The Dutch Mutiny of 1990
In the summer of 1988, following Holland’s victory in the UEFA European Championships, Dutch Manager Rinus Michels left his post to manage West German club Bayer Leverkusen.
The KNVB (Dutch Soccer Federation) chose one time Feyenoord Manager Thijs Libregts as his successor.
The Dutch still basking in the glory of their first ever international title were unaware that this decision would end up destroying the team (on and off the field) that had brilliantly won a major trophy.
Photo From: Het Nederlands Elftal, De Histoire van Oranje, 1905-1989(Libregts between van Basten and Johnny Bosman)
Initially most observers were not concerned, as the team seemed to be intact with only the international retirement of 38-year-old Arnold Muhren.
However, from the very first match for the 1990 World Cup qualifiers, vs. Wales on September 1988, the signs were there.
The Dutch struggled to win one to nil in the closing minutes of a home game.
The rest of the qualification matches also saw the Dutch give more prosaic performances than they had in the previous few years.
A creditable scoreless draw away in West Germany was followed by a one to one tie against the same team in Rotterdam, in a match where they were lucky not to lose and only tied in the closing minutes.
The Dutch ended this first post title season, by defeating Finland at Helsinki one to nil, once again courtesy of a late goal.
By now it was clear that the majority of the Dutch squad were opposed to Libregts’ tactics and sought a more attacking game.
Another source of dissention was revealed as Captain Ruud Gullit’s opposition to Libregts dating back to their time together at Feyenoord where Libregts was alleged to have made racially insensitive comments about Gullit.
In the fall of 1989, the Dutch qualified for the World Cup along with West Germany by winning their last two matches vs. Wales (at Cardiff) and Finland at home.
Some would have thought that qualification would have eased the tensions and everyone would be unified to prepare for the upcoming World Cup.
However, the opposite occurred and the senior Dutch players were already laying the ground for a mutiny to remove and replace Libregts in time for the World Cup finals.
Former manager Rinus Michels had been sacked from Bayer Leverkusen midway through the previous season and was now a member of the Federation and he was involved with resolving the matter.
The senior players informed the Dutch Federation their refusal to play under Libregts at the World Cup.
As a result, on March 26, 1990, Thijs Libgrets was dismissed as Holland manager.
Libregts had sought a legal injunction to the firing, however a Utrecht Court upheld the Federation’s decision since Libregts had lost the confidence of his squad.
On April 3, 1990, in a Dutch radio interview, Ronald Koeman announced that 9 out of 15 national team players had requested Barcelona Manger Johann Cruyff to manage the team at the World Cup.
Photo From: Het Nederlands Elftal, De Histoire van Oranje, 1905-1989
(Rinus Michels and Marco van Basten)
This included Koeman himself, Gullit, van Basten, Rijkaard and Jan Wouters.
The Federation offered the job Ajax Manager Leo Beenhakker instead.
For the Federation hierarchy Cruyff appeared too expensive as well as too controversial.
This enraged Dutch star striker Marco van Basten who wanted his former mentor to get the job.
On April 23, 1990, Marco van Basten blasted Rinus Michels for going against players’ wishes and not appointing Cruyff and instead choosing Leo Beenhakker.
A few days later van Basten apologized publicly to Rinus Michels.
Photo From: World Soccer, June 1990(Leo Beenhakker)
The Dutch arrived to the World Cup with none of the confidence and winning mentality that they had in 1988.
Ruud Gullit had barely played all season as he was recovering from serious injury and the mood within the camp was far from harmonious.
At the World Cup Finals, they labored through three unconvincing First round matches that all ended in draws, two one-all draws vs. Egypt and Republic of Ireland and a scoreless tie with England
Photo From: World Soccer, October 1990(Dutch Captain Ruud Gullit, June 16, 1990, World Cup, England 0-Holland 0)
The Dutch nevertheless qualified for the Second Round and were paired with archrivals and eventual Champions West Germany.
The gulf between the teams was evident as West Germany dominated and deservedly won 2 to 1.
The match will be remembered mostly for Frank Rijkaard’s spitting incident and sending off after altercations with German striker Rudi Voeller.
Photo From: Chronik des deutschen fussballs, 2005(Frank Rijkaard, Hans van Breukelen and Rudi Voeller during the infamous incident, June 24, 1990, World Cup, West Germany 2-Holland 1)
Gullit and van Basten had a nightmare of a tournament with van Basten not even scoring once.
Afterwards Leo Beenhakker admitted that there was no chance that he could have managed any success and unity within the team.
He stated that he knew even before the Tournament he had no chance, but he nevertheless hoped that with the talent at his disposal things might have worked out.
He went on to say, “With such great players, the coach is not so important” and expected the big stars to take on responsibility.
He blamed the poor relation between the players and the directors as the main reason of the failure.
After the Tournament Beenhakker went back to his job of managing Ajax.
Dutch FA Director Rinus Michels offered the job to Johann Cruyff, however, Cruyff refused due to the earlier rejection and also by his work in Barcelona.
He did suggest that he might be interested to manage in a part time capacity at the upcoming Euro Finals and recommended former teammate Wim Jansen to act as caretaker Manager for the qualifying rounds.
Dutch FA Director Rinus Michels informed board members that he had not found a suitable replacement.
The Board insisted on Michels taking the reins again and he accepted.
This decision angered Gullit and van Basten still disappointed about the Cruyff snub, but they carried on with the team.
Frank Rijkaard retired from the National team, though he did come back on his decision a year later.
In a subsequent interview, Rijkaard expressed that he behaved in such a way, during the World Cup, because he was going through a difficult time in his personal life.
He was also angered that Voeller’s alleged play acting earned him a yellow card which would have suspended from Holland’s next match had they qualified.
He also expressed that Beenhakker was a capable manager, but at that point in time, Holland needed a manager like Cruyff who would have stamped his authority.
In another interview, Ruud Gullit went on to say that the World Cup occurred at the worst possible time (physically and mentally) for Holland.
This Mutiny episode reinforced the narrative that the Dutch players tend to sabotage themselves by having too much player power.
In most countries, this type of incident would have led to suspensions and banishments.
However, Holland has a history of players with strong personalities expressing themselves irrespective of consequences.
As a result, Holland’s best generation since the Cruyff era was not able to excel at the World Cup level.