Some nations just seem to be hotbeds of talent, repeatedly producing outstanding players year after year.
It’s partly cultural and partly psychological; once a philosophy of how soccer should be played sets in, it’s inevitable that quality players are produced. And Holland is the epitome of a soccer nation, producing some of the greatest players the sport has ever seen.
The Netherlands is home to some of the world’s most respected clubs, where soccer has to be played the right way for a young player even to make it into the youth team. Teams like Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord, have for over 60 years consistently produced players of outstanding ability.
Today, we’re going to look back at the 15 greatest Dutch soccer players of all time, some of whom could even get into the list of greatest players from any nation.
15. Marc Overmars
- Position: Left Winger
Marc Overmars spent the first seven years of his career in Holland as an excellent winger, primarily with Ajax, where he won three Eredivisie titles and a Champions League title.
Nicknamed “Roadrunner” thanks to his incredible speed, Overmars was the quintessential attacking winger, darting past defenders and setting up teammates.
Despite being right-footed, Overmars could play on both wings, making his versatility very useful, meaning he could switch sides of the field at will and wreak havoc with defenses.
The lightning-fast Dutchman was capped 86 times for his country, and despite being part of several superb Holland squads, never got to lift an international trophy.
14. Frank de Boer
- Position: Centre-Back
Another product of the famed Ajax youth academy, Frank de Boer was one of the best defenders of his generation, a modern-day Franz Beckenbauer.
Possessing every attribute you’d expect of an Ajax youth player, de Boer could pass, was technically excellent, and was as comfortable with the ball at his feet as many midfielders.
The versatile Dutchman could play in any position along the back line and would also contribute with occasional goal, thanks to an excellent free-kick technique. The third most capped player in
Dutch history, de Boer finished up with 112 caps and 13 goals for the Netherlands. In 2010, de Boer was named as Ajax manager and spent six seasons guiding his boyhood club to four Eredivisie titles.
13. Edgar Davids
- Position: Central Midfield
We’re not sure what they put into the water at the Ajax youth academy, but if we ever find out, we’ll make millions.
Edgar Davids, one of the best defensive midfielders Holland has ever produced, spent six years in the Ajax youth academy before making his professional debut in 1991. He would go on to win 74 caps for his country and play for some of the best teams in Europe.
After five seasons in Holland, Davids would go on a run of playing for a who’s who of European soccer, having spells at AC Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, inter Milan, and Tottenham Hotspur. Incredibly, Davids would finish his career in the English lower leagues, where he was player-manager for Barnet FC.
At his peak, Davids was a ferocious player, combative, strong, and powerful. As a defensive midfielder, his duties were to recover the ball quickly and transition defense into attack. The Dutch international wasn’t just an enforcer; he could also play.
12. Ruud van Nistelrooy
- Position: Striker
Widely considered one of the most accomplished strikers of all time, Ruud van Nistelrooy first appeared at Den Bosch before a move to Heerenveen and then onto PSV Eindhoven.
A strike rate of almost a goal every game while leading the line for PSV caught the attention of Manchester United, who came calling for the excellent Dutch striker in 2001.
Ruud van Nistelrooy almost didn’t make it to United when in 2000, he suffered a ruptured cruciate knee ligament injury, just days after Manchester United pulled out of a deal over fears for his fitness.
After promises from Sir Alex Ferguson that the deal was back on once he recovered, van Nistelrooy eventually signed in 2001 and became a club legend.
With an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, van Nistelrooy was an intelligent player that could score with both feet and was also excellent in the air. The Dutch striker was tall and powerful and timed his runs to perfection, making him one of the most feared marksmen in Europe.
11. Edwin van der Sar
- Position: Goalkeeper
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Widely regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Edwin van der Sar needed to be included in this list.
A world-class goalkeeper is hard to find; whenever one emerges, they usually cost obscene amounts of money and are difficult to extract from their club, which makes the £2 million transfer of Edwin van der Sar from Fulham to Manchester United in 2005 all the more bizarre.
Six seasons later, the superb shot-stopper had won four Premier League titles, two League Cups, a Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup.
You can’t help but feel that Fulham may have dropped the ball on this one, which is more than van der Sar ever did for much of his 21-year career.
The current CEO of Ajax, the Dutch keeper won 130 caps for the Netherlands in a truly remarkable career.
