Netherlands legends: The best Dutch players of all time

  • The Netherlands have boasted some of the world's most talented footballers
  • Holland's Total Football completely transformed the beautiful game
  • The 1980s saw the Oranje win their only major international trophy
The Netherlands have produced some footballing icons
The Netherlands have produced some footballing icons / VI-Images/GettyImages

Not many nations have influenced football as much as the Dutch.

The emergence of Total Football in the 1970s transformed the game as we know it, gifting players the freedom to move effortlessly into different roles across the pitch and even laying the foundations for the tiki-taka style that has dominated much of the 21st century. Much of the beautiful attacking football fans see today can be traced back to Holland.

To employ such a fluid style you need some darn talented players and the Netherlands have produced them in abundance. The 1980s and 1990s were particularly fruitful for gifted Dutch footballers, but there are some modern icons that have carried the torch.

Here are the 25 best Dutch players of all time.

25. Faas Wilkes

Clinical Dutch strikers have been all too regular over the years, but not many can match Faas Wilkes' remarkable goalscoring record. He netted 35 times in just 38 matches for the Oranje, representing his country for a grand total of 15 years.

The former Inter and Valencia forward played from the middle of the 1940s to the early 1960s, which was not the Netherlands' most fruitful era. Still, Wilkes was an exceptional talent in an average team.

24. Marc Overmars

Marc Overmars of Holland
The former Arsenal winger was electric / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

An 11-year international career with Holland never quite hit the heights it could have, with the former Ajax, Arsenal and Barcelona star representing Holland at four major tournaments.

While he was unable to fire the Dutch to glory on the big stage, Marc Overmars was always a dynamic presence in a formidable forward line, bagging 17 times in 86 international outings,

23. Patrick Kluivert

Holland v Cyprus
Kluivert had a remarkable record for Holland / Craig Prentis/GettyImages

While not quite able to match Wilkes' insane goals to game average, Patrick Kluivert was similarly ruthless in the final third. A fleet-footed forward with a great turn of pace, the striker managed 40 goals in 79 appearances for the Oranje.

He was the Netherlands' all-time top goalscorer until 2015 and peaked at Euro 2000 on home soil. Kluivert claimed the Golden Boot at the championships with five strikes and was always a handful for opposition defenders come tournament time.

22. Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk almost won the Ballon d'Or / BSR Agency/GettyImages

While Virgil van Dijk's longevity is no match for some of Holland's all-time greats, the Liverpool centre-back is a modern icon. Finishing runner-up in the 2019 Ballon d'Or vote, he boasts every attribute needed to be a defender at the elite level.

He has not had the luxury of playing in some of the great Dutch teams of the past, but he would comfortably slot into most of them.

21. Edgar Davids

Edgar Davids
Davids was a fierce midfielder / Sportsphoto/Allstar/GettyImages

Known for his unique goggles, Edgar Davids was a tough-tackling midfielder with great technical ability. Despite his slight frame, the former Juventus man was not to be messed with, never afraid of lunging into challenges with the necessary venom.

A gifted number eight able of driving forward from deep, Davids made an impressive 74 appearances in the fabled orange jersey of the Netherlands.

20. Willy van der Kuijlen

 - FC Den Haag v PSV
A prolific centre-forward for the Netherlands / VI-Images/GettyImages

Another great goalscorer for the Oranje, Willy van der Kuijlen boasts a wonderfully Dutch name. He also had plenty of talent and was famed for his tactical intelligence and sharp finishing skills.

He only turned out 22 times for the Netherlands in the 1960s and 1970s, but managed seven goals and forged a formidable reputation.

19. Frank de Boer

Frank de Boer
De Boer was a classy operator at the back / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

Frank de Boer may not be the most talented coach, struggling during his short stint as Netherlands boss, but he was a superb defender for the Oranje during his playing days.

With a great range of passing and brilliant athleticism, he was a trend-setter for modern defenders during the 1990s. He helped his country reach the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1998 and exemplified the fluidity of the great Dutch teams with his tactical versatility.

18. Phillip Cocu

Phillip Cocu of Holland and German Villa of Mexico
Cocu made over a century of appearances / Mark Thompson/GettyImages

Not many players can boast 101 caps for their national teams, let alone a country that has produced as many world-class players as the Netherlands. That highlights just how good Phillip Cocu was for the Oranje, even if he missed a crucial penalty in a shootout during the semi-final of the 1998 World Cup.

