Football Features

Football’s greatest love affair? An all-time Barcelona XI of Dutch players

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 17:09, 20 June 2021

Here’s an interesting piece of trivia: four of Barcelona’s last nine championship-winning managers were born in Amsterdam.

Ever since Rinus Michels was hired in 1971, after guiding Ajax to European Cup glory, there’s been an unrelenting love affair between Dutch football and the Catalan side.

No fewer than 23 players from the Netherlands have donned Barca’s famous red-and-blue jersey, with Memphis Depay the latest to join that illustrious list.

With that many names it’s possible to create a hypothetical all-time Dutch XI, with Michels as head coach, and Louis van Gaal assisting ‘The General’.

GK: Ruud Hesp

Barcelona appearances: 144

Despite being a first choice at Barca under Louis van Gaal, the Bussum-born shot-stopper Ruud Hesp never won an international cap. His biggest hindrance was the presence of Edwin van der Sar who succeeded Ed de Goey as Oranje’s first-choice goalkeeper. Hesp nevertheless enjoyed a productive career in Spain, where he lifted back-to-back La Liga titles, and since hanging up his boots at former club Fortuna Sittard, he’s gone on to work as a goalkeeping coach. Today you can find him teaching and helping PSV’s ‘keepers.

RB: Michael Reiziger

Barcelona appearances: 255

Michael Reiziger was among the wave of Ajax’s successful 1995 European Cup winners to follow Van Gaal, but he couldn’t replicate that Champions League triumph. Reiziger, who relocated from AC Milan, enjoyed a seven-year stay at the Camp Nou before joining Middlesbrough and then PSV, where he ended an illustrious career. Like many who learnt at Van Gaal’s feet, Reiziger would soon move into coaching and is currently Erik ten Hag’s right hand man in the Dutch capital. He even acted as interim for the first team in 2017 when guiding the Amsterdammers to a 3-1 home win over Willem II.

SW: Frank de Boer

Barcelona appearances: 214

During his formative years Frank de Boer seemed focused on a future as a left winger, but it quickly became apparent he lacked the pace, and instead transitioned into a left-back. It was there De Boer excelled at boyhood club Ajax before reuniting with Van Gaal at Barca, where the Dutch national team captain transitioned into a sweeper. Having joined at the same time as twin brother Ronald, he’d last longer in Catalunya before rejoining him at Rangers and eventually winding down in Qatar. After enjoying a prosperous start to his managerial career with Ajax, he’d suffer a string of setbacks before the Dutch FA (KNVB) appointed him as Oranje boss.

LB: Giovanni van Bronckhorst

Barcelona appearances: 154

After impressing with Feyenoord, where he turned professional, Giovanni van Bronckhorst moved to Rangers where compatriot Dick Advocaat was calling shots as manager. He’d soon move south to link up with Dennis Bergkamp at Arsenal before becoming part of Barca’s Dutch enclave. Initially on loan Van Bronckhorst enjoyed four seasons in Spain before returning home. Once calling it quits in Rotterdam, the left-back-cum-midfielder turned to coaching and in 2017 he ended Feyenoord’s 18-year wait to be crowned Dutch champions.

DM: Ronald Koeman

Barcelona appearances: 262

Arguably the second most beloved Dutchman in Barca’s history. Having turned out for Eredivisie powerhouses Ajax and PSV the versatile Ronald Koeman answered Johan Cruyff’s call and soon became a Camp Nou legend when his late free-kick at Wembley in 1992 won the club their first European Cup title. Again, like pretty much everyone on this hypothetical team, Koeman entered the world of management and following spells in England with Southampton and Everton, he took over the Dutch national team, but the man once dubbed ‘ Floquet de Neu’ couldn’t resist Barca’s siren call and is their present boss.

CM: Frenkie de Jong

Barcelona appearances: 93

A current student of Koeman is Frenkie de Jong, with both already working together at international level. De Jong became a wanted man following a multitude of outstanding performances whilst representing Ajax, but his dream of lining up alongside Lionel Messi proved decisive, and he’s been nothing short of impressive since making the switch. Heading into a third season following Euro 2020 the press-resistant midfielder is expected to be a mainstay for years to come.

CM: Phillip Cocu

Barcelona appearances: 291

Before a certain Dani Alves came along, Phillip Cocu held the record for most Barcelona appearances by a non-Spanish player, nine short of 300 outings. The multifunctional footballer served the Catalan giants with great distinction. After leaving, he’d re-join PSV and came agonisingly close to meeting Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final. Now, you’ve guessed it, he’s gone into management but is currently unemployed following a challenging spell at Derby County. Before that, Cocu lifted three Eredivisie titles with the club he’s come to be associated with (PSV).

AM: Johan Cruyff

Barcelona appearances: 173

Remember when we said Koeman is perhaps the second most beloved Dutchman at Barca? Well, the first is undisputed. Johan Cruyff’s decision to snub Real Madrid and join in 1973 — after falling out with the Ajax board — immediately earned him legendary status. The world’s best footballer opting for a then struggling team raised eyebrows but under his leadership and Rinus Michels’ coaching, they ended a 14-year championship drought. Michels, of course, was instrumental behind the Amsterdammers ruling European football in the early 1970s, but such dominance couldn’t follow. Cruyff did eventually return as head coach and before his greatest student Pep Guardiola did what he did, the Dutchman was the club’s most successful coach.

RW: Johan Neeskens

Barcelona appearances: 180

Nominally a central midfielder, Neeskens — schooled in ‘Total Football’s’ teaching — is no stranger to playing on the right flank. He famously did so in the 1971 European Cup final when Ajax defeated Panathinaikos for the first of three consecutive titles. Neeskens would soon follow pal Cruyff to Barcelona but often struggled to escape his shadow. Nevertheless ‘Johan the Second’ left his own imprint on the Camp Nou, where he’s fondly remembered.

CF: Patrick Kluivert

Barcelona appearances: 257

Becoming the youngest-ever Champions League final goalscorer propelled Patrick Kluivert into stardom, and he’d never look back across the subsequent ten years. Milan, whom he netted against in Vienna for Ajax, acquired his signature, but the Dutchman struggled before linking up with Van Gaal, the man who handed him his professional debut. Kluivert subsequently netted 122 goals across 257 appearances in all competitions before leaving for Newcastle United, where his career would soon wind down. Valencia, PSV and Lille enjoyed his services and though coaching beckoned — he was part of Van Gaal’s backroom staff at the 2014 Brazil World Cup — he moved into administration, with a brief spell as director of football at Paris Saint-Germain. But he’s now back at Barca, where he currently serves as their youth academy director.

LW: Marc Overmars

Barcelona appearances: 141

Another who swapped Arsenal for Barca, which made him the most expensive Dutch footballer. Nicknamed ‘meep meep’ (after the sound Looney Tunes character the Road Runner made) due to his incredible burst of pace, Marc Overmars never quite replicated his past success but did round off a lovely team goal against Liverpool in November 2001. Now he’s considered by many to be one of the best sporting directors around. Since returning to former club Ajax in July 2012 they’ve gone on to achieve great success in the transfer market.

Substitutes: Jasper Cillessen, Edgar Davids, Mark van Bommel, Ronald de Boer, Bolo Zenden, Jordi Cruyff, Richard Witschge, Winston Bogarde, Ibrahim Afellay

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