Netherlands Euro 2024 squad guide: Big names like Van Dijk, but De Jong is out and they lack firepower


(This piece was originally published on June 6. It has been updated to reflect the news that Frenkie de Jong will miss the tournament through injury)


The Netherlands are still off the boil when compared to past glories. Whether Dutch legend Ronald Koeman as manager is a net positive or negative is debatable, but if they can rediscover how to work as a team to make up for some positional weaknesses, they have the talent in their squad to compete at the very least.


How to follow Euro 2024 on The Athletic


The manager

When Koeman arrived for his second term as Netherlands manager, replacing a 71-year-old Louis van Gaal who had just completed three spells, it caused little excitement.

Koeman returned to the role off the back of failures in his last two club roles — at Everton and Barcelona — though his short spell in charge of the national team between 2018 and 2020 was more successful than might have been remembered.

After missing out on qualification to the 2016 Euros and 2018 World Cup, the 61-year-old ensured a no-drama qualification for the delayed finals of Euro 2020, though stepped down to take over at Barcelona before the tournament. He also led the Netherlands to the final of the first Nations League in 2019.

Koeman is intrinsically linked to Dutch football as a player, winning the 1988 Euros and playing for all three of the country’s big three clubs — Ajax, Feyenoord, and PSV — as well as achieving superstardom at Barcelona. Yet this is his first tournament in charge of the national side.

The expectation domestically is that he will play a back five, though a problem position at left wing-back means there is still a chance he will revert to 4-3-3, which he trialled in a 4-0 win over Scotland in March.

One area in which Koeman has attracted flak is in his public criticism of players. He openly said striker Brian Brobbey’s finishing was “not good” and stated during his squad announcement that he only picked Ryan Gravenberch because his options were limited by injuries. There is potential for a conflagration.

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Ronald Koeman at a Netherlands training session (Robin Utrecht/ANP/AFP/Getty Images)

The household name in waiting

Liverpool’s Van Dijk and Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong have been the stars of this side, which is relatively old in its age profile, though the latter was ruled out of the tournament on Monday because of the ankle injury that has been troubling him for months.

Outside the established names, Bayer Leverkusen’s Jeremie Frimpong is one to watch — this season he won the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and hordes of admirers. Known for both his enigmatic style and personality, that brand of unadulterated fun is set to go continental.

A product of the Manchester City academy, the 23-year-old right wing-back will battle Inter Milan’s Denzel Dumfries to start. Both players are rampaging presences, defined by their creativity. His biggest challenge? Slowing down.

“It’s probably true that I’m an attacking full-back and everyone can see that,” he told The Athletic in April. “But I want to be in positions where I’m not relying too much on my speed.”

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Strengths

Well, physical strength. The Netherlands have arguably the best collection of centre-backs in world football — and two of them are not even going to the tournament, in the shape of Arsenal’s Jurrien Timber, whose return from a torn ACL came too late, and Newcastle United’s Sven Botman, who is still mid-rehab.

Their absence is scarcely noted — Koeman can call on Van Dijk, Manchester City’s Nathan Ake, Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt, Tottenham’s Micky van de Ven, and Inter Milan’s Stefan de Vrij, as well as Feyenoord’s versatile Lutsharel Geertruida.

Van Dijk and Ake are the two likeliest to start — but the temptation to pick a third centre-back is why Koeman wants to play a 5-3-2. Ally these players with striker Wout Weghorst and the Netherlands, despite their flowing reputation, boast one of the most physical sides at the tournament.

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Wout Weghorst clashing with Germany’s Jonathan Tah in March (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Weaknesses

A big fear has been realised. Structurally, this team has been built around De Jong, but the deep-lying midfielder will miss the tournament after being stretchered off against Real Madrid in April. The Netherlands have several dynamic options to replace him — such as Joey Veerman of PSV or Teun Koopmeiners of Atalanta — but nobody who can assert control.

“We have a trajectory in mind,” De Jong said of his recovery on June 2. “But it will depend on how the ankle holds up whether I will be fit in time.”

Sadly for Netherlands, he lost that race against time.

They also have a real hole at left wing-back, which may force Koeman away from his plans. Feyenoord’s Quilindschy Hartman was tailor-made for that role but suffered a serious knee injury in March that will keep him out for nine months. Meanwhile, Koeman made the surprise decision to drop Ian Maatsen from the squad, a key member of Borussia Dortmund’s run to the Champions League final during this season’s loan from Chelsea.

This leaves 34-year-old stalwart Daley Blind. Though Blind fulfils a role as a popular and experienced leader and has had an excellent season at La Liga’s surprise package Girona, that success came at centre-back. His lack of pace is ripe for exploitation.

Compared to teams of the past, this Netherlands squad is also light on truly elite attacking options — the likes of Cody Gakpo, Brobbey, and Donyell Malen are all serviceable options rather than star men. Koeman wants to build his forward line around free agent Memphis Depay, who faces a race to be fit for the tournament.

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Thing you didn’t know

The palette of any major sporting event should involve Dutch fans clad in brilliant orange. Any tournament without them is lacking. But why do the national team wear the colour — one which doesn’t feature on their flag?

It goes back to the country’s royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau. Orange was a territory once owned by the bloodline, though it is actually situated in modern-day France, with the Dutch taking the colour as a source of national pride and wearing it on King’s Day, a country-wide party on April 27.

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Netherlands supporters at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Expectations back home

Expectations are relatively low, particularly with De Jong ruled out. Though they are defensively sound, the Dutch public have questioned whether their side boasts the attacking firepower to go deep into the competition. Their second match against France will be an acid test.

Koeman is trying to become just the second man to win the Euros as a player and a coach — after Germany’s Berti Vogts — but France’s Didier Deschamps is the more likely candidate to achieve that accolade.

That said, the Netherlands’ sole tournament win in 1988 came amid Koeman’s involvement, with the tournament’s best centre-backs and off the back of a dominant PSV victory in the Eredivisie — and those omens have aligned once more.


The Netherlands’ Euro 2024 squad

Goalkeepers: Bart Verbruggen (Brighton), Mark Flekken (Brentford), Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord)

Defenders: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Stefan de Vrij (Inter), Micky van de Ven (Tottenham Hotspur), Daley Blind (Girona), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Denzel Dumfries (Inter), Lutsharel Geertruida (Feyenoord), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen)

Midfielders: Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Ryan Gravenberch (Liverpool), Xavi Simons (RB Leipzig), Joey Veerman (PSV), Jerdy Schouten (PSV), Gini Wijnaldum (Al Ettifaq), Tijjani Reijnders (AC Milan)

Forwards: Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Memphis Depay (Atletico Madrid), Brian Brobbey (Ajax), Wout Weghorst (Hoffenheim), Donyell Malen (Borussia Dortmund), Cody Gakpo (Liverpool)

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(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)



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