The midfielder was another versatile Dutchman during the 1990s and 2000s, performing admirably across the defence and in a more advanced role.

17. Giovanni van Bronckhorst

Giovanni Van Bronckhorst
Van Bronckorst had a powerful left foot / Lars Baron/GettyImages

Giovanni van Bronckhorst may not have been the most glamorous name on the team sheet, but his consistency for the Netherlands across a 14-year spell speaks volumes about his quality and character.

The left-back, who played for the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona, racked up 106 appearances for the Oranje and produced an absolute rocket to help the Netherlands reach the World Cup final in 2010 during a semi-final victory over Uruguay.

16. Wesley Sneijder

Wesley Sneijder
Sneijder is Holland's record appearance maker / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

The man who has worn the orange jersey most frequently over the years, Wesley Sneijder is a Dutch legend. So close to glory at the 2010 World Cup, the former Inter midfielder managed an astounding 134 caps for Holland across 17 years.

A supreme technician in the number ten role, 31 goals means he's just shy of making the Netherlands' top ten scorers. It's easy to forget just how talented Sneijder was in his prime, enjoying some brilliant moments for the Netherlands at major tournaments.

15. Jaap Stam

Jaap Stam
Stam was an elite defender / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

A bruising centre-half, Jaap Stam was as fierce as he looked on the football pitch. However, beyond his physicality, the former Manchester United man boasted excellent technical ability at the back, shifting to right-back when required.

Again, Stam was unable to claim any titles with the Dutch national team, but he was certainly not to blame for the Oranje falling short on the big stage. In an all-time Dutch XI, he would be the first name picked at the back.

14. Willem van Hanegem

Nicknamed Der Kromme for his ability to put exceptional swerve on his passes, Willem van Hanegem was a maestro in the centre of the park. Regarded as one of the greatest midfielders the country has produced, he was close to greatness at the 1974 World Cup but fell just short.

Playing alongside some of the Netherlands' best players during his prime, the Feyenoord icon was named Dutch Footballer of the Year in 1971 for his stellar displays.

13. Ruud van Nistelrooy

Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Ruud van Nistelrooy was relentless / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

Another prolific Dutchman who was ruthless in and around the penalty area, former Man Utd striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was unsurprisingly devastating for the Netherlands. He managed to score a goal exactly every two games, finishing with 35 strikes in 70 matches.

Named in the Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament, Van Nistelrooy didn't always see eye to eye with those who coached him at international level, but he was always a reliable provider when called upon.

12. Ruud Krol

Ruud Krol helped the Netherlands reach the World Cup final in both 1974 and 1978, not missing a single minute of either tournament. Primarily a left-back, his excellent displays earned him a place in the Team of the Tournament on both occasions.

While he wasn't able to win the Netherlands their first World Cup, he was part of the original Total Football side of the 1970s, conquering Europe on three occasions with Ajax at club level.

11. Robin van Persie

Van Persie's famous diving header for Holland was extraordinary / LLUIS GENE/GettyImages

The Netherlands' all-time top goalscorer with a well-rounded 50 in 102 matches, Robin van Persie and his magical left foot almost propelled Netherlands to greatness during the early 2010s, with the Dutchman featuring in every game as his country finished runners-up at the South Africa World Cup.

However, his most memorable moment at international level came with his head when the former Arsenal and Man Utd striker scored the most sublime diving header during a 5-1 thrashing of world champions Spain at the 2014 World Cup.

10. Edwin van der Sar

Edwin Van Der Sar
Van der Sar is the greatest Dutch goalkeeper of all time / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

The best goalkeeper Holland have ever produced, Edwin van der Sar had all the qualities of a modern day stopper. He could play with the ball at his feet, but his excellent reflexes were what set him apart from his peers, as well as his commanding presence in the box.

He was a monster in penalty shootouts with his tall frame, often making crucial saves for the Oranje at tournaments. However, like many of his most talented teammates, he retired from international football empty-handed.