10. Clarence Seedorf
- Position: Central Midfield
It’s back to the Ajax youth academy we go for a look at the phenomenal career that Clarence Seedorf first began back in 1992.
Another Dutch player whose skills and talent meant he was destined to leave Amsterdam for some of the European elite clubs, Seedorf left Ajax in 1995 for Sampdoria, then a real force in Serie A.
His superb midfield displays in Italy led Real Madrid to take the player, where he would go on to lift both La Liga and the Champions League.
The physically fit Seedorf played top-level soccer for 22 years, playing for some genuinely exceptional clubs, notably Ajax, Real Madrid, and both Milan clubs.
9. Johan Neeskens
- Position: Central Midfield
One of the best box-to-box midfielders Holland has ever produced, Johan Neeskens, practically invented the role.
Neeskens is said to have been able to run all day, covering every blade of grass and quickly covering ground to regain possession of the ball.
A key player for both Ajax and, later, Barcelona, Neeskens was an excellent midfielder, helping Ajax to three consecutive European Cups.
The Dutch international was instrumental in creating chances for Johan Cruyff at Ajax and the national team. His work rate and determination led to teammates declaring that Neeskens was worth two midfielders.
8. Arjen Robben
- Position: Right Winger
Arjen Robben must have shown immense talent at an early age; after only two years at Groningen, the pacy Dutch winger moved to PSV, where again, he lasted for two seasons before a move to Chelsea in 2004.
Practically every European club was chasing the Netherlands’ Young Player of the Year; such was his potential.
Robben, a left-footed right winger, would often drift across the pitch to his favored left side but was just as decisive from the right of the field and is amongst the very best wingers of all time.
While the Dutch international didn’t exactly flop at Chelsea or Real Madrid, it was only when Robben landed at Bayern Munich his career reached its expected heights.
Over 200 league appearances for the Bavarian club saw almost 100 goals scored, with countless more created thanks to his pace and dribbling skills.
On his day, Robben was unplayable, terrifying defenses into making mistakes and having his markers losing their minds as they tried to keep pace with one of the best wingers in history.
7. Robin van Persie
- Position: Striker
A sublime soccer player with superb technique, Robin van Persie will go down in history as one of the greatest Dutch players of his generation. A product of the Feyenoord youth academy, van Persie spent three years with the first team squad before a move to Arsenal in 2004.
The young player was transformed into a striker at Arsenal after being deployed as a winger in Holland.
His new position suited van Persie, and he would go on to become one of the most clinical strikers in Europe.
Thanks to his early days as a winger, the Dutch international had excellent close control, superb technique, and a clean shot that rarely missed the target. A free-kick specialist, van Persie often popped up with some of the most incredible goals ever seen.
6. Frank Rijkaard
- Position: Defensive Midfield
Frank Rijkaard had a great career as a defensive midfielder, spending almost all of his career at Ajax and AC Milan. As most Dutch midfielders are, Rijkaard was elegant on the ball, with an excellent range of passing and a great soccer brain.
Defensively, Rijkaard was strong, athletic, and aggressive; all attributes which helped make him one of his generation’s best players.
Rijkaard would take his soccer experience into management, managing his country, as well as five successful seasons as Barcelona manager.
In a highly successful career, Rijkaard won dozens of trophies both as a player and as a manager, winning numerous league titles with Ajax and AC Milan and helping the Netherlands to the 1988 European Championships.
5. Ronald Koeman
- Position: Centre-Back
Ronald Koeman scored 192 league goals in 535 league appearances, and that’s not taking into account European goals, domestic cup goals, or international goals.
As a statistic, it’s pretty solid; many strikers would be more than happy to have a career that productive. There’s just one problem; Ronald Koeman was a defender.
One of the best defenders the Netherlands has ever produced, Koeman was able to score from long distances, was superb at free-kicks and penalties, and scored goals in some of the most critical games in European soccer.
Famous for his time at Ajax, PSV, and Barcelona, Koeman remains to this day the highest-scoring defender of all time.
Koeman employed an unusual tactic when taking free kicks and penalties; he would charge at the ball at full speed, giving every indication that he would absolutely smash the ball. Then, when he got there, he would delicately place the ball out of reach of the goalkeeper.
