As things currently stand there are no fewer than 72 Dutch players across Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues. Over the years, we are probably talking close to 1,000, if not more.
So, how would each league’s all-time XI of Dutch players look? For some divisions, it’s pretty straightforward. Others posed more of a challenge, given the past and present quality at their disposal.
Since the Premier League’s inception we’ve seen an influx of Dutch players, with some going on to attain legendary status at their respective clubs. In an ideal XI there’s no question who starts in goal. Edwin van der Sar resurrected his career at Fulham before seamlessly filling Peter Schmeichel’s big shoes at Manchester United so much so Sir Alex Ferguson admitted his regret of not pursuing him earlier. Ahead of Van der Sar is a backline consisting of the league’s two most commanding foreign centre-backs in Jaap Stam (Man Utd) and Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), with Mario Melchiot (Chelsea) and Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Arsenal) flanking them.
It’s not so simple when it comes to central midfielders. There are memories of Ruud Gullit’s brief playing spell at Stamford Bridge, with the Amsterdammer being renowned for his versatility, but there can be no question of Georginio Wijnaldum‘s inclusion in the middle of the park. His dynamism and athleticism could potentially work wonders in a partnership with the creative flair of Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham). Occupying the No. 10 position is Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal), arguably the best and most influential of these 11 players. The front line is also frightening: Arjen Robben (Chelsea) — though ever-reliable renaissance man Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool) is certainly an option here — and Robin van Persie (Arsenal) either side of deadly marksman Ruud van Nistelrooy (Man Utd) who edges out the equally prolific Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Chelsea).
Premier League XI: Van der Sar; Melchiot, Stam, Van Dijk, Van Bronckhorst; Wijnaldum, Van der Vaart; Robben, Bergkamp, Van Persie; Van Nistelrooy.
Spain’s historical connection with the Netherlands and La Liga being home to Real Madrid and Barcelona makes it an ideal destination for Dutch adventurers. The ‘keeper in this hypothetical side recently turned out for Barcelona and is Oranje’s current number one when fit. Jasper Cillessen will have two Dutch masters protecting him in the guise of Ronald Koeman (Barcelona) and Frank de Boer (Barcelona), both of whom are equally attack-minded which can also be said for Michael Reiziger (Barcelona) and Van Bronckhorst (Barcelona) bombing down the flanks.
Frenkie de Jong continues to write his story but for now two Barça greats — Johan Neeskens and Phillip Cocu — will be tasked with controlling the play in midfield whilst retaining and recycling possession. Their prime objective is to feed Dutch football’s G.O.A.T. Johan Cruyff (Barcelona) who in turn will have Arjen Robben (Real Madrid) and Marc Overmars (Barcelona) creating space for him. The man tasked with putting the ball into the net is Roy Makaay, and not the unlucky Patrick Kluivert (Barcelona and Valencia), who averaged a goal every 126 minutes whilst representing Deportivo de La Coruña.
La Liga XI: Cillessen; Reiziger, Koeman, Fd Boer, Van Bronckhorst; Neeskens, Cocu; Robben, Cruyff, Overmars; Makaay.
Making up 27.3% of this Serie A team is Milan’s golden Dutch trio who played a pivotal role in Arrigo Sacchi’s European Cup-winning side. Protecting the goal though is Van der Sar who, despite his challenging spell at Juventus, remains the best option between the sticks. Feyenoord academy graduate Rick Karsdorp (Roma) and legendary Ajax full-back Ruud Krol — still an idol among Napoli supporters — sit either side of Stam (Lazio and Milan) and current Inter Milan star Stefan de Vrij, who celebrated scudetto success in 2021, but there’s a case for Bayern Munich’s recruit Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus) however De Vrij’s longevity in the league gives him a slight edge. Keeping the Sacchi spirit alive we’ve got a midfield consisting of four brilliant and dynamic footballers though sadly no room for a No.10 — à la Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan) — due to us opting for a 4-4-2 shape.
Clarence Seedorf (Inter Milan and AC Milan) and Edgar Davids (AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan), who can play together as a No.6 and No.8 tandem, occupy a right and left midfield role in this instance as fellow Ajax academy graduates Aron Winter (Lazio and Inter Milan) and Frank Rijkaard (AC Milan) patrolling the central area. Rijkaard’s relationship with Gullit (AC Milan and Sampdoria) and feared No.9 Marco van Basten (AC Milan) carried the Rossoneri to glory at home and beyond. Gullit and Van Basten were a near-perfect strike partnership which has in recent years come back in vogue.
Serie A XI: Van der Sar; Karsdorp, Stam, De Vrij, Krol; Seedorf, Rijkaard, Winter, Davids; Gullit, Van Basten.
Despite being close neighbours, very few legendary Dutch footballers have played Bundesliga football, and nothing best illustrates that point with journeyman goalkeeper Rein van Duijnhoven (VfL Bochum) standing beneath the bar. His backline is not the most formidable though Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg) and Khalid Boulahrouz (Hamburg and Stuttgart) have often proved their worth at centre-back. The full-backs are nothing to write home about. Before hanging up his boots Paul Verhaegh (Augsburg and Wolfsburg) quietly went about his business before Louis van Gaal thrust him into the spotlight with an Oranje call-up.
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt) remains an unfulfilled talent. Further up the field Dutch stars are popping up everywhere. Bayern Munich hero Robben will be cutting inside with old school name Willi Lippens (Rot-Weiss Essen and Borussia Dortmund) on the opposite side. Van der Vaart (Hamburg) and the tenacious Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich) hold down the central spots with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke 04) and Makaay (Bayern Munich) leading the line.
Bundesliga XI: Van Duijnhoven; Verhaegh, Mathijsen, Boulahrouz, Willems; Robben, Van der Vaart, Van Bommel, Lippens; Huntelaar, Makaay.
In terms of exceptional Dutch players to light up Ligue 1, there’s been a handful. After losing his spot to Van der Sar at Ajax, the influential Stanley Menzo (Bordeaux) would join PSV Eindhoven before ultimately enjoying a brief spell in France’s top division. Two former players who began their football education in Amsterdam, Gregory van der Wiel and Mitchel Bakker, will be tasked at full-back. Both represented Paris Saint-Germain albeit with varying degrees of success. In the centre is current Newcastle United defender Sven Botman (Lille) and Frank Verlaat (Auxerre) who has accumulated over 100 appearances in France’s top division.
Just ahead of them is Richard Witschge (Bordeaux) whom Zinedine Zidane once described as the best teammate he’s ever played alongside. Kevin Strootman (Marseille) hasn’t exactly pulled any trees but by virtue of his reputation — and lack of competition — he gets in. The same applies to Wesley Sneijder whose time at Nice was so brief. Up top is the resourceful Johnny Rep (Saint-Étienne), a cult hero wherever he’s been. Memphis Depay (Lyon) slots in the False No.9 role with Boudewijn Zenden (Marseille) whipping in crosses from the left flank.
Ligue 1 XI: Menzo; Van der Wiel, Botman, Verlaat, Bakker; Witschge, Strootman; Sneijder; Rep, Depay, Zenden.