Thursday, 13 January 2011

Huistra Dreaming Of Inspired Finish To Eredivisie Title Race

With the Dutch Eredivisie now at the halfway mark, FC Groningen have their sights set on becoming the fifth different title winner in the past 10 years.

43-year-old Pieter Huistra, formally of Rangers in the 90s, was thrown into the deep end in the summer when he was appointed Groningen's new manager to replace Ron Jans. Huistra's previous coaching experience was mainly at youth level with Groningen and Ajax before a one-year stint in charge of the Ajax B side.

You would struggle to find anyone who would have tipped Huistra to have such a positive impact at Groningen with such little managerial experience but the new manager has excelled in his role and led his side to 3rd place at the start of the winter shutdown.

FC Groningen's investment into scouting has paid dividends on the pitch with some talented players gracing the field at the Euroborg stadium. Serbian winger Dusan Tadic has been one of the finds of the season in European football and the 22-year-old, who joined from Vojvodina for £1.5m, quickly established himself as the first name on the teamsheet for Groningen.

Another impressive player from the Balkans has been Slovenian striker Tim Matavz who has 10 goals in the Eredivisie this season. Matavz is an established international at just 22 and has attracted the attention of a number of bigger clubs.

Groningen's extensive scouting also reaches to Scandinavia with a number of players from that region. Swedish defender Fredrik Stenman joined from Leverkusen and is a regular at full-back for Groningen. Former Wigan defender Andreas Granqvist is a key component of the Groningen defence. The squad also contains Finnish youngster Tim Sparv and another 2 Danish internationals in Nicklas Pedersen and Thomas Enevoldsen.

Their record so far this season against the bigger clubs in Dutch Football is fairly impressive. Groningen opened their Eredivisie account with a respectable 2-2 home draw with Ajax before a 1-1 away draw with AZ Alkmaar the week after. Groningen continued their good run of form against away to PSV with another draw but were turned over by champions FC Twente 4-2 in October. Groningen defeated Feyenoord 2-0 in late November and in their second-last game before the winter break, AZ Alkmaar were defeated 2-0 as well in front of nearly 22,000 fanatical fans.

Groningen have had mixed fortunes over the past 30 years with a few stints in the Dutch 2nd Division. But times seem to have changed and former manager Ron Jans, who was in charge for 8 years, led Groningen to an excellent 5th place in 2006 meaning entry into European football for next season. Their venture into the UEFA Cup saw them locking horns with Serie A side Fiorentina and the Dutch cracks impressed over the two-legs but were knocked out on penalties following a 2-2 draw on aggregate.

Huistra and the current crop are on the verge of something special at FC Groningen who are just four points behind league-leaders PSV Eindhoven and are joint-second with FC Twente. A place in the Champions League would be something of a dream for FC Groningen but there never has been a better time to win the Eredivisie and this could be their unique opportunity for major domestic success.

The continued dominance of Dutch Football was turned on its head when AZ Alkmaar won just their second Dutch title in 2008-2009 and followed by Steve McClaren's FC Twente fairytale which was their first ever Dutch championship.

Is the stage set for the Green & White army?


  1. Good piece on a good team mate, wish I'd seen more of them, watched the 2-2 draw with Ajax at the start of the season.

    Matvaz is a quality player.

  2. Good piece Ross. Keep up the good work.