Can Edward Sturing Lead Vitesse Out of the Relegation Zone?

From Martin Odegaard to Lois Openda to Mason Mount, Vitesse Arnhem have grown a reputation for developing young talent and finishing in the upper reaches of the Eredivisie table, playing in European football on five occasions in the past decade, most recently reaching the UEFA Europa Conference League Round of 16 in 2021/22. Today, however, they sit bottom of the league with 11 points from 16 matches, three points away from the relegation play-off spot and four away from automatic safety.


Founded on May 14, 1892, Vitesse is the second-oldest professional football club still in existence in the Netherlands after Sparta Rotterdam (1888), although Vitesse’s roots actually pre-date Sparta by a year. A group of high school students who played their sport on the Rijnknade, overlooking the River Rhine, decided to form the club “Arnhemsche cricket- en voetbalvereeniging Vitesse.” They disbanded it in 1891 after they were unable to find a new playing ground, but a group of wealthy students resurrected it in 1892, playing cricket in the summer and football in the winter. By 1894, it was a football-only organization.


Reluctant to choose a Latin or English name over concerns of it seeming too elitist, these students picked the French word Vitesse, meaning “speed.” Luckily for Vitesse Arnhem fans, their dreams of staying afloat in the Eredivisie now depends on how quickly they can turn things around. They have suffered 11 losses thus far, drawing twice and winning three of 16, and they will be looking to return from the winter break on Sunday with a win at home against Utrecht.


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Vitesse have been playing top-flight football since winning the 1988/89 Eerste Divisie title and winning promotion to the top-flight. Since then, they have witnessed some incredible moments, with their best-ever season seeing them finish third in 1997/98, two points behind PSV Eindhoven and 19 behind Ajax. Between 1990/91 and 2002/03, Vitesse played in the UEFA Cup on nine occasions, staking their claim as an ideal platform for developing young prospects such as Roy Makaay and Phillip Cocu.


In 2010, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich secretly funded the takeover of Vitesse, bankrolling it for years with a reported €117 million in undisclosed loans, whilst also reinforcing their squad with various talents from Chelsea such as Patrick van Aanholt, Gael Kakuta and Bertrand Traore. All in all, it culminated in a historic 2016/17 campaign that would see them finish fifth in the table as well as beat AZ Alkmaar 2-0 in the KNVB-Cup Final via a brace from Ricky van Wolfswinkel, securing their first-ever major trophy.


Vitesse continued their steady progress until 2022/23 when they finished 10th in the table, outside of the top seven for the first time since 2015/16. They began the 2023/24 season on the right foot with Marco van Ginkel scoring a late winner in a 2-1 victory against Volendam. The following match, Van Ginkel opened the scoring within 19 minutes, but PSV would end up prevailing 3-1 in Arnhem. Four more defeats would follow with Vitesse failing to score in each of them, but they would kick off October with a 3-1 victory vs. NEC Nijmegen before drawing 0-0 to Excelsior.


It proved to be a false dawn as Go Ahead Eagles obliterated them 5-1, whilst the following match saw Heerenveen score two late goals following Van Ginkel’s sending-off and pull off a comeback 3-1 victory. This prompted the resignation of Phillip Cocu after a year in charge, with Vitesse turning to another former player — 60-year-old Edward Sturing. Having made 329 appearances for the club between 1987 and 1998 and won the Dutch Footballer of the Year in 1989/90, Sturing is regarded as a legend at the GelreDome, but he has a tall task ahead of him as he looks to arrest the decline.


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After beginning Sturing’s reign with a 5-0 defeat to Ajax, Vitesse fell to a 3-1 loss at Fortuna Sittard before edging newly promoted Heracles Almelo 2-0, but they would close out 2023 with another 5-0 hammering, this time being inflicted by Eredivisie newcomers Almere City. For the first time since 2010/11, when they boasted the likes of Nemanja Matic and Wilfried Bony in their squad, Vitesse find themselves in genuine trouble (they finished 15th that year, avoiding the relegation play-offs by goal differential).


Despite boasting plenty of exciting talents in their squad, Vitesse have been one of the most dysfunctional sides in the Netherlands this season, with goals being hard to come by due to a lack of midfield depth and a dearth of creativity in attack. There are various big names in the squad including Polish midfielder Kacper Kozlowski (on loan from Brighton), Dutch winger Gyan De Regt, whilst captain Marco van Ginkel has led the way with 4 goals and 2 assists.


And yet, they find themselves in grave danger as they enter the halfway point of the season. Only Heracles (39) and Volendam (40) have conceded more goals than Vitesse (37), who also have the worst attack (12) and the worst goal differential -25 in the top-flight. They sit level on 11 points with Volendam, three behind RKC Waalwijk, four behind Heracles and five behind Almere City, and they’ll be looking to put their dismal first half of the campaign behind them as they seek a 36th consecutive Eredivisie campaign.


By: Ogenyi Paul / @234programmer

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / ANP / Getty Images