Left-back has been a defensive quandary for Sunderland for the past few seasons, seeing loanees or others playing out of position being temporary solutions. However, Black Cats boss Gus Poyet has employed Chelsea’s Patrick van Aanholt for the next four years to try and solve the left-sided problem.
North-East football fans may remember that name, as Van Aanholt did spend a month over the Tyne at Newcastle United during their Championship winning season in 2009/10. Then Magpies boss Chris Hughton was full of praise for Van Aanholt and it was reported that the Irishman asked Chelsea if the loan could be extended, meanwhile the then 19-year-old had more ambitious ideas. He rejected a return to St. James Park to challenge Ashley Cole’s spot in the Chelsea defence. Unfortunately for the young Dutchman, only two full appearances materialised and strangely enough, one of those games was a 4-3 League Cup defeat to Newcastle at Stamford Bridge in August 2010.
With lack of chances at the London club, Van Aanholt consequently was farmed out onto Leicester City and later returning to his homeland to play for Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivisie. Spending the next two and half seasons in Arnhem, playing regular first-team football is where the young man has matured into a 23-year-old very secure in a role that Sunderland so badly need filled. You can say it has been a successful time at Vitesse for Van Aanholt, that led Sunderland’s new man being named in Louis van Gaal’s 30-man provisional World Cup squad this summer.
I cannot see Van Aanholt blowing the roof off the Premier League, but expect a firm defender with some impressive offensive expertise. He is courageous in a tackle and solid when marking, but Sunderland will see more positives in his attacking than his defending. In Holland, like a modern full-back you see nowadays, he showed the confidence and ability to take his opposite number on, although the defenders in the Eredivisie are not as tough as some he will come across in the Premier League. Strong on the ball, he uses his speed along with his ingenuity to get past his challenger and whip a ball into the box. He produced three assists last term, while in fairness, his distribution could be stronger. Furthermore, in the 67 appearances made Van Aanholt has provided Vitesse with goals too, delivering five with four of those coming last season. Opposition goalkeepers will need to be aware of the powerful left-foot he has behind him, that could leave their fingers stinging from distance.
Though great going forward, getting back to defend could cause a problem leaving his team-mates exposed, but he does have pace in his arsenal to use when needed. For Sunderland fans, the burning issue regarding this signing will be whether or not the player can be seen as a permanent fixture in the starting line-up at the Stadium of Light. Time will tell, but with two years of great experience in the Dutch top flight under his belt, he is certainly worthy of being given a chance to prove himself in the red and white shirt of Sunderland.
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