Category Archives: PLAYER SPOTLIGHT

What does Donny van de Beek bring to Man Utd’s midfield?

Ajax midfield maestro Donny van de Beek is on his way to Old Trafford to join Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United on a five-year deal. Will Burns explains how Donny can improve the Red Devils.

Manchester United linked with Ajax's Donny van de Beek - The Busby Babe


The 23-year-old Van de Beek has been an influential figure over the last few years at the Johan Cruyff Arena and helped the Amsterdammers reach the semi-finals of the Champions League semi-finals and lift an Eredivisie title in 2018-19 season.

Manchester United have parted with a reported £40m to bring the young Dutchman to the Premier League but can he fit into a midfield which already boasts Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes – well yes, I believe he can.

Van de Beek rose through Ajax’s De Toekomst academy until he made his first team debut on 26th November 2015, as a substitute away to Celtic in a 2-1 Europa League victory. By the next season, he cemented his place in the Ajax midfield but it was the 2017-18 season where Donny started to shine.

Scoring eleven times in 34 Eredivisie appearances, Donny started to gain some serious plaudits and was tipped to move into the big leagues in the near future. He managed to supply a further six assists and primarily played as a box-to-box midfielder.  Head coach Erik ten Hag then moved Donny further forward the season after, where the then-21-year-old played in an attacking midfielder role and scored 17 times, with 13 assists in 57 games in all competitions.

His goals and creativity helped Ajax win the league title and the Amsterdammers unexpectedly found themselves one win away from a UEFA Champions League final. Last season, which was abruptly ended due to ongoing global pandemic, Donny shared his time as a number ten role and back into the middle of midfield. He still managed to nab ten goals in 37 appearances with 11 assists before the season was cut short.

Scout Report: What Donny Van de Beek brings to United – utdreport


As mentioned above, Van de Beek possesses the ability to play as a perfect box-to-box midfielder but he can advance forward or sit in front of the defence.  His versatility has proven that he can be the perfect link between the defence and the attack, and although he is more than adept at sticking a foot in to help out the defence, he is more comfortable going forward. However, defensively he is sound. He averaged 2.2 tackles per game in the Eredivisie last term.

Going forward, time and time again, he has shown that awareness that will see him arrive on the edge of the box late to surprise the opponents. Van de Beek shows a rare intellect with his capability to drift between the lines of the opposition, linking together team mates and finding dangerous space in the final third. The front three at Old Trafford are going to find Donny a joy to play with.

Ajax and Manchester United see eye to eye on Donny van de Beek

His Future

Now the deal has been confirmed, Manchester United fans can get excited that one of the best young midfielders in European football is going to be wearing their red shirt.

Van de Beek is suited to the English game and I can see him initially sitting in a deeper role than he usually used to for Solskjaer’s side.  As experience and knowledge of the Premier League comes to him, then you will see Donny been given the green light to play more advanced.

In a 4-2-3-1 formation, van de Beek could be alongside either Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes in the middle and on paper, Man Utd have one of the strongest midfield’s in the league with an exciting young forward line ahead of them.

However, Donny will not be without a fight for places with Nemanja Matic, Fred and Scott McTominay also competing for the central midfield role but long-term, the position will become his own.

Doelman Dilemma: Who will succeed Andre Onana as Ajax number 1?

With the recent flurry of transfer activity revolving around many prominent members of Ajax’s current first team squad – most notably Frenkie de Jong’s record-breaking switch to FC Barcelona, a number of questions regarding next season and beyond are yet to be resolved by Messrs Overmars, ten Hag and Co.

One of which is, with his departure seemingly imminent, who will succeed Cameroon international Andre Onana between the sticks at the Johan Cruijff ArenA?

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Big Andre’s tipped to move to the big leagues in the summer.

