Where Does Oranje Go From Here?
When the football gods close a door, they open a window — let’s look through that window together, to 2026
The Dutch were heartbreakingly dumped out of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on penalties last Friday. This loss spelled the last chapter of the odyssey that has been Louis van Gaal’s three spells as national team coach, and left a new book to be written by not-so-new national team coach Ronald Koeman. In the following piece I intend to take a look at what the side may look like the next time they take the world stage.
Before I talk about Koeman, let’s take stock. Of the 26 players who came to the World Cup in Qatar, at least 8 will likely be too old to attend the world cup in 2026. This may not sound like a large number — only 30% squad turnover over 4 years really is not a lot. However, amongst their number are some key players. Daley Blind is the longest tenured starter in the team and key to the side’s buildup play, Stefan de Vrij has been a top quality centreback for years (albeit not for Oranje), and Virgil van Dijk has been the side’s captain and rock at the back for the last 5 years now. Van Dijk may not be out of the picture in 2026 — he’s still in elite physical shape at 31, and his presence in the squad is key from a leadership perspective. However, in the spirit of conservatism when it comes to long term planning, let’s assume he’ll be only a squad player at age 35.
That leaves us with 7 players gone from the current squad solely on the basis of age. You then have Davy Klaassen, who will be 33 then. Klaassen is far from irreplaceable, and, frankly, is below the standard to be in the squad even now at 29. His profile, as a hard working offball and out of possession player, is certainly valuable, but his quality on the ball doesn’t hold up. I’m going to assume he won’t be coming either, and the same goes for Vincent Janssen (32 in 2026) who was more a pet project of Van Gaal’s than a real squad member before this year. That leaves us with 9 free spots in the 2026 squad, assuming Andries Noppert becomes a squad fixture at goalkeeper. This last bit is not a given, but seeing as he started 5/5 matches at this World Cup and looks primed for a potential move to Ajax I’m willing to make the jump. I’m not convinced Noa Lang and Kenneth Taylor will be in the squad in 2026 — each for different reasons — so while they’ll certainly be in contention I won’t be reserving them spots. That gets us up to 11 free seats on the plane to America. I’m also going to assume 32 year old Memphis Depay and 30 year old Denzel Dumfries are no longer nailed on starters in 2026, though I may be wrong on both counts. There’s also the off chance that Jeremie Frimpong switches nationalities, as he is still uncapped despite having been named in the World Cup squad, but that seems unlikely however disgruntled he may be after going unused in all 5 matches in Qatar. Let’s look at where that leaves us with this squad:
Before we get into personnel, let’s talk formation. Ronald Koeman, and basically every Dutch manager ever bar Louis van Gaal and the ill-fated Frank de Boer, has preferred the traditional Dutch 4–2–3–1 formation to the 3–4–1–2 that the Dutch have played at the last two world cups. Even if Koeman is not managing the side anymore in 2026 (I think it’s highly unlikely that he is) the safe bet to me is that the Dutch will show up in a more traditional back 4.
Formation aside, things look mostly sorted at the back. Midfield depth is a little murkier, and we’ve got no clear 10s in the squad — Lang’s development has stalled in Belgium this year after 2 strong years with Club Brugge, and neither he nor Memphis, who I’ve listed as a centre forward, are known for their hard work defensively. While Lang could very well become an excellent player, his erratic nature makes him hard to project — and as a result sees him fall out of my squad. Where things are really underpopulated is up front: there are no true centre forwards in the current squad likely to be in the 2026 edition, and the right footed Xavi Simons is the only right wing option. At left wing you have the limited Steven Bergwijn and the arguably-not-a-winger-long-term Cody Gakpo. When you list Memphis as a lone centre-forward, it’s even more bare. New talent has to come through.
Who might that new talent be?
Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld and Brian Brobbey were probably the two most controversial exclusions that Louis van Gaal made from the Dutch squad at this years tournament. Danjuma Groeneveld was one of the most threatening forwards in La Liga and the early stages of the Champions’ League last season. Unfortunately he suffered a series of injuries over the course of the 2022 calendar year that saw him miss major time and in turn lose form. He’ll be 29 in 2026 — at the tail end of his prime, but still comfortably in a position to contribute, if not start.
