In the 2014 world cup, the Netherlands reached the semi-final and lost only by penalties to Argentina. Earlier in that same tournament, they beat Spain 5-1 in what I call a declaration of defeat for the Dutch side. The reason I call it that is because the Netherlands during that tournament and even the one before have stripped themselves of the total football and possesion identity we've known it for. After that, the Netherlands went on to miss a euro and a world cup.
How does a nation go from being the best to never have won a world cup into that state? How do their clubs go from being ucl champions into a temporary guests in the tournament., to me there are three factors behind that.
It's amazing thinking there was ever a period where free transfers didn't exist. Here's a quick rundown of the ruling if you're not aware.
Jean-Marc Bosman was a player for RFC Liège when his contract ran out and he tried to join the French side Dunkerque. During that time period, when your contract expires, clubs would still keep you with a symbolic salary. RFC Liège kept Bosman in the club after the move fell through with a salary of £500 a month, which is a 75% decrease.
In order to be able to leave, Bosman went to the courts and sued his club, the Belgian FA, and UEFA. There are a lot of complications, but the short story is that the Bosman ruling was created. A ruling where players whose contracts expired are free to leave to any club they want.
When at risk of losing their players for free, clubs started selling players more. This change coincided with another change at the time.
The three-plus-two ruling
If you are unaware, the three-plus-two ruling means that any club in Europe has to name only three foreign players and two academy players in their team. So, England for example needed to have mainly English players with only three players from outside the country. During that time period, only a few clubs could afford to buy top foreign players and with south Americans, plus great European players available at the time. Dutch players weren't on top of many lists for those three foreign players' spots.
However, a change was made to that law, and "foreign players" as a term was referring to players from outside the EU. So European players were not foreign players anymore. Clubs were also able to play around that rule, especially in Spain. Where they'd grand players the Spanish nationality, in today's examples would be how Luis Suarez and Coutinho were counted as European players.
This opened up the space for Dutch players to leave the Netherlands clubs. Because those two changes coincided with a third most crucial change.
In 2016, IFFHS gave us an indicator of the decline of Dutch football. The report showed that the Eredivisie ranked 21st in the best football leagues in the world. Around 4-5 years before that, it was among the top 5. The overall decline wasn't caused by the Bosman ruling or the three-plus-two ruling but rather the unfortunate timing when they did.
In the 90s, the idea of broadcast revenues and how clubs could profit from them was rising. More clubs were focusing on TV revenues, the issue is that there were no clear metrics. The closest thing networks went by is the population for local broadcasts at least, and by that Netherlands got a horrible deal in the process.
The Netherlands had only 17 million overall while the closest country to that in what we know now as the top 4 league countries were Spain and Italy with around 3 times the population.
You put all of those together
With players having more power thanks to the Bosman ruling clubs fearing losing their players for free, that created a bigger incentive to sell players.
The change of language in the three-plus-two ruling gave the rich clubs bigger space to buy players from outside the country, and with broadcasting, revenues widened the gap between the top 4 leagues and the Eredivisie. The end result is Ajax going from UCL winners in 1995 to their semi-final appearance being referred to as a miracle in 2019 with the clock counting down to when their stars will be bought.
How did all of that affect the Netherlands?
Well, clubs' growth will always be stunted. The local league can't rise in popularity as stars are always leaving. Selling players isn't done for profits but rather survival.
Eredivisie is where the total football style is developed, not that it is the only place worldwide. But dutch players don't always end up in similar schools. The Ajax 2019 UCL squad for example has De Ligt in defensive-minded Juventus, De Jong doesn't play his preferred roles in Barcelona, and no one even understands what is happening to Donny van de Beek.
Now, the Netherlands has gone full circle and is now back to a third Louis van Gaal stint to make the best of the remains of what once was one of the greatest football styles. Now the Netherlands team players are a bunch of individuals who lose a big chunk of their football DNA at a young age.