As a Belgian, I follow Dutch football perhaps a bit more closely than some of our English, American or Italian readership. Yes, they’re Belgium’s neighbors and they produce some fine cheese but their beer is horrible and their accent makes me cringe. But fair is fair, they have played some damn good footy in all those years.
Take Ajax during the Cruijff era for example, or the Euro '88 win with Rijkaard, Van Basten, Koeman, Gullit etc. Or the golden Ajax period in the ‘90s with Seedorf, Overmars, Van der Sar and Kluivert. Since I was too young to really understand the importance of all those teams and their talent, my first and real admiration for Dutch football was that amazing 2004 PSV side with the red-white stripes and black shorts.
A club based in Eindhoven, a city south of The Netherlands with approximately 240,000 inhabitants. It has its own airport and is famous for the company Philips, known for its electronics, light bulbs, and, more recently, medical technology. Situated in the region Brabant, which has nice cozy towns, lakes, rivers, beautiful nature, a theme park, an amazing (albeit extravagant) show called New Kids, ...
But hey, we’re still a football blog, right? Back to business.
The 2004-2005 season will go down in history as one of the best, if not THE best season of PSV Eindhoven. They won the domestic double (title and cup, losing only once in total) and reached the Champions League semifinal which they narrowly lost to another great side: Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan, but only due to the cursed away goal rule as PSV won 3-1 at home but lost 2-0 at San Siro. Milan would eventually fall to Liverpool in one of the most exciting CL finals in recent memory.
So who were those protagonists of this success? We’ll start in goal.
Liverpool has Alisson. Manchester City has Ederson. Milan had Dida. Inter had Julio Cesar. Well, PSV had its own Brazilian hero: Heurelho Gomes. 2004-2005 was his first season at the Dutch club and he was an instant hit. Great reflexes, good feet, your typical Brazilian stalwart keeper quoi. Gomes stayed four seasons at PSV and won the title in every single one of them. He also became part of the Brazilian NT thanks to his heroics in Brabant. He would then go on to play for Tottenham and Watford.
At the back, we had this funny mix of European, African, Asian, and South American players (sorry USA, no kudos to you). And it worked. South Korean left-back Lee was a stud for club and country and arguably the best left-back in the league those years. The steady and dependable Dutchmen Andre Ooijer and Wilfred Bouma were also part of the defense.
And of course the tower at CB, the Brazilian Alex. A tank with a powerful shot and dangerous free-kicks. After PSV he would win more prizes with PSG and Chelsea. He also played two seasons at Milan. Eric Addo, Kasper Bogelund, and Lucius were the reliable subs those days.
Their midfield was the stuff of dreams. PSV had a formidable trio, a Holy Trinity: Van Bommel, Cocu, and Swiss international Vogel. Talk about a commanding and sturdy midfield. You could compare it with the De Rossi, Strootman, and Nainggolan combo at Roma.
We all know how captain Van Bommel’s career turned out afterward (Barcelona, Bayern, Milan) while in 2004 Cocu just returned to PSV after six decent seasons at Barcelona. Cocu was already a huge name in The Netherlands and already played at PSV between 1995 and 1998.
Worth mentioning: youth product and talent Ibrahim Affellay who just took his first steps in the world of professional football. Shame he never really fulfilled his potential after leaving PSV in 2011.
Up front is where my favorite player was producing his own magic: Jefferson Farfan. Usually, PSV played 4-3-3 so both wingers had enough time and space to roam free and cause havoc. One of those was Farfan. A tricky, South American winger who would immediately set the league on fire. 2004-2005 was the Peruvian’s first season abroad but he didn’t back down. Nine goals were already ok for a winger, but he really exploded in the next seasons, with 26 and 23 goals, respectively. I remember I desperately wanted Farfan to join Roma those days, alongside Totti, Mancini, Perrotta, and Montella.
Curiously Farfan left for Schalke 04 in 2008 and after 2011 he kinda disappeared from the big stage. Sad because I think he had the potential to be a real stud and succeed at a top club like Bayern, Barcelona, or Chelsea.
The second winger of PSV’s 4-3-3 was another likable character: Park Ji-Sung. Tottenham’s Son avant la letter, if you will. People praised his work rate and energy, not afraid to do his duty in both attack and defense. He didn’t score that much but he was a vital piece of the 4-3-3 system. I guess you could compare it to Taddei’s role at Roma under Spalletti. He later became a favorite of Ferguson at Manchester United where he stayed until 2012.
The main striker was a Dutchman with probably the best name in football: A tall forward who scored 23 goals in 43 games that season. Jan (let’s just call him Jan for the sake of simplicity) had big shoes to fill because PSV just sold Robben and Kezman to Chelsea. Yes, the same Kezman who scored an astonishing 129 goals in 176 games for the club. Jan wasn’t exactly an Ibrahimovic or Drogba but he got the job done.
Other notable players who provided a spark from the bench: speedy American DaMarcus Beasley, Gerald Sibon, and Swiss striker Johan Vonlanthen.
The architect of it all? The boss? Head coach Guus Hiddink. A former PSV player himself, he guided the club to six titles as a trainer, including the 2004-2005 season. He was also the coach of the 1988 side that won the European Cup, a.k.a. the former Champions League. Quite a big deal for a ‘small’ club.
Hiddink traveled around the world during his career as a trainer. And that’s quite an understatement. The Netherlands, Russia, South Korea (remember their unexpected semifinal run at the World Cup 2002), Turkey, China, Australia, and even Curaçao of all places. I didn’t even know they had a national team, only sunny beaches and cocktails!
But his work at PSV was unmatched and he guided so many good players to stardom like Robben, Van Bommel, and Kezman. After that came Simons, Salcido, Culina, Koné—those were the days, the golden years of the club next to the 80s.
In 2019 Ajax retook the crown as kings of the Dutch Eredivisie with three consecutive titles but PSV came in close last season, only two points behind the Amsterdam club. There’s not really a next Robben or Farfan in their selection right now, but they do have some interesting talents like Cody Gakpo, Madueke, Jordan Teze, and Yorbe Vertessen.
They recently signed Luuk De Jong from Barcelona and Guus Til from rivals Feyenoord so they’re serious about challenging Ajax for next season. And I wish them good luck because ever since 2004 they’re my favorite Dutch side. Thanks, Mark. Thanks, Jefferson. Thanks, Alex. Thanks, Guus.
Now, if they could just brew some decent beer, it might actually become my favorite country as well.