Brian Brobbey has had a similarly rocky few years. After the 2020/21 season the Amsterdam born striker moved on a free transfer from Ajax Amsterdam to RB Leizpig. Unfortunately for Brobbey, circumstances changed in Leipzig soon after he signed, and upon arrival there appeared to be minimal interest in giving the Dutchman playing time. By January of 2022 the 20 year old was back on loan in Amsterdam with Ajax. There he scored at a clip of 1.6 goals per 90 minutes in about 400 minutes of game time before the end of the season. This past summer he made another transfer, coming back to Ajax on a permanent basis. After the sale of Sébastien Haller, Brobbey started the 2022/23 campaign as the first choice striker in Amsterdam. Despite starting the season in strong form (2 goals and 2 assists in his first 4 matches) Brobbey was again forced to play second fiddle to the prodigiously talented jack-of-all-trades Mohamed Kudus after the Ghanaian caught fire early in the season. De Toekomst product Brobbey came off the bench for the better part of the ensuing 2 months before faltering team results forced him back into the lineup. He immediately delivered, with 4 goals in 2 matches before defeats to Liverpool and PSV saw him once again relegated to the bench. In turn, Brobbey missed out on the Dutch world cup squad despite having been named Eredivisie Young Player of the month in October of this year.
Needless to say the path has been extremely bumpy for Brian Brobbey. However, it’s important to remember that the Dutchman still doesn’t turn 21 until February of next year, and, more importantly, sports a strike rate of 1.2 goals per 90 minutes across his senior football career. There are extremely rough edges to his game, but the core of what he does — physically bully even the strongest and fastest defenders in the sport — will be good enough to score goals at any level. This is the best young striker Dutch football has produced since Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. I’d be astonished if he isn’t in the 2026 World Cup Squad.
Once you add in Danjuma and Brobbey, the Dutch attack for 2026 starts to take shape. Danjuma and Brobbey are by no means locks to start this far out from the tournament, but they’d be my favorites alongside PSV starlet Xavi Simons on the right. Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay offer more high-usage creative options for a change of pace, with the versatile Steven Bergwijn representing the 6th member of the attacking unit. It seems likely that at least one more striker, and perhaps another attacking midfielder or right winger, will be in the squad however. At striker, the Dutch have Thijs Dallinga — last year’s Eerste Divisie (much like the English second division, the Dutch second division has an amusingly confusing name — Eerste in Dutch means first) top scorer is currently playing regularly for Toulouse in France at 21 years of age. He’s certainly a candidate for that other striker spot. Another option might be Myron Boadu — the former AZ wonderkid has struggled at Monaco, but he’s still only 21 and has scored at a healthy rate when given opportunities in the principality. Joshua Zirkzee has been simularly productive in very limited minutes for Bologna in Serie A this season after tearing up the Belgian top flight last season. After Brobbey, there is a slew of hit-or-miss talents at striker for the Dutch. There’s also the very likely outcome that someone like Julian Rijkhoff (42 goals in 54 club games over the last 2 seasons) of Borussia Dortmund, who’s not tasted senior football yet, emerges as an option at striker by then.
As for attacking midfield, Donny van de Beek is the obvious option in the mold of the rather workhorse number 10s that Dutch squads typically sport. Guus Til of PSV is a more in form, albeit lower ceiling, candidate for that spot too. Joey Veerman is far from a workhorse, and he’s arguably not an ‘attacking’ midfielder, however he’ll be in the heart of his prime by 2026 and is undoubtedly the most creative of this bunch. Keep a sneaky eye on Isaac Babadi of PSV in this slot as well — he’s not a workhorse in profile either, but his talent may very well force him into the squad in the place of Noa Lang for example. Gabriel Misehouy and Naci Ünüvar of Ajax and Mohamed Taabouni of Feyenoord are a few other talents of varying magnitude that might challenge Babadi in that generation.
At right wing there’s almost no competition for Xavi Simons. Steven Berghuis will be too old by 2026 to be a true option. Calvin Stengs, once highly touted, has struggled to such an extent in France for Nice that he was loaned to Antwerp in Belgium to start this season. Unfortunately, things have been just as bad in Antwerp for Stengs, and given that he turns 24 this week the clock is ticking for the former AZ man to become an impact player at the top level. Crysencio Summerville is probably the young Dutch right winger playing at the highest level right now — however, it’s hard to imagine him becoming a truly impact player at the highest level.
