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Rijkaard (L) and Gullit (R) both could have represented Suriname.

Suriname: The Greatest Team You’ve Never Heard Of

Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf. The list of players that hail from Suriname is quite astonishing. Conor Heffernan discusses.

Ranked 147th by FIFA, Suriname are rarely the focus of any real media attention. Why would they be? After all, South America’s smallest nation has never qualified for a World Cup, never qualified for the Olympics and has never seemingly done anything in the world of football. Looks however can be deceiving.

This small nation of only 500,000 people has given the world superstars like Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit, Edgar Davids and many more. Due to its colonial past however, Suriname has consistently lost out on their greatest prospects to Holland, her former colonial masters.

In 2014, Suriname’s international side had only two players plying their trade abroad with the majority of the team made up of local players. In the same year, Holland travelled to Germany with Jeremain Lens in their squad. Lens was born and bred in Suriname and even represented the country in 2009. As the Suriname game wasn’t officially recognised by FIFA, Lens was free to represent Holland at the World Cup. For fans of Suriname soccer, it was par for the course.

Suriname has seen some of the World’s greatest footballers pass through the country and has never really managed to hold onto them. Most of world football is ignorant of this fact, but in Suriname it’s a deep wound. The country is still suffering the aftermath of Dutch colonialism.

In the middle of the 1600s Suriname fell into Dutch hands and in many ways, she is still struggling to get free. Suriname became part of the ‘Kingdom of Netherlands’ and was used as a place to cultivate and supply goods to the Netherlands. Slaves were brought in from Africa and used in conjunction with the local populous, many of who were enslaved themselves. Forced to work in plantation fields under a scorching sun, the locals were treated brutally by their Dutch overseers.

When slavery was finally abolished in the 19th century, the slaves were freed from the tyranny of the plantation field. Some left Suriname in hope of a better life in the United States while others travelled to Holland for a fresh start. When the small nation finally gained independence in 1975, few in Holland realised how important Suriname would be for the future of Dutch football, but why would they? The 1970s was the period of Total Football in Holland. A time when men like Johan Cruyff reinvented how the game should be played. No longer shackled by rigid tactics the Dutch was a fluid footballing machine, which thrilled fans the world over.

But it was not to last.

Once the 1970s faded into memory, Holland’s football team declined. The heyday of Cruyff and co was replaced by years of mediocrity. It wasn’t until the 1988 European Championships that Dutch football entered a new epoch of captivating football.

This time however, the philosophy had changed. A new profession of footballers had stepped up for Holland. The only problem was they came from Suriname. Players either born in Suriname itself or 1st generation immigrants from the small nation had begun to shape the Orange’s future.

Stars such as Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard were the first Suriname players to make a mark with the Dutch team, but they weren’t the last. The success of Gullit and Rijkaard encouraged even more Surinamese footballers to make the move to Holland. The next few years saw Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink make the move from Suriname to Holland.

Such players were the backbone for Holland for over a decade and ensured the Dutch became a feared international squad. Holland reached the semi-finals of two of their next three tournaments after Euro ’88.

But it wasn’t just the international team who prospered. In 2009, FIFA commissioned a study in which they found nearly 150 players in the Dutch top flight, the Eredivisie, could claim Surinamese ancestry. This has included Nigel de Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum and goalkeeper Michael Vorm. Suriname has been depleted of nearly three generations of world stars and is the third lowest ranked team in all of South America. The Dutch on the other hand are one of the strongest teams in world football.

Dutch colonialism has left a bitter after-taste in Suriname. The Surinamese government has ruled that any footballer who moves abroad to play football in Holland is ineligible for the Surinamese football team. It may seem like a case of shooting yourself in the foot but it’s a matter of pride. The Dutch have taken so much from the small state, that football was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Fans of Surinamese football often fail to see it that way however, with many fans adamant that such players should be allowed to represent their nation. Its an understandable frustration. Had Suriname access to the likes of Gullit, Davids and so on, the small nation would arguably have been one of South America’s strongest nations. Instead, she’s a whipping boy for the others.

Most tragically is the fact that Surinamese children hoping to play football professionally in later life will most likely leave for Holland. It’s become a way of life.


 

All Time Lost Surinamese XI

GK

Michel Vorm

_____

Defenders

RB: Mario Melchiot

CB: Ruud Gullit (could play anywhere, but we’ve selected him at CB due to other midfielders)

CB: Jeffrey Bruma

LB: Winston Bogarde

_____

Midfield

RM: Ryan Babel

CM: Frank Rijkaard

CM: Edgar Davids

LM: Clarence Seedorf

_____

Strikers

ST: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

ST: Patrick Kluivert

_____

Substitutes

  • Michael Reiziger
  • Evander Sno
  • Georginio Wijnaldum
  • Urby Emanuelson
  • Eljero Elia
  • Aron Winter

The sad thing is a second XI could easily be drawn up. Suriname has lost out on three generations of world-class footballers.

So next time you’re discussing the world’s greatest team don’t forget Suriname. The greatest team you’ve never heard of.

Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.

Featured Image By The original uploader was Snake90 at Italian Wikipedia (Transferred from it.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

About Conor Heffernan

Conor is a recent graduate History and Political Science graduate with an interest in health and football. He has been a long-suffering Leeds United fan since the late 1990s but as always remains optimistic for next season!