Although it feels like the Dutch football league just stopped last week, most teams have started already with the first training and preparation for the new season. For most of these teams it will be a very uncertain period in which there will be a lot of changes in the team selection, before the competition starts. The few good players who earn their money in Holland will probably leave their club for a better club, a better salary and a better competition and the Dutch clubs will buy less talented players instead.
Lens to Ukraine
For several years the good players left the Dutch league for better competitions such as the English, the Spanish, the Italian, the German and the French, but now they will leave it for the Ukrainian as well. THE UKRAINIAN? Yes the Ukrainian. One of the best players of the Dutch competition, Jeremain Lens, left PSV Eindhoven last week for the Ukrainian competition to play for Dynamo Kiev. It was time for him to go abroad, and he won’t feel sorry that he left PSV and the Netherlands after the bad season that his club had in the Dutch league and the negative publicity that he got, after his primary and unprofessional behavior that led up to a fight with Feyenoord-player Joris Mathijssen after the match Feyenoord-PSV. Of course you can earn a better salary abroad than in Eindhoven, so I understand that he left the Dutch league, but why on earth do you want to go to the Ukraine, if you are a very talented player and you have the potential to play for a club in the ‘really big leagues’ in Europe. Not for the climate I hope. And there’s still a significant amount of xenophobia in and around the stadiums in the Ukraine compared to the Dutch league, which can be inconvenient for a black football player like Lens.
Racism in Ukrainian football
In Holland there’s barely any racism nowadays surrounding the stadiums, except from a small incident this year in the cup-match FC Den Bosch-AZ Alkmaar, where the black striker from AZ, Jozy Altidore, was confronted with racist sounds which came from a small group of Den Bosch-supporters. But that’s nothing compared to the racism that surrounds the Ukrainian stadiums, where dark-skinned people on the stands are beaten up by diehard fans or by special rented racist thugs, and dark players are confronted with racist sounds on a pretty regular basis. This issue was really well brought out into the open by the BBC-documentary ‘Stadiums of Hate’ for example, which was broadcasted prior to Euro 2012. Here you can see a group of Asian students, who visited a local match in Charkov and were beaten up by hooligans. The police didn’t seem to be very helpful to the victims, which is probably even more disturbing.
Racism in the Ukraine is much more violent and widespread compared to the Netherlands. So, if it’s not the weather and the social climate that triggered his move to the Ukrainian league, than that automatically leads up to the question: Why did Lens go there?
Ukraine > Holland
The salary is one answer, as I mentioned earlier. There’s more money in the Ukrainian league than in the Dutch, but these last few years they’ve also become better in sporting terms, which I find an embarrassing and disturbing trend. Clubs like Dynamo Kiev, Metallist Charkiv, but first and foremost Shakthar Donetsk have catched up with the Dutch clubs in Europe and now it seems like they will overrun us. Because of the European Championship last year, they even got bigger and better stadiums than we have.
The Dutch league as a training institute
But where will this leave us in Europe? Good players leave the country and less talented players will fill in these empty positions. We won’t catch up with them in financial terms, so the only option that’s left is to be the best training institute for talented players in Europe. And even that will be a difficult task because the most talented players are bought already when they are sixteen or younger for several millions by clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, etcetera.
Slipping away in Europe
It seems like the Dutch league is slipping further away in their race to be competitive in Europe. I hope not, but the future doesn’t seem to bright. But the question abovementioned remains for me, as a true fan of the sport and therefore for leagues with tradition, class, quality, recognizable stadiums, supporters and their songs. Jeremain Lens: Why Ukraine?