This leaves the Dutch (footballing) right wing in an odd spot. Xavi Simons is arguably the greatest talent in Dutch football right now. A lot of the success of Dutch football in the coming years will rest on his development. However, he’s far from a typical right winger in modern football. He’s right footed, and he sort of drifts all over the forward line as he pleases to create threat rather than cutting in off the right. Louis van Gaal lamented the dearth of 1v1 threat wingers as the reason the Dutch were forced to play a back 3 in Qatar, and this missing profile leaves space for someone extremely young, like Feyenoord’s Jaden Slory, to slip into the squad. The 17 year old has yet to make a senior appearance for the Dutch side, however, he fits the mold of a dribble-y right winger. Discussions of ceiling aside, that uniqueness in terms of profile gives him a chance at the 2026 side.
All of which is a very long way of saying Oranje’s attack in 2026 will look very foreign compared to how it looks today. There are just an absurd number of moving pieces and tough-to-project talents across the board. I haven’t even mentioned Donyell Malen, who’s lost his way in catastrophic fashion after having been a consensus starter for Oranje in the eyes of the Dutch public just 18 months ago. What we can say with almost complete certainty is this — Cody Gakpo, Xavi Simons, Brian Brobbey, and Memphis Depay will be there. Steven Bergwijn’s and Noa Lang will benefit from seniority and being known commodities with varying amounts of upside and versatility, while players like Donny van de Beek, Myron Boadu, and Joshua Zirkzee will hope to find some consistency at the highest level in order to secure tickets to the U.S.A. (and Canada, and Mexico…). Finally, extremely exciting but untested talents like Isaac Babadi and Julian Rijkhoff stand a real chance at sneaking onto the plane by virtue of their incredible upside in the face of the inconsistency in the age groups ahead of them.
I said I’d pick, though, and pick I shall. As of December 17th 2022, a day before the 2022 World Cup has even concluded, my projected Dutch attack force at the 2026 World Cup is as follows:
Attacking Midfield: Memphis Depay, Donny van de Beek, Isaac Babadi
Left Wing: Cody Gakpo, Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld
Centre Forward: Brian Brobbey, Joshua Zirkzee
Right Wing: Xavi Simons, Steven Bergwijn
Moving further back on the pitch, Ryan Gravenberch will almost certainly be selected in the 2026 squad. The Bayern Munich man narrowly missed out on Qatar after playing major minutes in the European Championship last season. There’s even a strong argument to be made he’ll be a starter in midfield by the time this tournament comes around, though if that comes to pass I suspect it will be in attacking midfield as opposed to beside Frenkie de Jong in the double pivot. Gravenberch is one of the great talents of this Dutch generation, and a rocky 2022 hasn’t changed that. The aforementioned Joey Veerman also seems likely to be included in this team. Veerman did not even make the 39 man provisional squad this time around, potentially due to interpersonal/behavioral reasons, but I think any fair analysis of him purely from an on-the-pitch perspective would conclude he’s a very good player who easily numbers amongst the best 26 Dutchmen in the sport. He’s also a very talented passer from deep areas, which isn’t a very common trait in this squad. I expect him to be on the plane, whether that be as a central midfielder or a more attacking one. Branco van den Boomen is also a potential inclusion, in a similar mould to Veerman, given his dominance in France over the last few years. Van den Boomen, however, will be 31 in 2026 — that’s quite late to break into a national team as a role player. Kenneth Taylor is also an option here, and the Dutchman is a solid, tidy player at just 20 years old. However, I don’t see his ceiling as being nearly as high as his competition. Veerman is my pick.
In terms of profiles, the next biggest hole after right wing for the Dutch is a combative defensive midfielder. Marten de Roon will have aged out by 2026, and while current alternative Teun Koopmeiners is a good holding midfielder, he’s not exactly all-action or rugged in duels. In terms of high potential players who could ‘excitingly’ slot into this role, Ajax’s Silvano Vos is the answer. The Ajacied is prodigiously talented and will be 21 on the eve of this tournament. Vos, however, is such a talented player on the ball that I suspect he may be pushed higher up the pitch as his career goes on in a more box-to-box role. There’s also been talk of Quinten Timber, Jurriën Timber’s brother, being used predominantly as a lone 6 for Feyenoord going forward. That’s certainly a development to keep an eye on in this area, as Quinten is almost as hard to take off the ball as his brother and could grow into such a role. There’s also Jerdy Schouten of Bologna, a defensive midfielder who’s been fairly successful in Serie A over the past few years. Ultimately, however, this is a very murky position for the national team. I have no doubt competition for Teun Koopmeiners will be on the plane, but who that competition will be is far from clear.
