FC Twente crowned Dutch league champions
The FC Twente club song says the team will "one day" be the champions. That day was Sunday.
In the chaos of the celebrations on the pitch right after the final whistle on
Sunday, manager Steve McClaren congratulated everyone but himself with the
first ever FC Twente premier league title. Only after some insisting did the
coach talk about his own role in the success of the club. He denied that he
had come to Twente to seek rehabilitation, but admitted to having known hard
times. "I've always said failures in life make you stronger," was
his lesson after the 2-0 victory over NAC Breda on the final matchday. "This
is reward for everything my family and I have gone through. I must admit I'm
pretty pleased with myself.”
The weather in Breda on Sunday was as rainy as it had been in London on November 21, 2007, when McClaren led the England team. He lost his qualification game against Croatia that day and failed to qualify for Euro 2008. The manager was sacked and vilified by media in his home country, where he was dubbed "the wally with the brolly," for submissively watching the defeat from under an umbrella on the sideline. Damaged goods in England, he signed with FC Twente the next season.
Saved from bankruptcy
FC Twente is a club from the rural east of the country so modest its club song says "one day, we will be the champions". Based in the university town of Enschede, it was formed in 1965 following a merger between two city teams. It had come very close to the title in 1974, but only six years ago it had to be saved from bankruptcy and nourished back to financial health by chairman Joop Munsterman, the CEO of Wegener publishers.
Munsterman was the first McClaren wanted to share the victory with on Sunday. It had been the chairman's enthusiasm and grand plans that had tempted him to come to the Netherlands. Munsterman saw beyond McClaren's failure with the English team, seeing him instead as a stoic football professor with an extensive network, progressive ideas about sport psychology and video analysis, and a gift to get players to focus on their next game rather than everything around it.
"I can't believe it," Munsterman stammered. "Despite the growth we had, I didn't expect this until three years from now." He gave McClaren much of the credit. "The club management is just infrastructure," Munsterman said. "Everyone in the club is subordinate to the football management."
Competed for the title from the get-go
But Youri Mulder, a former player and assistant manager for Twente, said the club first began to grow under McClaren's predecessor Fred Rutten, currently the manager of PSV. "All the signs said they were up to something. I heard them say: we are going to select players at Champions League level. And those weren't just words. They put their money where their mouth was. Their policy has been dedicated to playing at the highest level and a has allowed for the club's steady rise. This success is so unprecedented, I hope it hasn't come too fast. FC Twente has not joined the ranks of consistent top-performing clubs in the Netherlands yet."
The question is whether all of FC Twente's important players will now be lured away before the team even enters the European Champions League next season. The Dutch league is a springboard for footballers to move on to bigger European leagues. Last year, the team's stars left and had to be replaced with unknown footballers from all continents. McClaren and his assistants managed to create an instantly successful team with these newcomers and competed for the title from the get-go. It first fought PSV for the top spot of the league table and then kept Ajax at a safe distance when the Amsterdam team put on a final sprint late in the season.
"FC Twente has been the most consistent team this season and they were lucky nothing weird happened," Mulder said. "Everybody was very fit and their game only slowed down at the very end of the season. I don't think the competition should have lasted much longer."
More than a miracle
Twente's game was more a display of efficiency than the exciting football they were known for last season. With 63 goals scored, the maiden champions are one of the least productive in the history of the Dutch premier league. The team relied heavily on experienced players such as goalkeeper Sander Boschker, defender Peter Wisgerhof and striker Blaise N’Kufo. Its attack was further strengthened by midfielders Kenneth Perez and Theo Janssen and wingers Miroslav Stoch and Bryan Ruiz. Costa Rican Ruiz, responsible for 24 of Twente's goals, is sought after internationally. Defenders Douglas and Ronnie Stam as well as midfielder Wout Brama are popular with scouts as well.
None of these players wanted to talk about their plans for the future right after winning the trophy. The game in Breda became easy after NAC player Csaba Feher violently tackled Janssen and was sent off. Ruiz scored immediately after the incident, but it took until the 75th minute before Stoch really decided the result. A draw would have put Ajax, which won 4-1 against NEC Nijmegen the same day, in the first place.
"We have our mental power to thank for this," said McClaren. The coach has a contract for another year in Twente, but he has been mentioned as a candidate at other clubs. "The players were under a lot of pressure. We were chased from the beginning. Ajax kept coming and kept coming but we kept winning. What a fantastic bunch of players. We made history. People say that to achieve this with Twente is a miracle but it's more than a miracle.”