of that was just the tip of the iceberg.

The entire nation may be at a loss to explain why World Cup finalists in 2010 and pre-tournament favourites ahead of Euro 2012 can fail quite so miserably, crashing out of the continental competition with three straight defeats. But behind the scenes, there was a mutiny on the Oranje bounty.

1. Germany
2. Portugal
3. Denmark
4. Netherlands
Indeed, disruptions within the Netherlands squad were evident even after the Denmark defeat, as the Dutch lost their opening – and for many, what should have been their easiest – group game to start their campaign very much on the back foot. Following the 1-0 loss to the Danes, Wesley Sneijder spoke of "pathetic egos" and all, clearly, was not well. The Dutch have history when it comes to controversy in the camp - and it was happening again.

Reports were rife in the Dutch media, but nobody knew quite how damaging or disruptive the player power had become. Then came the real revelations.

Former footballer Johan Derksen, now chief editor of Dutch football magazine Voetbal International, reported several incidents of selfish and disruptive behaviour from several key players. The reasons behind the country’s catastrophic campaign were becoming clear.

Derksen revealed a complete lack of team spirit from the core of the Netherlands squad, with stars such as Van der Wiel, Arjen Robben, Van der Vaart, Huntelaar, Afellay and Van Persie all a poisonous presence within the group. Of the big-name players, only Sneijder escaped criticism, with the Inter midfielder apparently swimming against the tide in an attempt to promote a happy and healthy mood in the camp.

Derksen, a former Go Ahead Eagles and MVV defender, said on the Voetbal International TV show that Ajax right-back Van der Wiel had been “doing a lot of things, except playing football”.

“He's running his own fashion line and was putting a lot of time into that. He was working on his hip-hop music and was getting his hair done every day. The players did not see him without headphones on. Only during matches and training sessions was he not listening to music.”

Robben, meanwhile, is said to have isolated himself from the rest of the team, while Huntelaar and Van der Vaart contributed to the acidic atmosphere with their sulking. However, the arrogant attitude of both Afellay and Van Persie is claimed to have done the most damage to the Dutch in Poland and Ukraine.

Afellay may be a bit-part player at Barcelona, but the winger demanded a superior status with his national team, while Van Persie reportedly acted as the star man in a team full of fine footballers and exaggerated egos.

Huntelaar’s huff had almost seen him sent into exile for the greater good, with the Schalke striker and Van der Vaart both under the impression there was nothing they could do to convince coach Bert van Marwijk that they were worthy of a place in the starting side.
“He's running his own fashion line, working on his music and getting his hair done every day. The players did not see him without headphones on."

- Johan Derksen on Gregory van der Wiel

The negativity of both men only served to hinder the harmony as they moaned behind the scenes, and Dutch journalist Henk Spaan reported in Het Parool that Huntelaar will not be selected for the Oranje again if Van Marwijk remains as coach.

So Sneijder was left all alone, a reluctant rebel in a team of in-fighting individuals. Netherlands’ best player on the pitch was the exception off it, too, as he tried in vain – in the words of Derksen – “to keep the squad together”. It proved impossible. As the saying goes, ‘one bad apple spoils the bunch’. It is just unfortunate for Van Marwijk and Sneijder that it doesn’t work in reverse.

Van Marwijk came in for criticism too, but it is thought that in the end, the 60-year-old faced a problem far beyond his control. As so often in the past, Netherlands suffered from a lack of professionalism from their players – and many more stories are likely to emerge in the coming weeks. For Dutch fans, it will make more depressing reading.