Why Have The Netherlands Had and Have Such Good Football Players for Such A Small Population? (Explained!)

Last Updated on October 4, 2023 by Alex PT

The Netherlands has had and has such good football players for such a small population due to a strong emphasis on youth development, a culture of football, and a high level of competition. It’s a testament to their commitment to nurturing talent and producing world-class players.

How does the Netherlands have such a good football team despite its small population size?

How does the Netherlands have such a good football team

1. Rich Football Culture:

Despite the small population size, the Netherlands nurtures a rich football culture. The foundations of football are embedded in Dutch society, and their passion for the game is passed down through generations. It’s not unusual to see children playing football in parks or on school pitches, showing an eagerness to participate in the sport from a young age.

2. Excellent Youth Development Programs:

The Netherlands’ success in football is influenced significantly by its outstanding youth development programs. Football academy setups like Ajax’s famous De Toekomst have brought through numerous talents that have gone on to flourish on the world stage. The Dutch prefer emphasizing development through systemic education of footballing fundamentals and tactical understanding, a methodology that harvests elite players.

Top Dutch Football Academies

Academy NameNotable Graduates
Ajax’s De ToekomstJohan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, and Wesley Sneijder
Feyenoord AcademyRobin Van Persie, Stefan de Vrij

3. Adherence to “Total Football”:

The Dutch are known for their unique footballing style, “Total Football,” a strategy that involves players being proficient in every position. This tactical approach ensures every player understands the game from multiple perspectives, making it a sophisticated and efficient style of play. Players are better-rounded and adaptable to various game situations, providing an edge over their competitors.

4. Government Support:

The Dutch government also plays an important role in promoting football in the country. They provide financial support for sports in general, including football, and they work hard to make sports accessible to all communities. This approach leaves no talent ignored, and it provides opportunities for all aspiring footballers, fostering a wide talent pool to select from.

5. Effective Scouting Network:

The Netherlands boasts an effective scouting network. Scouts are continuously looking for potential players, reaching out to rural and urban areas across the country. It goes beyond just recognizing a good player – it builds an essential link between talent and the professional game, offering an opportunity to youngsters who might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.

6. World-Class Coaching and Infrastructure:

Last but not least, the Dutch football system is backed by exceptional coaching and world-class infrastructure. The process of training a promising youngster into a professional player requires not only an excellent coach but also great facilities. Dutch clubs invest heavily in these aspects, which undoubtedly aids the process of talent nurturing.

How successful is the Dutch National team in International football

Who was the greatest Dutch footballer of all time?

Ranging from the early 70s to the late 2000s, the Netherlands national teams have produced a great generation of players. The team was utterly dominant in the early 70s with a bunch of great team players spearheaded by the legendary Johann Cruyff. The late 80s produced another set of great players like Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and of course, the current national team coach Ronald Koeman The trend continued in the early 2000s with the emergence of great players like Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp, and Clarence Seedorf, and most recently the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin Van Persie in the early 2010s. However, the Netherlands’ greatest player of all time is undisputedly Johann Cruyff. He was phenomenal and a true footballing genius both as a player and as a manager.

The Biggest Achievements of the Dutch National Team

The Dutch national football team has had a number of major achievements over the years, including:

  • Winning the UEFA European Championship in 1988. The Netherlands defeated the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final to win their only major international trophy.
  • Reaching the final of the FIFA World Cup three times (1974, 1978, and 2010). The Netherlands lost all three finals, but they are widely regarded as one of the best teams to have never won the World Cup.
  • Winning the bronze medal at the Olympic Games four times (1908, 1912, 1920, and 2008).

In addition to these major achievements, the Netherlands has also qualified for the World Cup 11 times and the European Championship 10 times. They have also won the UEFA Nations League once (2019).

Some of the biggest achievements of the Dutch national team have come during periods when they have played a particularly attractive and attacking style of football, known as “Total Football.” Total Football is a style of play that emphasizes possession, movement, and attacking from all positions.

Some of the most famous Dutch players to have played Total Football include Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, and Dennis Bergkamp. These players were all highly skilled and intelligent players who were able to execute the Total Football philosophy to perfection.

The Dutch national team has continued to produce world-class players in recent years, such as Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, and Virgil van Dijk. However, they have not been able to replicate the success of their golden era in the 1970s and 1980s.

Despite this, the Netherlands remains one of the most successful and respected national teams in the world. They are known for their attractive style of play and their production of world-class players.

Why the Netherlands Are the World Cup’s True Greatest Underachievers

The Netherlands is often considered the World Cup’s greatest underachievers due to several reasons:

  1. Consistently Strong Teams: The Netherlands consistently fields strong teams with top-quality players, making their underachievement more glaring.
  2. Three World Cup Final Losses: The Netherlands reached the World Cup final three times (1974, 1978, 2010) but lost on each occasion, which adds to their underachiever reputation.
  3. Style of Play: The Dutch are known for their attractive “Total Football” style, emphasizing fluidity and creativity. Despite this, they haven’t won a World Cup.
  4. Talent Development: The Netherlands has a robust youth development system and produces top talents regularly, yet their World Cup wins don’t reflect this.
  5. Strong Football Culture: The country has a deep football culture and passion for the sport, making underachievement surprising.
  6. Cruyff Era: Johan Cruyff, a football legend, was Dutch, and his era elevated expectations, but the World Cup win never materialized during his prime.
  7. Historical Context: The Netherlands’ underachievement is also viewed in the context of its historical football legacy and its status as a football powerhouse.
  8. Near Misses: The Netherlands often came close to World Cup glory but fell short, reinforcing the underachiever narrative.
  9. Penalty Shootout Losses: Notably, they’ve lost in penalty shootouts in crucial matches, contributing to their underachievement perception.
  10. Global Football Rivals: The Netherlands competes with countries like Brazil, Germany, and Italy, making World Cup victories more challenging to achieve.


Below is a compiled list of frequently asked questions about why the Netherlands has such a good football team with its relatively small population. Let’s check them out!

How popular is football in the Netherlands?

Arguably, football is the most populous sport in the country and it is played across all levels. Field hockey and korfball come in distant 2nd and 3rd positions respectively.

Has Netherlands national football team ever won a major tournament? 

Yes! Frank Rijkaard led a generation of great players to win the UEFA European Championship in 1988.

Did the Netherlands qualifies for the 2022 world cup?

 After the disappointment of missing out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Netherlands has qualified for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. They secure an automatic qualification by topping their qualifying group.

Closing thoughts

The Netherlands has a rich history in football and they are committed to the model of developing young talented players. This formula has proved to be successful with the emergence of generational talents decade after decade, which has pushed the National team up the ladder as one of the football powerhouses on the international football stage.

The resources in this write-up were gathered to answer all your queries regarding the article topic and we hope you find it informative enough. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have more questions.




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