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Feyenoord’s 18-year Journey to Eredivisie Triumph

Feyenoord 2017 Eredivisie champions
Between 1999 and 2017, Feyenoord failed to win the Dutch league, marking one of the club’s most barren spells in history. The journey was long, but their first Eredivisie title in 18 years tasted all the sweeter for it.

250,000 fans imposed themselves on Rotterdam’s city streets. Roads were shut, statues were climbed, fountains were commandeered and chants roared long into the night. It was April 25th 1999 and Feyenoord had just captured the Eredivisie title. Little did they know, it would be the club’s last for almost two decades.

The story of Feyenoord’s fall from grace is nothing new in the realms of football: financial crisis, questionable executive decisions, the loss of star players, and fan hooliganism.

The club maintained its Champions League status until 2002, and even then, when finishing third in their group and subsequently being resigned to the UEFA Cup, Feyenoord went on to win the tournament. Victory against Borussia Dortmund in a final played at their home ground of De Kuip sparking yet more celebrations.

Feyenoord UEFA Cup 2002 champions

The celebrations that day were far more muted than in ‘99, though. Mainly due to the fact Rotterdam’s leading political figure, Pim Fortuyn, had been murdered just days before the final. The morbid news struck a grim tone, and would act as the harbinger for Feyenoord’s most barren run in modern history.

Despite European success, Feyenoord was on its last legs. Chairman Jorien van den Herik had been quick to assure fans that the club’s finances were in proper working order – while simultaneously trying to bat away charges of fraud in court – however, the truth was anything but.

The tipping point came in the 05/06 season. Feyenoord had placed third in the league after threatening to win it for large sections of the campaign, but lost the resulting playoff for Champions League qualification to Ajax.

The bleak reality of missing out on Europe’s most prestigious tournament meant Feyenoord buckled under financial strain. The club’s hand was forced, selling star assets Salomon Kalou and Dirk Kuyt to Chelsea and Liverpool respectively.

Their replacements proved woefully inept and led to mass fan protests. Ugly scenes ahead of the club’s clash with French outfit Nancy even saw UEFA take action against Feyenoord, forcibly removing them from the European competition. 

In a season where the Dutch club slumped to a seventh-placed league finish, Feyenoord would miss out on European qualification for the first time in 16 years.

A small glimmer of hope presented itself that summer however, when the club’s young prodigy Royston Drenthe lit up the U21 Euros and, as a result, had football’s behemoths knocking at Feyenoord’s door. 

The winger's eventual sale to Real Madrid released the necessary funds required to purchase Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Roy Makaay – two players who helped the club lift the 2008 KNVB Cup. Unfortunately, the success wasn’t to last.

Feyenoord fan banner

Feyenoord’s domestic cup glory had caught the attention of the Netherlands national team, who took the decision to poach their manager, Bert van Marwijk, thus setting the wheels in motion for a revolving door policy at the club.

Gertjan Verbeek was sacked on account of poor results before the next head coach, Mario Been, saw the players revolt against him. A 10-0 humbling at the hands of PSV in early 2011 followed, with Feyenoord’s sporting director Leo Beenhakker resigning in the aftermath of the deeply humiliating defeat. 

Former player Ronald Koeman eventually took to the dugout and led Feyenoord out of their rut, turning results around and pulling the team up to a second-placed finish. Alas, financial troubles came bubbling to the surface once more as Koeman was urged to sell stars Leroy Fer and Georginio Wijnaldum. 

Nevertheless, Koeman pressed on, reconstructing his side with low-key purchases such as Jordy Clasie and Daryl Janmaat. A period of stability followed, and Feyenoord managed to secure five consecutive top-four finishes between 2012 and 2016. 

After Koeman’s departure – and following Fred Rutten’s single season in charge – another former player returned to take the reins: Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The new man in charge was ready to take Feyenoord back to the pinnacle of Dutch football.

van Bronckhorst immediately got to work. Just as he’d done as a player eight years earlier, he helped Feyenoord lift the 2016 KNVB Cup. It was in his second season, though, that the manager would write his name in the history books.

The coach followed up his cup success by helping Feyenoord capture their first Eredivisie title in 18 years. Once again Rotterdam’s streets became a sea of Red and White. Roads were shut, statues were climbed, fountains were commandeered and chants roared long into the night.