Despite no move materialising during the current transfer window, it appears almost guaranteed that Onana will be snapped up in the summer and, as Kostas Lamprou’s recent performance – standing in for the injured 22-year-old in an eight-goal thriller with Heerenveen on January 20th that saw Ajax squander the chance of leapfrogging reigning Eredivisie champions PSV Eindhoven into first place coupled with the resultant media backlash that saw accusations of poor judgement aimed in the direction of director of football, Marc Overmars, head coach, Erik ten Hag and even the club’s goalkeeping coach, Carlo l’Ami, from an irate Dutch media proved, a long-term successor to Ajax’s current number one is far from clear.

As such, we here at have compiled a list of both short and long-term solutions for Ajax’s ‘doelman dilemma’.

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Onana’s current understudy Kostas Lamprou

Promote from within?

Despite both arriving at the club in the summer of 2017, Kostas Lamprou and Benjamin van Leer have thus far failed to really stake any sort of claim as Andre Onana’s long term successor. Despite an impressive stint manning the nets for Willem II, the Greek international’s few first-team appearances in an Ajax shirt have been far from convincing and his current deal, which expires in the summer, is unlikely to be extended. Meanwhile, despite being initially tipped as a potential solution to the Ajax goalkeeping conundrum following his switch from Roda JC, having slipped behind not only Onana but Lamprou as well in the pecking order for a starting berth in Amsterdam, Benjamin van Leer now finds himself on a season-long loan with NAC Breda and, despite having a deal that runs until the summer of 2021, it appears unlikely that the club will turn to the 27-year-old when Onana does eventually decide to look for pastures new.

Despite being capped at U17, U18 and U19 level for the Netherlands, with just fifteen senior appearances to date, 21-year-old Sven van Bladeren appears to lack the necessary experience to shoulder such a burden at this stage in his development while the same can be said for both Croatian U19 glovesman Dominik Kotarski and Moroccan U23 stopper Issam El Maach who are both just eighteen years of age.

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Former Dutch no.1 Maarten Stekelenburg

An experienced hand?

Should the club conclude that the aforementioned inexperience of Messrs van Bladeren, Kotarski and El Maach means that promoting from within is not an option and a short-term solution is instead required, Ajax may turn their attention to a familiar face in the form of Everton’s Maarten Stekelenburg. A product of the club’s famed youth system, Stekelenburg manned the Ajax nets with distinction until his departure for Roma in the summer of 2011. At the age of thirty-six and with no real likelihood of first-team football on the horizon thanks to England international Jordan Pickford’s presence at Goodison Park, Stekelenburg may jump at the opportunity to finish his career where it all began while a true long-term successor is prepared. However, it should be noted that Stekelenburg’s current deal with Everton runs until the summer of 2020 and thus might make any move financially unfeasible at this stage.

However, Michel Vorm’s current deal with Tottenham Hotspur is set to expire in the summer and, at the age of thirty-five, seeing out his career at the Johan Cruijff ArenA may well appeal to the former FC Utrecht stopper.

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Youngster Scherpen halts a PSV attack in its tracks

One for the future?

Should Ajax opt to recruit an experienced glovesman with a view to buying time while a long-term replacement is readied, one name immediately springs to mind – FC Emmen’s Kjell Scherpen. Despite being just 19-years-old, Scherpen has played all but one of Emmen’s twenty games in all competitions this term and has been impressive throughout. Given time to acclimatise, the Dutch U19 international could well become the long-term solution Ajax are looking for.

A ready-made replacement?

However, should Ajax desire a ready-made replacement, the club may well look to AZ Alkmaar’s Marco Bizot. The 27-year-old has enjoyed an impressive campaign thus far having posted ten clean sheets in his twenty-four appearances in all competitions and his good form resulting in a call-up to the Dutch national team.

Whatever the club decides, recent events clearly illustrate that it is imperative a decision on Andre Onana’s long-term successor be made sooner rather than later.


