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Carom Billiard - 3-Cushion - Bert's column (NED)

Do the Dutch crown jewels need a polish?

Posted by on November 3, 2017

Do the Dutch crown jewels need a polish?

© Kozoom

I'll ask myself an easy question for a change. What are the crown jewels of Dutch 3-cushion? We have three:

- Dick Jaspers. Our best player ever, 22 World Cups, 3 world titles, 4 European, 19 Dutch, winner of 56 ranking events, holder of every imaginable Dutch record, and he likes to eat a banana before the match. Dick is the ultimate professional, he's in a class of his own.   

- Our league. The first team competition to transcend national levels, it was the strongest in the world for 20 years. Blomdahl, Ceulemans, Sánchez, Zanetti, Merckx, Komori, Caudron, Nelin, Carlsen, Tasdemir, Coklu, Horn, Leppens, Forthomme. Every world class player has spent at least a few seasons in our first league, and the tough competition there contributed to the playing strength of many European 3-cushion greats.

- Our Masters tournament. The finest event of the year (on Dutch soil), as far as I am concerned. A tradition that started in 1987, with Arie Weijenburg winning the first and second edition. From then on, it was basically a big bowl of Jaspers-soup with some De Bruijn and Burgman meatballs in it. (and one-time winners Arnouts, van Kuijk and van Erp). The years in Veghel were unforgettable, there were a few organizational disasters in Nijverdal, let's quickly forget about those, and now there is a second childhood in Berlicum that everybody is happy about.  

The 2018 Masters are around the corner, and I trust they will be as good as they were in 2016 and 2017. The organizing B.E.N. foundation knows what they are doing, the ambiance is great in "De Durpsherd". It'll be fine. But there is something else that worries me.

Dutch players have not made enough progress.

Don't get me wrong: I am excited when van Kuijk makes a closing run of 25. I am thrilled when something beautiful happens from out of nowhere, such as that 40 in 11 by Demming, the 40 in 10 by Valentijn, the YouTube hit by van der Spoel, Hofman equalizing with 17. Nobody enjoys it more than I do, and Dave, Barry, Jean, Therese and Glenn have my support wherever they play. 

But I am a numbers-guy, and the numbers don't look good. Check out the tournament averages of our Masters championship:

2017 - 1.183

2016 - 1.187

2015 - 1.160

2014 - 1.231

2013 - 1.129

2012 - 1.246.

And, to take you back to a few of the golden years of "Veghel":

2005 - 1.223

2004 - 1.234

2003 - 1.242

In the past ten years, the Vietnamese and the Turks have changed from 0.8 / 0.9 players into 1.4 / 1.5 players. The Koreans have gone from 1.1 to 1.6 or even 1.8. And our wonderful Masters tournament, between 2003 and 2017, did not show ANY progress. 

Is there an explanation for this stagnation? Yes, but it is both complicated and unpleasant.  You could stick your head in the sand, and say: "These foreign players in our league get in the way of the Dutch talents developing." But that is a lame excuse, copied from third-rate politicians. The few Dutch talents we have (in the 0.6 - 0.9 category, I don't know better ones) should hone their skills and sharpen their teeth in a lower division, playing 1-average opponents. They would not magically jump three tenths in average if they played in the highest league. Losing 40-7 six weeks in a row is not what makes you, it's what breaks you. 

Those foreign players in the Dutch league are not "too cheap". Those Dutch players are too expensive.

We are a spoiled bunch. And when I say "we", I am not referring to the actual TOP players, of course. They are professionals, worth the money because they deliver. But why would you pay a third- or fourth echelon billiard player 100 euro per match? There's no return on that investment, you're not even going to sell 20 extra drinks because he's there. What you pay for, is your team ending 4th instead of 7th that year. If that is worth it to you, fine. But the money is gone. 

The "salaries" players get, are not money EARNED by them, but money GIVEN to them. This culture originated in the nineties. Major teams such as Minkels Products, TAS / ISMS, van Wanrooij and Crystal Kelly had rich (or even ultra-rich) sugar daddies, all on the hunt for the best players. Pretty soon the not-quite-as-good players thought: "If he's worth 500 guilders a match, I should get 200 at least." 

In a few years time, a billiard economy developed, in which dozens and dozens of players were compensated. Not for doing any type of work, just because they were good at billiards. This train of thought persists to this day. Players think: "I have an average of X, which means I am entitled to salary Y." That conclusion is understandable. But incorrect.  

I do not begrudge any of my colleagues their perks. But I hope they realize, especially the younger ones, especially the ones more talented than I ever was, that you only succeed in a sport when you have a burning ambition. The type of ambition that makes Turkish players travel to the Netherlands and play for a very small fee. They want the experience, they want to learn and grow, which is more important to them than the difference between 50 or a 100 euro. The type of ambition shown by Vietnamese players, who sometimes spend three months salary to participate in a World Cup tournament. 

"I am not going to play that World Cup, can't possibly make any money there", says the Dutch player.  

Ambition means several things: it means you have a dream, it means you are going to invest and forget the short term, it means you are willing to take the pain.

Which, in an unflattering manner, has exposed at least a part of our problem. We are bean counters, more than we are sportsmen.  


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