Will Burns presents a new series looking at current Eredivisie players that could fit right at home at your Premier League club.
The Dutch Eredivisie has been used as a stepping stone to the Premier League and other top leagues across Europe for years. For so long, young talent has been exported into England with the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Edwin van der Sar, Jaap Stam, Marc Overmars, Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Luis Suarez excelling in their new surroundings. Dutch club football used to provide us with great teams challenging for top European honours with Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax clinching the European Cup (now the Champions League, to you youngsters out there) in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
However, since the Amsterdammers defeated AC Milan in May 1995, with a soon-to-be all star cast involving Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, Jari Litmanen and the De Boer twins, Dutch football has saw a decline. Mainly due to the failure to keep up with the other leagues financially, the Eredivisie has seen their top players moving onto bigger sides and helping those sides become huge successes. With all the money flying about and regardless of what some may dispute, it’s hard to see UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rule creating a level playing field across Europe, allowing other leagues to catch up.
In recent transfer windows, Tottenham Hotspur have took advantage seeing Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen leave Ajax for White Hart Lane for big money moves and earlier, Liverpool picked up Luis Suarez for £22.8m and no-one can argue that he has not already paid a large chunk of that back.
You will not see the Premier League’s importing stars from the Eredivisie ending anytime soon, with low wages and Dutch clubs struggling financially, it’s an easy market for England’s top clubs and in this series I will pick English clubs and which players would suit them and make the short journey across the North Sea.
CLUB – PSV
POSITION – LEFT BACK
AGE – 19
At just 19 years of age, he has cemented the left-back position at Phillip Cocu’s PSV and between him and Ajax’s Daley Blind, the left side of the Oranje’s defence for the upcoming World Cup and years beyond is looking strong. At just 18, he broke a 28-year-old record to become the youngest ever player in the history of Euro Championships when he started all three of the Netherlands games at Euro 2012.
Willems’ big break came in 2011 when he was part of the Oranje Under-17 team that demolished all competition in the UEFA European Under 17 tournament for the first time in their history. Willems’ contributions were standout and the fact that the Dutch did not concede a goal on the road to the final, where they defeated bitter rivals Germany by five goals to two.
After the tournament, a big transfer move was inevitable and Willems, who had begun his career in Dutch amateur football at Spartaan ’20 and then moved to Eerste Divisie side Sparta Rotterdam in the summer of 2010. The sharks were circling and Sir Alex Ferguson was ready to snap him up and wanted to bring the young Dutchman to Manchester United. However, as the majority of Dutch youngsters believe, he stayed in the Eredivisie to further his career and moved to PSV for a sum of €800,000. During that season, he ousted Erik Pieters out of the left-back position and made it his own, and PSV were quick to extend the youngster’s contract until 2016.
He started twenty Eredivisie matches, scoring a goal and assisting two. He became the youngest Dutch player ever to appear in a European match in a UEFA Europa League tie with Hapoel Tel Aviv. Then Netherlands national coach Bert van Marwijk included Willems in the 23-man squad for Euro 2012, it was thought to give him some experience being part of tournament squad and nothing more with Vurnon Anita, the first choice left-back.
To many’s surprise, on the team sheet for the opening game, Marwijk kept faith in the young 18-year-old, and it was a baptism by fire. The Dutch crashed out of the tournament losing three games out of three. However, as Willems started all three games, it was the experience that he needed to progress his game and has only grew stronger from it.
Of course at such a young age, Willems still has mistakes to make and a lot to learn yet but as of writing he has made 91 Eredivisie appearances and mastered perhaps the key area of the pitch in modern football. His rapid improvement in a short space of time has been incredibly impressive and his progress so far suggests he’s going to handle any tests coming his way.
Could he match the speed and strengths of the Premier League? Yes, physically strong with great pace, Willems would slot into Patrick Evra’s boots for seasons to come. Going forward he has the skill to beat any defender and his physicality and technique will hold him in good stead at Old Trafford. With names like Southampton’s Luke Shaw being bandied around as potential successors for Evra, Jetro Willems could be a cheaper and better all around replacement.
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