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Eredivisie Standouts: No. 4 – Brandley Kuwas

It is without a doubt that the Netherlands’ three biggest club sides are AFC Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and reigning Champions Feyenoord, however scratch beneath the surface of the Eredivisie and there continues to be a common theme year after year; a wealth of fantastic young players with raw, untapped potential.

In this new series exclusive to Total Dutch Football, Joe Donnohue looks at one of the ‘Eredivisie Standouts’ who continues to leave his mark on the league outside of the traditional ‘Big Three’ squads.

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Brandley Kuwas – Heracles Almelo

It may only be March but it is not difficult to predict who will be collecting Heracles Almelo’s Player of the Season award. 25-year-old right-winger Brandley Kuwas is a shoe-in for the nomination thanks to a season of stellar performances on the right flank.

Kuwas first gained the attention of many in his match-winning display in the opening gameweek of the Eredivisie season, grabbing an assist and a goal in a 2-1 comeback victory over AFC Ajax. It was during this game that the Curaçao international showcased his main attributes. As a left-footed right-winger it was of little surprise to see that both of Heracles’ goals came from the right-hand-side of the pitch. Cutting inside onto his favoured left on both occasions, Kuwas punished the Amsterdammers.

However, unlike many players who simply up their game against top opposition, Kuwas has maintained the high level throughout the entire season to date. Four goals and eleven assists later and he is one of the Eredivisie’s leaders in terms of direct goal involvement. His haul of eleven assists is the league’s best, two more than nearest challengers Hakim Ziyech and David Neres, both on nine.

Heading the assists rankings is not the only thing that Kuwas leads the Eredivisie in. For players to have played at least 1000 minutes, nobody matches the 25-year-old’s 4.2 dribbles per 90 minutes. This comes as little surprise to anybody who has seen Heracles play this season; Kuwas is an extremely strong dribbler, and his default position is to begin very wide on the right. Plenty of wingers are successful at dribbling down the line while some prefer to cut inside and complete most of their dribbles there. Kuwas on the other hand is adept at both. Going to the by-line is just as simple as dribbling across the face of goal on the edge of the box for the Curaçao winger. This makes him a real threat.

His eleven assists have come against eleven different opponents, meanwhile without his creativity and contributions Heracles would find themselves a massive sixteen points worse off in the league. This would see them plummet from relative safety in 11th to rock-bottom in 18th position. To say that Brandley Kuwas’ influence is felt at Heracles would be a serious understatement.

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To register eleven league assists by March is a mean feat but a closer look at Kuwas’ key pass statistics indicates perhaps why this is the case. For players to have played a minimum of 1000 minutes, only Hakim Ziyech – the crown prince of the Eredivisie assist – has a better number of key passes per 90 minutes than Kuwas this season.

Kuwas registers four key passes per 90, which equates to a key pass roughly every eight passes. This is a testament to his direct approach and playing style. Kuwas’ first instinct is to go forward and find forwards in a goalscoring position, and he seems to be getting better and better at it as the seasons go by.

In years gone by Kuwas has been in the news for the occasional long-range effort that has found the back of the net. He is still an audacious player with an eye for the spectacular, particularly from free-kicks, however he does appear to be more disciplined in terms of his decision-making. When in the past he may have elected to shoot from distance, this season Kuwas opts to find a teammate and it has paid dividends for both the player and the club. The sheer number of assists he has registered is no fluke; he often gets into dangerous positions and has subsequently reaped the rewards from better choices when shooting and passing.

The prospect of an Eredivisie departure is on the cards with his current contract expiring in June 2019, however prospective buyers must consider the fact that Kuwas – already 25 – may have reached his ceiling. Barring the 2-1 win over Ajax at the beginning of the season, Kuwas largely fails to impact games against the top opposition.

Since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, against the big three of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV, Kuwas has registered two assists and one goal over the course of nine matches. During that time, Heracles have managed just the one win as well.

