Vitesse Arnhem’s rise to the summit of the Dutch Eredivisie this season confirms their position as one of the most surprising and impressive outsiders throughout Europe’s major domestic football leagues. While the majority of the major leagues across the continent have been already decided by mid-April, or are currently led comprehensively by an established football powerhouse, in Holland the story reads somewhat differently.
Following their 3-3 draw away at relegation-battlers Roda JC at the weekend, Vitesse Arnhem find themselves still in contention for the Eredivisie title with just four games of the league campaign remaining. They are competing for the top spot with three historical heavyweights of the Dutch game and regular candidates for domestic honors — Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven, and Feyenoord.
After falling to a 2-1 defeat by NEC Nijmegen on 3 February this year, Vitesse have remained unbeaten in the league and drawn just two of their following nine games. In his first season in charge, Fred Rutten has led his side to seven straight wins, before this weekend’s draw with Roda JC, lifting them to just five points behind current leaders Ajax, and clear in second place, a point ahead of PSV and Feyenoord. The Eindhoven side remain ahead in third due to a far superior goal difference.
Central to Vitesse’s dramatic rise towards the summit of the Eredivisie this season has been the consistent goalscoring form of their Ivorian striker Wilfred Bony. With four games of the season still to play, Bony leads the league goalscoring chart with a hugely impressive 30 goals, seven clear of his nearest rival, SC Heerenveen’s Icelandic striker Alfred Finnbogason. If they are to maintain their push to the season’s finale, surely Vitesse will need their leading target-man to keep his shooting boots well polished.
The situation in Holland draws to mind Montpellier’s success in the French Ligue 1 last season, however while the French side held on to become unlikely domestic champions, what makes Vitesse’s recent run to the top of the Eredivisie all the more remarkable is the club’s history in the Dutch game. They have yet to attain any silverware in their time in the top flight and have failed to finish in the league’s top two places since 1915. On the 16 August 2010, Georgian businessman and former footballer, Merab Jordania became the new owner and chairman of Vitesse Arnhem, in doing so becoming the first foreign owner of a Dutch football club. There is no doubt his investment has indeed helped the progress of the team and added more quality to the playing staff, however they are still nowhere near the level of the big three in the Dutch game, and the mere fact that they are challenging for these lofty positions is quite remarkable and a credit to all involved.
Ajax undoubtedly still remain favourites to regain their title, an impressive and perhaps very significant 3-2 victory away at PSV at the weekend strengthening their position further, however with the end of season now very much in sight, the league’s top positions and perhaps even the championship crown itself remain all to play for.
No matter what materialises between now and the end of play this season, the side from Arnhem has surpassed all expectations and upset some of the established powers of Dutch football along the way. The club and their fans have much to be proud of.
Editor’s note: For viewers in the United States, ESPN3.com will be broadcasting live Eredivisie matches this weekend including Friday’s game between Heerenveen vs. Ajax at 2pm ET. On Saturday at 2:45pm ET, the match between AZ Alkmaar (starring Jozy Altidore) and PSV Eindhoven will be shown on ESPN3.com