At left back the next man up will likely be one of Owen Wijndal, the former AZ wonderkid currently struggling for fitness at Ajax, or Ian Maatsen — a member of the Chelsea loan army who at present is in blistering form for promotion candidates Burnley in the Championship. If one had to pick today, they’d have to favor Maatsen, but 3 and a half years out from the next tournament Wijndal certainly has the talent to turn things around. The Ajax man was one of the best, if not the best, left back in the Eredivisie for the better part of 3 years before he had even turned 23. He remains a prodigious talent. Maatsen is even versatile enough that we might see all three of Maatsen, Wijndal, and Tyrell Malacia in the 2026 squad. Lastly, someone like Bjorn Meijer, who is starting regularly for Club Brugge at 19 years old, could be an option here. The Dutch are in good shape in this position.
In central defence the picture seems unlikely to change drastically. Virgil van Dijk may age out, but as stated previously I’m going to give the current captain the benefit of the doubt that he’ll at least be in the squad. Nathan Aké seems likely to be ahead of him in the pecking order by then simply by virtue of his comparative youth. Aké was solid at this past World Cup — however, I have to say I think there are at least 2 Dutch centrebacks who have the capacity to supplant him in that spot. Sven Botman of Newcastle United and Mickey van de Ven of Wolfsburg are two towering left footed centrebacks already playing top level football in Europe. They’re both better in the air than Aké, and Van de Ven is both faster than Aké in space and a better ball carrier already. Botman on the other hand is a much stronger box defender. Aké is a nice all around player to have in the squad, but both Botman and Van de Ven have much higher potential impact for this team. Unfortunately for Botman, he has the distinction of being an Ajax reject — which, generally speaking, seems to be both a cause of and the effect of his having a surprisingly negative reputation amongst the Dutch footballing elite. This was made very clear, publicly, when, despite having started the season very well for Newcastle United in England, he failed to make Louis van Gaal’s squad for this past World Cup. He may continue to suffer from that to the benefit of Aké, but it seems unlikely that the same hampers Van de Ven. Pascal Struijk of Leeds United also has a shout here, but he’s clearly the worst of the 4 options at this juncture, and Van de Ven makes my squad as a result.
Otherwise, Matthijs de Ligt and Jurriën Timber are basically nailed on selections for the right centreback slot. That functionally completes our defence, with Jeremie Frimpong and Denzel Dumfries maintaining their right back slots. It’s worth noting that someone like Lutsharel Geertruida could very well break in as a more defensive option at right back, but it’s just not a very easy path given Dumfries’ seniority and Frimpong’s ceiling. Geertruida might also get a look as a more combative option in midfield, but that’s really not his main position in my eyes. A good player who sadly misses out. I’m obligated to mention Devyne Rensch of Ajax here, as he’s 20 years old and already been capped, but I personally prefer Frimpong in his age group.
That leaves us at goalkeeper. I’m not going to lie: I’m not very confident in my ability to identify goalkeeper talent amongst players I haven’t seen play very much. There’s a lot of variability involved in goalkeeper results, so just seeing a handful of matches won’t tell you much about a player unless you have a coach’s understanding of goalkeeping technique. I am not a goalkeepers coach, so my relative lack of expertise in this area should be noted. Keepers like Jasper Cillessen and Mark Flekken, who I have seen play a lot, will either be very old or just still not be very good in 2026. The other Dutch goalkeeping options at that time either haven’t played very much senior football yet (Mikki van Sas of Manchester City comes to mind), and so we don’t have much to judge them on, or they’re just very average players who aren’t very exciting to project into a squad 4 years out. With that in mind, I’ve gone with the safe-but-fun choice here and selected Kjell Scherpen on account of his seemingly high standing amongst the Dutch coaching establishment. Scherpen has generally stumbled around the past 4 years, moving to Ajax after a young senior debut, followed by a move to Brighton that bore no fruit, followed by a move back to the Eredivisie where he has been largely unspectacular. However, he’s still super young, and he’s a massive human being (6'8", 2.03M), so he’ll be my predicted third keeper on account of his reportedly strong penalty stopping ability. Don’t think about this one too hard. I’m telling you now I’m wrong.