Nevertheless, Kuwas is an exciting player who is in excellent form. Capable of putting lesser teams to the sword on a consistent basis, he certainly continues to be an asset to Heracles Almelo. He most definitely is an Eredivisie player that an eye should be kept on in the near future.


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Eredivisie Standouts: No. 3 – Mason Mount

It is without a doubt that the Netherlands’ three biggest club sides are AFC Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and reigning Champions Feyenoord, however scratch beneath the surface of the Eredivisie and there continues to be a common theme year after year; a wealth of fantastic young players with raw, untapped potential.

In this new series exclusive to Total Dutch Football, Joe Donnohue looks at one of the ‘Eredivisie Standouts’ who continues to leave his mark on the league outside of the traditional ‘Big Three’ squads.

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Mason Mount – Vitesse Arnhem

Chelsea’s policy of loaning young players the length and breadth of the footballing world is well-known across footballing circles. One such beneficiary, if you will, of this policy is Chelsea’s 19-year-old attacking midfielder Mason Mount.

This season the English teenager has spent the season at Vitesse Arnhem, notorious for being the recipients of many a Chelsea loanee over the past number of years. Not all are a success and some fail to adapt to life across the North Sea but Mount is beginning to look like a real contender for the odd cameo in Chelsea’s first team.

Mount has three goals in his last seven Eredivisie matches, claiming the Man of the Match award in three of his last nine.

The 19-year-old was largely restricted to brief appearances from the Vitesse bench at the beginning of the season managing just 107 league minutes by the time November arrived. However, since then Mount has started all but one of Vitesse’s league games and it has paid dividends for both the team and the player.

Four goals followed which brought his overall tally to six for the season, along with two assists. Mount has not missed a single minute of Eredivisie action since the 19th November 2017, a stretch which has seen Vitesse win five times and draw three in 12 matches, including a dazzling display in the most recent victory over reigning champions Feyenoord.

In terms of direct goal involvement, Mount has been involved in nine Vitesse goals this season, which trumps his four goals and three assists in last season’s Premier League 2 campaign for Chelsea’s U-23 side. This has been achieved in 500 fewer minutes too, highlighting his progression as a footballer over the past year.

The England U-19 international operates in an advanced role, often just behind the striker Tim Matavz.

Having had only one season of U-23 under his belt, it was anticipated that Mount wouldn’t play a starring role in Vitesse’s season, rather it would instead be a growth experience and he would be around the first team but limited to opportunities from the bench.

Mount has shown resolve to fight for a regular berth in Vitesse’s team and maintain it with good performances. Averaging 2.5 Key Passes per 90, it is clear that Mount has natural ability to accurately find a teammate and also vision that not all players possess.

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This is evident when watching the teenager’s performances. He displays a clear poise and comfortability on the ball. At times his passing decisions are questionable but that can be attributed to his confidence at attempting difficult passes when perhaps there is a simpler option available.

A great deal of Mount’s key passes come from set pieces, either from free-kicks or corners. As Vitesse’s designated taker of set pieces Mount clearly has superior technique to many of his senior teammates despite being many years their junior.

Going back to his audacity to attempt more difficult manoeuvres, this is reflected in his dribbling statistics. In the Europa League particularly, Mount likes to open his legs and take on his opponents, averaging close to three successful dribbles per 90. His success rate at this is one of the competition’s highest at 92%.

This data is possibly not as representative as his Eredivisie statistics given the fact that he has played only 367 minutes in Europe this season, as opposed to his 1200 in the league. It is still impressive, nonetheless, especially considering his success rate in the league is still relatively high at 70%.

Mount’s shooting accuracy is very impressive, having scored six league goals from just 13 shots on target. This is notable for a number of reasons, even more so given the fact that he frequently takes free-kicks in shooting territory. His free-kick which looped over the PEC Zwolle goalkeeper at the end of January showed either a stroke of good fortune or exceptional vision and technique.

