Back in the 80s, Ruud Gullit was one of my idols. Gullit was a colorful character then, with his trademark dreadlocks and a nascent rap career. I was thrilled to see him on ESPN now, after 20 years. At first, though, he was struggling to find his rhythm as an analyst.
That changed when Holland came from behind to defeat Brazil in the quarterfinals. From that moment on, an ear-to-ear grin never left Gullit's face, and he was back to his voluble self, spitting witticisms with gusto. You could tell that Holland making the final made him feel like he was walking on air.
But then the final came and went, and there was a different Gullit, fidgeting like a schoolboy in front of the camera, fiddling with his orange tie. Crestfallen. He muddled through his post-game analysis, mumbling a few inane points in a suddenly thickened accent, twice mentioning a corner kick not given, before a commercial break put him out of his misery.
Crestfallen. Dutch soccer players let their emotions, and their gigantic egos, hang out. That is unusual in a little Nordic country more comfortable with modesty and reserve. Like everything else in the Netherlands, their antics are tolerated, although not always admired.
Well, I, for one, do admire them. No one gets the game, its theatricality, its brilliance and brutality, quite like the Dutch. They are many things, but they are never clinical, never meticulous, never systematic. They know showmanship. Spain is a great team, but after four 1:0 games in a row, I will not miss them for a long while. But I cannot wait to see the Dutch take to the pitch again.
This generation of Dutch players is still in its prime. In Euro 2012, almost everyone on this team will be under 30, and some may be yet to peak. Watch for them to bring more of what the Dutch game has to offer in the coming years.