The 2011-2012 season could be definitive for Feyenoord if they are to hang on to their reputation as one of the Netherlands’ “Big Three”. The Club from Rotterdam, suffering from speculated debts of between €20m and €30m, finished in a lowly 10th last term – their worst finish for some 20 years. Although the club’s loyal following show no sign of dwindling in the near future – it was they who stumped up €17m to buy a stake in the club and alleviate some of that debt – it is a tough time for all associated with this once great club, and only a strong showing in this year’s league campaign will convince spectators that they can realistically hang on to their claim of being one the country’s foremost club sides.
The need to cut back debts this summer has seen Feyenoord sell arguably their two brightest young talents in Georginio Wijnaldum and Luc Castaignos, to PSV and Inter Milan respectively, and if things don’t improve then a number of others could follow them out the door. So far Feyenoord have started this season brightly, with two wins and two draws placing them 5th in the Eredivisie after 4 games, scoring 8 and only conceding 3. This is only the beginning of what is sure to a be a tough season though, especially given the fact that the average age of the first team squad is just 22.76 years of age . Feyenoord’s young squad is most definitely talented but their lack of experience hindered the club last season, something which many teams took advantage of. Their 10-0 drubbing at the hands of rivals PSV symbolised just how far the club had slumped since the glory days of the 1960s and 70s. Once regarded as the world’s richest club, Feyenoord had dramatically fallen from grace.
Coach Mario Been stepped down during the summer after coming to believe that he no longer had the players’ confidence and trust, and in came former player Ronald Koeman as his replacement. Koeman arrives at De Kuip with a managerial reputation that has suffered its ups and downs. Success at Ajax and PSV has been tempered by failure at Benfica, Valencia and AZ. Even if Koeman manages to get the team performing this season he will still find himself, just like previous incumbent Been, frustrated at the lack of funds to reinforce his youthful squad. After recently acquiring young striker John Guidetti on loan from Manchester City, Koeman might see the loan market as his best chance to add more quality to the team.
It is not all doom and gloom, however. As already mentioned, Feyenoord have one of the most loyal fanbases in the country, if not the world. The number 12 shirt was retired many seasons ago and given to the supporters to show them how much they mean to the club. Referred to as Het Legioen (Dutch for ‘The Legion’), they turned out in their numbers after the 10-0 defeat last season to cheer their club on.
Feyenoord also boast some very exciting young prospects in their ranks. Jerson Cabral, a pacy left-footed winger who can play on either side of the pitch, is full of trickery and has great technique. Then there’s 19 year-old centre-back/right-back Stefan de Vrij who’s already deemed good enough to play in the first team alongside commanding centre-back and fan-favourite Ron Vlaar. Leroy Fer was seen by many as one of Feyenoord’s best prospects but was sold for a fee believed to be just over €5m to FC Twente on deadline day.
While another bad showing in the league this term won’t lead to any type of fan desertion, it will call into question Feyenoord’s claim to rank alongside Ajax and PSV. With both AZ and FC Twente having won the Eredivisie within the last 3 years, and the last of Feyenoord’s 9 title wins coming in 1999, there is more competition then ever for top spot and no matter how proud a history the club has, Feyenoord are in danger of turning into a sleeping giant. Ronald Koeman has a tough job on his hands this year if he is to appease the high expectations of the supporters without the financial backing of previous managers, but the red and white side of Rotterdam will be hoping and praying that this once great club can return to it’s rightful place amongst Holland’s top club sides.