The Chelsea loanee is a talent, that much is clear. He has struggled to replicate his Eredivisie output in the Europa League, potentially hinting at the fact that he is not ready to play at a higher level at this moment in time. Although, given his progression over the past year and exposure to first team football in a competitive environment, there appears to be a strong correlation.

One thing is clear; once Mount returns to Stamford Bridge his days of regular football in the U-23’s is over. He has demonstrated his ability to play – and shine – at a much higher level.

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Eredivisie Standouts: No. 2 – Clint Leemans

It is without a doubt that the Netherlands’ three biggest club sides are AFC Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and reigning Champions Feyenoord, however scratch beneath the surface of the Eredivisie and there continues to be a common theme year after year; a wealth of fantastic young players with raw, untapped potential.

With an eye for talent, Joe Donnohue looks at a young player who continues to leave his mark on the league outside of the traditional ‘Big Three’ squads.

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Clint Leemans – VVV-Venlo

A player who has excited spectators in the Eredivisie this campaign is former PSV youngster Clint Leemans. 2017/18 is Leemans’ first campaign in the Netherlands’ top division, but the 22-year-old doesn’t play as though that is the case.

Despite being just 22, Leemans had accumulated 130 Dutch Jupiler League appearances before the beginning of this season. Without a doubt Leemans was one of the Jupiler League’s standout performers last season as he helped guide VVV-Venlo back to the Eredivisie.

The key role that he has adopted in VVV’s side is no surprise to anybody who watched him for Jong PSV or last season, rather what has been most surprising is his almost seamless transition to top division football with no prior experience.

Leemans has cemented himself as an essential part of this VVV side, with many of their attacks transitioning through the lofty Dutchman. Standing at 1.89m tall, Leemans is an imposing figure but retains a distinct nimble quality in his style of play. His ability to play through a teammate with a seemingly innocuous, but perfectly weighted pass has been seen time and time again for the Yellow and Black Army.

Leemans’ leading role does not cease in his position as VVV’s box-to-box playmaker where he is deployed to rake balls from left to right and front to back. His influence extends to the penalty spot and to set pieces which he is considerably adept at converting; one free-kick and four penalties to his name this season. At just 22, Leemans has a considerable responsibility on his shoulders as VVV’s designated penalty taker, but his composure and poise in every one of his appearances this season has more than justified the decision to bestow upon him such an influential role.

Set-piece delivery is an excellent asset of his, causing havoc in opposition penalty areas. Leemans’ floated, trajectory-considered deliveries are difficult to adequately defend against and to properly clear, making VVV a threat from free-kicks in particular.

Of all players to have amassed over 1000 Eredivisie minutes this season, Leemans ranks sixth on the list for accurate long key passes per 90 with 1.0 and is one of two players under the age of 23 to manage that feat.

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One of the most aesthetic aspects of Leemans’ game is his nous for spotting a run that none of the opposition defenders are wise to. Not only does this give VVV an edge but it showcases the midfielder’s heightened natural ability above those on the field. One instance of this was in VVV’s 1-0 win at Roda in December 2017, where a deft outside-of-the-boot pass found the run of teammate Torino Hunte.

Very few players are capable of executing a through ball of that nature with such precision; even fewer are able at just 22. With eight league goals and four assists in his debut Eredivisie campaign, Leemans will no doubt begin to turn heads at other Dutch clubs and potentially those abroad. For now though, he continues to put in stellar performances at De Koel.

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Eredivisie Standouts: No. 1 – Alireza Jahanbakhsh

It is without a doubt that the Netherlands’ three biggest club sides are AFC Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and reigning Champions Feyenoord, however scratch beneath the surface of the Eredivisie and there continues to be a common theme year after year; a wealth of fantastic young players with raw, untapped potential.

In this new series exclusive to Total Dutch Football, Joe Donnohue looks at one of the ‘Eredivisie Standouts’ who continues to leave his mark on the league outside of the traditional ‘Big Three’ squads.