9. Clarence Seedorf

Clarence Seedorf
Seedorf oozed class / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

Midfielders don't come more graceful than Clarence Seedorf, who remains the only player to have won the Champions League with three different clubs. An elegant footballer with an eye for a pass and the capacity to produce a crunching tackle, there is a reason he was so successful for a host of different teams.

On the international stage, Seedorf helped the Oranje to three major tournament semi-finals with his tenacious displays, representing his country 87 times over a 14-year period.

8. Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben
Robben possessed a wand of a left foot / Stu Forster/GettyImages

When Arjen Robben had sight of goal with the ball at his left foot, there was only one outcome. The sharpshooting winger had blistering pace, dazzling feet and a powerful strike, typically cutting inside and bending his efforts into the far top corner.

Only four players have found the back of the net more frequently than the fleet-footed Dutchman, who was another unlucky runner-up at the 2010 World Cup.

7. Johan Neeskens

Johan Neeskens was another Dutch star who came so close to glory, with two World Cup final appearances to his name. Unfortunately, both ended in defeat, with Neeskens proving crucial in getting the Oranje so far in both tournaments.

The industrious midfielder was renowned for his excellent balance of grit and poise, even covering as both a defender and a forward during his time with the Dutch national team.

6. Ronald Koeman

UEFA European Championship 1988 - VI Archive
Koeman was an excellent defender / VI-Images/GettyImages

Part of the only Dutch team to have won a major trophy - the 1988 European Championship - Ronaldo Koeman was a star. The marauding defender was a fierce physical presence but is best remembered for his stunning long-range strikes.

In particular, the Barcelona icon was renowned for his excellent set-pieces, often combining venomous power with delicate precision.

5. Frank Rijkaard

Friendly - "The Netherlands v Ajax"
Rijkaard was phenomenal / VI-Images/GettyImages

Koeman's centre-back partner at Euro 1988, Frank Rijkaard was similarly crucial to the Oranje's success at the tournament in West Germany. A physical behemoth, the graceful defender was more than capable of stepping further up the pitch when required.

Of course, there was the infamous spitting incident involving Rudi Voller two years after his triumph at Euro 1988, but purely as a footballer, there aren't many better Dutchmen.

4. Dennis Bergkamp

World Cup - Holland v Brazil
Bergkamp was a magician / VI-Images/GettyImages

Someone capable of doing ludicrous things with a football, Dennis Bergkamp is one of the greatest attackers the country has ever produced. His famous goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup epitomised his qualities, with a first touch that puts most footballers to shame.

While he just missed out on glory in 1988, Bergkamp still enjoyed a glistening international career. The former Arsenal star finished with 37 goals in 79 matches for the Oranje, capturing the hearts of Dutch fans for a decade.

3. Ruud Gullit

Ruud Gullit
A true Dutch icon / Alessandro Sabattini/GettyImages

Not many players can say they have scored in a European Championship final, but the legendary Ruud Gullit certainly can. Netting a header in the 2-0 victory over the Soviet Union in 1988, Gullit was another vital performer in the most famous Dutch team of all time.

Few players epitomised Total Football as much as Gullit, who was adept at playing a variety of positions across the pitch. He performed every aspect of the game with ease, from holding a defensive line to scoring stunning goals.

2. Marco van Basten

Marco Van Basten
Van Basten is a Ballon d'Or winner / Alessandro Sabattini/GettyImages

If it wasn't for a certain someone, Marco van Basten would comfortably be the most iconic Dutchman football has seen. The three-time Ballon d'Or winner was a relentless scorer of goals for the Oranje, including that famous volley in the final of Euro 1988.

His performances leading up to the final had been pretty exceptional too, with a hat-trick against England in the group stage and a crucial late winner against hosts West Germany in the semis. He finished the tournament as top scorer, winning a place in Dutch folklore as a result.

1. Johan Cruyff

Photo Shoot - Johan Cruijff
One of football's greatest influences / VI-Images/GettyImages

Regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, Johan Cruyff is a legendary figure in the Netherlands and across the globe. Creator of the famous 'Cruyff turn', the three-time Ballon d'Or winner has had an enormous impact on football as both player and manager.

Cruyff is synonymous with Total Football and the poster boy for the tactical setup. His displays for the Oranje were simply awe-inspiring, with few defenders capable of denying the electric forward.

33 goals in 48 appearances is a frightening tally.