He is an absolute legend of a player; it’s unlikely his scoring record will ever be broken. Admittedly, in the modern game, the stakes are too high, and a striker will rarely allow a central defender to take their penalties away from them.
Still, regardless of that, Koeman’s achievements as a player and manager can’t be underestimated.
4. Dennis Bergkamp
- Position: Second Striker
We’ve seen many players that have broken into the Ajax team, having learned their craft in the Ajax youth academy.
Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp is another fantastic example; one of the most dedicated, intelligent, and sublime soccer players ever seen, Bergkamp is the ultimate striker.
Having played for Ajax, inter Milan, and Arsenal, Bergkamp was a consummate professional, dedicating himself to becoming the best player he could be.
Having scored over 200 league goals in his career, many of them spectacular, you can be forgiven for thinking the Dutch legend was an out-and-out striker, but Bergkamp had many more strings to his bow than that.
Creative, resourceful, and impossible to predict, Bergkamp could destroy teams singlehandedly; he turned the second striker role into an art form, creating chance after chance, as well as scoring impossible goals.
Ironically named the “Non-Flying Dutchman” due to his fear of flying, Bergkamp remains one of the most respected Dutch players of all time.
3. Ruud Gullit
- Position: Attacking Midfielder
Another player to have come through the Ajax… actually, no, incredibly, one of the Netherlands greatest ever players has never played for Ajax!
Ruud Gullit, winner of the Ballon d’Or and twice named the World Soccer Player of the Year, actually played for HFC Haarlem, Feyenoord, and PSV.
In a glittering career that saw Gullit become one of the “three Dutchmen” at AC Milan, alongside fellow stars Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten, Gullit won everything.
The player would lift the Serie A three times, win two consecutive European Cups, the UEFA Super Cup and intercontinental Cup, and a host of Eredivisie titles with Feyenoord and PSV.
A versatile attacking midfielder, Gullit was a superb athlete and used his strength and speed to great effect. Almost impossible to dispossess, the elegant Dutch international was a playmaker with incredible vision.
Gullit was one of the most popular and well-known soccer stars of the 1980s and 1990s, with his unique look, superb skills, and incredible will to win.
2. Marco van Basten
- Position: Striker
It’s no understatement to say that if Marco van Basten hadn’t been cruelly retired through injury, he could well have been the greatest striker of all time.
Having to retire from soccer at 28 years old, the iconic Dutch center forward was, from 1981 until his retirement in 1995, the best striker on earth.
Marco van Basten could score from anywhere on the field, using either foot, and his heading was second to none.
Known for spectacular goals, van Basten’s volley against the USSR in EURO 88 was sublime; those who think it was a fluke haven’t seen the rest of the mercurial Dutchman’s goals.
A three-time Ballon d’Or winner, van Basten won every domestic trophy going; three Eredivisie titles with Ajax, four Serie A titles and three Champions League titles with AC Milan, and the Golden boot when the Netherlands won Euro 1988.
Clinical in front of goal, van Basten rarely looked flustered, and his penalty-taking strike rate was incredible.
Every poll about the greatest players of all time has van Basten ranked in the top ten; you rarely find a player so complete, and rarely will you find another striker as admired as van Basten.
It’s a loss to soccer that he had to retire due to his horrific injuries, but while he did grace the field, he was truly outstanding.
1. Johan Cruyff
- Position: Attacking Midfield
Johan Cruyff wasn’t just a soccer player; he wasn’t just a manager. He was ideal; Cruyff was what soccer players aspired to. There were a few better players than Johan Cruyff over the years, not many, but there has never been a soccer player as influential.
Cruyff turned Ajax into one of the most dominant teams in Europe and laid the foundations for the club’s philosophy; total football was born.
Cruyff and his teammates perfected the art of total football to such an extent that they won the European Cup for three consecutive seasons in his first spell with the Amsterdam giants.
The idea of creating space through player rotation and the ideal of every player being able to move into another role seamlessly stemmed from Ajax. Cruyff was the heartbeat, the conductor of the team. Under the talismanic Cruyff, Ajax turned soccer on its head and redefined how the game would be played for the next 50 years.
Cruyff took his philosophies into management, especially with Ajax and Barcelona, and his ideas traveled, being learned by players who themselves would become great managers. Johan Cruyff’s impact on soccer will be felt forever; he truly is the greatest Dutch player of all time.