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Alireza Jahanbakhsh – AZ Alkmaar

One player who may not be unfamiliar to Eredivisie aficionados is Alireza Jahanbakhsh. The Iranian winger has eight league goals and seven assists for AZ Alkmaar this term and has been in terrific form. Without a doubt, Jahanbakhsh is AZ’s most valuable player and is certainly one who could ply his trade at a higher level.

To illustrate his importance to his side, without his direct contribution in terms of goals and assists, AZ would be 12 points and five league positions worse off. Jahanbakhsh’s contribution has seen AZ overachieve to an extent seeing them soar to third in the table at the time of writing, challenging Ajax for a Champions League qualification round place.

While perhaps not as prolific as the likes of PSV’s Hirving Lozano or ex-AZ man Steven Berghuis, it is rather Jahanbakhsh’s creativity that greatly supports AZ’s cause. On four occasions this season, the winger has been involved in both scoring and assisting in the same match. During October’s 3-0 victory over a strong FC Utrecht side, Jahanbakhsh scored one and assisted the other two goals to almost single-handedly secure all three points. His influence cannot be understated.

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Having hit the ground running at AZ last season, Jahanbakhsh registered ten goals and nine assists in the Eredivisie, signalling that this season’s tally to date – which he is set to surpass on both counts – is no fluke. Rather, the 24-year-old looks to be gearing up before heading into his best footballing years.

Understandably with this kind of form it will be difficult for AZ to turn down potential suitors should a substantial bid be received and a World Cup with Iran will only showcase his skills further, only this time on the global scale. It will take something short of a miracle to keep the Iranian at the AFAS Stadion beyond this summer.

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Can Newcastle land Feyenoord’s £20m Great Dane?

It emerged earlier this week that the usually financially hand-cuffed Premier League club Newcastle United were set to bid £20m for a striker.  The name of the player was a mystery until the cat was out the bag late Tuesday night. The Dutch press received a leak from Feyenoord that the player in question was indeed Danish international Nicolai Jørgensen writes Will Burns.

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Last year’s Eredivisie top scorer with a 21 goals, Jørgensen has been valued by Martin van Geel, Feyenoord’s sporting director at £20m, but Newcastle have made a bid nowhere near that valuation as time of writing.

Now the Rotterdammers may well be playing financial hard ball, it’s understandable why. While rivals Ajax and PSV are profiting well from England’s megabucks (selling stars consistently to the Premier League), Feyenoord’s income is set to heavily diminish next term due to the incredibly likely failure to qualify for the Champions League next season. Currently sitting in fifth on 33 points, Feyenoord are 16 points behind current league leaders PSV.

Meanwhile, taking a lower offer for the Dane may be an option after bringing club legend Robin van Persie home this past week. Although the 34-year-old will be taking a pay cut from times past, he will still make a dent in the profit margins.

In this inflated world of the transfer windows, signing on-fees and agents is Jørgensen worth £20m in today’s market?  I’m no fortune teller but if Newcastle United can land the striker, this is what I see they are getting for the hefty fee…

A Proven Asset

The 27-year-old Jørgensen began his footballing journey in his homeland of Denmark as a left-winger and stayed in that position for the majority of his career. After exciting crowds, cutting inside and striding past defences during his youth career at Akademisk Boldklub, he earned a transfer to the bright lights of the Bundesliga at just aged 19 with Bayer Leverkusen. It proved to be a big step, too early as he struggled to win a starting berth in the first team and moved out on loan unsuccessfully to Kaiserslautern until returning to Denmark with FC Copenhagen.

Due to his 6ft 3inch height, he was moved into a target man role before heading to Rotterdam in June 2016 for €3.5m from Copenhagen where his presence really took them to greatness. The Løverne clinching the Danish league title two times and runner-up twice in his five years at the club. He notched a total of 51 times in 137 appearances in all competitions.