And that leaves us with our Dutch World Cup Squad for North America 2026:
Goalkeeper: Justin Bijlow, Andries Noppert, Kjell Scherpen
Right Back: Jeremie Frimpong, Denzel Dumfries
Right Centreback: Matthijs de Ligt, Jurriën Timber
Left Centreback: Mickey van de Ven, Nathan Aké, Virgil van Dijk
Left Back: Tyrell Malacia, Owen Wijndal
Deep Midfield: Frenkie de Jong, Ryan Gravenberch, Teun Koopmeiners, Joey Veerman, Silvano Vos
Attacking Midfield: Memphis Depay, Donny van de Beek, Isaac Babadi
Left Wing: Cody Gakpo, Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld
Centre Forward: Brian Brobbey, Joshua Zirkzee
Right Wing: Xavi Simons, Steven Bergwijn
I think this has the potential to be a really good squad. Anytime you’re leaving behind players like Lutsharel Geertruida, Quinten Timber, Sven Botman, and Ian Maatsen — all players I expect to be starting for Champions League sides by 2026 — you must be carrying a lot of good players. What will really dictate the potential success of a squad like this is 2 things: 1. the development of the talent across the forward line and 2. who is in charge.
The first issue is by far the most important. Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo were the two Dutch attacking stalwarts at this tournament. Depay is an excellent player, and likely to retire as the all time leading scorer of the Dutch national team. However, he’ll be 32 in 2026, and even now he’s significantly less quick than he once was. It would be unfair to him and unwise from a planning standpoint to be counting on just him 4 years down the line. Cody Gakpo is currently the hottest commodity in Dutch football. I, however, have doubts about his ability to become a game breaking winger at the highest level. He lacks the pace to beat players on the dribble from a standing stop, and he’s actually not that young given his 24th birthday is in May. I think his best chance at becoming “World Class” is probably moving interiorly (some say to centre forward, I think his best bet is attacking midfield), however even that would require major growing pains. The good news, though, is that I don’t actually think Gakpo is the greatest attacking talent of this Dutch generation.
Xavi Simons is only 19 years old and dwarfing the numbers Gakpo was putting up at his age. Cutting through all of the Instagram fame is a player with elite technicality and the quickness and positional sense to make an impact in central areas. I think there’s an argument to be made that if you took Simons and Gakpo to the Premier League today, Simons’ game would adjust better even at his tender age. Then there’s Brobbey, whose gargantuan goalscoring numbers, physical attributes, and sneaky good reading of the game cannot be ignored. His finishing is extremely sloppy, but that’s really the only thing between him and being a 20 goal scorer in major leagues across Europe. Those two are the ones I would pin the next 6 years of the Dutch attack on. Beyond them, the hope has to be that players like Isaac Babadi and Julian Rijkhoff deliver on their immense promise more fruitfully than players like Steven Bergwijn and Calvin Stengs have. Perhaps this is me putting my oranje-tinted glasses on, but I think that is likely given the attributes they have. Finally, players like Myron Boadu, Joshua Zirkzee, and Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld getting their careers on track to the extent that they’re at least consistent depth pieces will be key as well. That, at the very least, I think we can expect.
As for the second issue: there are relatively young, good Dutch managers out there for the first time in a long time. Arne Slot and Erik ten Hag are both undoubtedly very good at their jobs, in more ways than one. Unfortunately, both are so good at their jobs that it’s unlikely either one is managing Oranje in 2026. Ronald Koeman will likely manage at the 2024 European Championship, but he’s never spent 4 whole years in any one managerial job, thus I doubt he’ll be around for the next World Cup. I think the key here is that whoever takes over for him does not let their ego get in the way of their management of the squad. Most Dutch managers have big, normative ideas about how their teams should play, and how their players should behave — my only hope is that whoever follows Koeman, whether that be Alfred Schreuder, Peter Bosz, or someone else, simply picks the best players the Dutch have to offer and lets them play. Though I hold Louis van Gaal in extremely high regard, I think he overestimated, in some ways, his ability to use tactics to get around the perceived weaknesses of the Dutch squad in Qatar. I’ll forever wonder what would have happened if he’d had a bit more faith in the players and moved away from the hyper structured approach the Dutch ultimately used. If the talent is there, the talent will speak for itself. If it isn’t at least you can go home knowing you didn’t leave yourself and your team in the hands of fate. And I am cautiously optimistic that the talent will be there when the Dutch arrive stateside in 3 and half years.