The Rise of Vitesse Arnhem: FC Hollywood upon Rhine

By Gary Armstrong

100 years ago, Vitesse Arnhem lost a playoff final against Sparta Rotterdam and as such finished runners up in the race for the 1912/13 Netherlands Football League Championship. A century on, the trophy cabinet at the GelreDome Stadium lies vacant and still awaits Vitesse’s maiden top flight championship trophy. With only a few games remaining in the Eredivisie this year, Vitesse sit in 3rd position, just 5 points astray of league leaders and Dutch giants Ajax. Surprising many by being able to maintain their title challenge until the business end of the season, this may not be the year that Vitesse Arnhem finally fill the gaping void in their history and secure their first Dutch Championship, but they are gaining deserved recognition.

Vitesse’s golden era came at the beginning of the 20th Century as the club ended as runners up of the Netherlands Football League Championship for three consecutive seasons between 1913 and 1915. Since then, the closest Vitesse have come to securing the top league title was a third place Eredivisie finish in 1998. The achievements of the 97/98 season provided a degree of progress for Vitesse given that the club had fallen into bankruptcy in the mid-80’s and spent the majority of the decade playing their football in Holland’s second tier. The resultant drama on and off the pitch during this era earned Vitesse the unenviable nickname of “FC Hollywood upon Rhine”.  

Vitesse achieved promotion to the Eredivisie in 1989 where they have remained ever since, recording a series of mid-table finishes thus highlighting the club’s content with top flight stability. However the introduction of Georgian businessman Merab Jordania has resulted in a shift in attitude at Vitesse Arnhem and a renewed ambition to become the champions of Holland.

In August of 2010, Merab Jordania opted to buy Vitesse Arnhem and in the process became the first ever foreign owner of a Dutch football team. Jordania, a former professional footballer who spent his entire playing career in his homeland has previously held roles as the President of Georgian Football Association and as temporary manager of his country’s national team. His takeover of Vitesse drew many critics, many of whom were sceptical of the Georgian’s business history and the motives behind his investment. Jordania’s ambition was certainly apparent upon his arrival at the club as immediately he stated his bold intention for Vitesse to win the Eredivisie title within the next 3 years. As this season nears its completion, Vitesse remain as realistic candidates to have their name etched onto the Eredivisie trophy for the very first time and as such, Jordania’s critics are beginning to think twice.

It is believed that Jordania has invested approximately 100 million Euros in the club since his arrival, the majority of which has been spent on young talent with the hope that they can drive Vitesse onto new found success. However, the Georgian has also quickly asserted his desire to establish the long-term stability of the club with the construction of a new state-of-the-art training complex and youth development centre.

Jordania’s investments already appear to be paying dividends. After narrowly avoiding the relegation playoffs on goal difference in 2010/11, Vitesse finished in 7th position and qualified for Europe in 2011/2012 in Jordania’s first full season at the helm of the club.

This year, the club have progressed a step further in their quest for league success and have been helped by the loan signings of Chelsea youngsters Gael Kakuta, Patrick Van Aanholt and Tomas Kalas – a result of Merab Jordania’s close friendship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Vitesse veteran Theo Janssen returned to his hometown club last summer after departing for FC Twente in 2008 with whom he won the Eredivisie under the stewardship of former England manager Steve McClaren. Also in their ranks, Vitesse have two Japanese, two Georgians, a Brazilian and an Ecuadorian who along with a host of home-grown Dutch talent have combined to great effect to achieve the best away record in the Eredivisie so far this season.

Undoubtedly the poster boy of Vitesse’s success during this campaign is Willfried Bony, a 24 year old Ivorian striker who has amassed an incredible 27 goals in 28 league games and leads the Eredivisie scoring charts. Bony was signed from Sparta Prague in the 2011 January transfer window for a reported £3.5 million and looks set for a lucrative move to the English Premiership this summer, with Chelsea supposedly leading the pack for his signature.

Vitesse Arnhem are the form team in the Eredivisie at the time of writing and have won their last 6 consecutive games in a late rally for the holy grail of the Dutch Championship. They enjoy a fairly comfortable run-in in their final 6 matches, apart from an away visit to fellow title hopefuls and Dutch giants Feyenoord at the end of this month. Subsequently, Merab Jordania’s ambition to lift the Eredivisie trophy within his first three seasons at Vitesse hangs in the balance, but regardless of the destination of the league title come May, supporters of FC Hollywood upon Rhine can for once feel confident that their club  are be heading in the right direction.

This piece was written by Gary Armstrong, football writer keen on the ‘off the beaten track’ stories of world football. You can follow Gary on twitter @themazyrun

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