It is generally accepted that the Spanish La Liga, English Premier League, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 are the top five leagues in Europe. There are several big leagues just outside the big five such as the Belgian Pro League, Russian Premier League and Turkish Super Lig, but the Dutch Eredivisie and Portuguese Primeira Division are probably regarded as the closest to the big five.
But how far off of the big five is the Eredivisie at the moment?
Recent European performance
Looking at how Dutch sides have performed in European competitions is a good way to judge the quality of the teams in the Eredivisie and how good they are compared to other European clubs. Ajax impressively reached the Europa League final in the 2016/17 season, losing 2-0 to Manchester United, but to progress this far in Europe has been uncommon for Dutch clubs in recent years. Excluding Ajax’s 2016/17 campaign, in the last three seasons, only two of the nine Dutch sides that have taken part in European competitions have progressed from the group stage, with both sides losing in the first knock-out round. Last season was particularly unsuccessful, as Feyenoord were the only team to get through the Champions League playoffs, whilst Vitesse were the only side to qualify for the Europa League, and both sides finished bottom of their groups. This suggests that the Eredivisie is still some way off the big five, as their top clubs have failed to perform especially well against Europe’s elite.
Quality of players
Another way to assess the quality of the league is to look at the calibre of players that Dutch clubs have produced in recent years. There are several cases of players failing to perform elsewhere in Europe after impressing in the Eredivisie, as brothers Siem and Luuk De Jong, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Davy Klaassen, Riechedly Bazoer and Zakaria Bakkali have struggled in Europe’s big five leagues, although the latter two players are both still young and may still develop into top players. However, generally, the Eredivisie has produced some excellent players in recent years. Ajax are renowned as a club that bloods promising youngsters and develops them into top players, and many Ajax players move on to one of Europe’s big five leagues before the peak of their careers. In recent years Ajax have produced the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Jasper Cillessen and Christian Eriksen, each of whom have gone on to perform well for top clubs elsewhere in Europe and develop into top quality players.
Aside from Ajax, other Dutch sides have also produced players that have gone on to perform well in Europe’s big five leagues. For example, Georginio Wijnaldum (formerly of Feyenoord and PSV), Dusan Tadic (formerly of Groningen and Twente), and Wilfried Bony (formerly of Vitesse) have enjoyed success in the Premier League. Likewise, Stefan De Vrij (formerly of Feyenoord) has proven to be a top player in Italy, Alfred Finnbogason (formerly of Heerenveen) and Sebastian Haller (formerly of Utrecht) have performed well in Germany, and Memphis Depay (formerly of PSV) has impressed in France despite struggling in England.
Moreover, there is a range of impressive players currently playing in Holland. Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech and Nicolas Tagliafico, as well as PSV’s Hirving Lozano and Santiago Arias all impressed during the current World Cup and furthered their already high reputations. Exciting youth prospects David Neres and Kasper Dolberg at Ajax, Bart Ramselaar and Steven Bergwijn at PSV and Feyenoord’s Tonny Vilhena have also all attracted attention from other European clubs, whilst Ajax’s Justin Kluivert has already been snapped up by Roma. Furthermore, veteran strikers Robin Van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar also play in Rotterdam at Feyenoord and Ajax respectively. Therefore, whilst the quality of current players in the Eredivisie may be lower than that in Europe’s big five leagues, there are still plenty of exciting players at Dutch clubs.
The Eredivisie is clearly a level below Europe’s big five, and the fact that the league’s top players move elsewhere in Europe rather than moving to Holland and settling there is sufficient proof of this. Furthermore, Dutch sides have been unsuccessful in Europe in recent years, generally failing to progress from the Champions League and Europa League group stages, although Ajax reaching the 2017 Europa League final was a very impressive feat.
However, numerous top players have been produced by Dutch clubs in recent years, and the current crop of Eredivisie players is likewise impressive. The fact that many top clubs have targeted and continue to target Eredivisie players demonstrates that the league is recognised as one that reliably produces top talent, and therefore the league remains relatively close to the big five in spite of its teams’ disappointing form in European tournaments.