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He continued his trophy collecting inside just nine months in Holland, claiming the Eredivisie Golden Boot with the aforementioned 21 strikes, helping Feyenoord on their way to their first Eredivisie shield since 1999.

Now, Newcastle United have yet to win a major trophy since 1969, I’m not saying he can work a miracle to make them title contenders however he can add a lot to the team. But please don’t expect a prolific goalscorer, though he could encourage others to help fill that void.

Powerhouse and Poacher

Last season, even though he owns a towering frame, Jørgensen did not score a header, not a bad thing though as playing along with Feyenoord’s short passing football game, he displayed a great poacher’s instinct with fantastic reaction and composed, cool finishing. He possesses decent speed, great technical ability with superb passing range and link-up play. During the championship winning season in Rotterdam last year, along with notching the 21 goals – he layed on 11 assists.  His power allows him to hold a ball up and torture weaker defenders and if you have fast wingers on the counter attack, a chance is likely to be created.

After speaking to many that know all about the Danish game when playing internationally under Åge Hareide’s Denmark, Jørgensen has become an asset. After the years of possession football under Morten Olsen, Hareide changed the Danes attacking methods to a direct, physical style over the past six months and saw great results. Again, Jørgensen was a real key in this success. He showed he can provide an aerial threat, providing knock-ons for the vertical runs of speedster Pione Sisto from the wings.

A Future on Tyneside?

Although we have to be realistic here and realise the Eredivisie is a massive gulf in class to England’s Premier League, he does seem an ideal signing at this time for Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle. A side that lacks the domineering presence in the air to give them a Plan B in troubled times.

He gives you an opportunity to complement a direct approach and win headers in the 18 yard box when you really need that goal. He is someone who will be on the line, on the penalty spot ready to poke home, something that has really hampered the Toon’s season so far – missing that finisher.

He has proven at a lower level (Danish and Dutch leagues) to be a capable goalscorer, but in my opinion as I’ve stated, I feel he offers much, much more than that.

Can he be the asset on Tyneside that he proved to be in Copenhagen and Rotterdam?

Only time will tell… but the Geordies and especially owner Mike Ashley will have to get the chequebook dusted off first.


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Dennis Bergkamp – The Legend of the Iceman

Bergkamp’s undeniably one of the greatest players that the Premier League has ever seen and in terms of his international quota, the Dutch would also regard him as one of their greatest also. Bergkamp was famously known for his fear of flying, which inevitably gave him his nickname of “The Non-Flying Dutchman”. However, he was more recognised for the talent he displayed on the football field writes Ethan Gore.

Bergkamp was taught through the idea of Total Football, a playing style which relied on versatility which the Dutchman had as he could play anywhere across the front three. This ensured that the player fulfilled their potential and this was a method Ajax used a lot in their academy. Bergkamp was positioned at right-wing during his Ajax years but found his best position as a second-striker for Arsenal which allowed him more freedom in the middle of the park and he was able to express his creativity and flair. The arrival of fellow Dutchman, Overmars at Arsenal really improved Bergkamp as a player as he began to receive the ball a lot more and was able to showcase his talent and because of this, he was scoring and creating more goals making a household name all around Europe. Bergkamp functioned as an attacking midfield slightly but was more of a striker. However, his technical skills, vision and creativity allowed him to play that attacking midfield role with ease.

Bergkamp started out at Ajax as a youngster and played in the first-team for six years before leaving to join Inter Milan. Bergkamp’s Ajax years truly defined what type of player he was and enlightened the football world of the potential he had. Bergkamp really caught footballs fan’s attention in his European debut against Malmo FF in the European Cup Winners Cup in the 86/87 season, a very impressive display had people all over talking about him.

During his time at Ajax, Bergkamp established himself as a top goalscorer as he won the Golden Boot award three years in a row. The Dutchman won one Eredivisie title whilst at Ajax in 1990. Bergkamp was named Dutch Football Talent of the Year in 1990 and at the age of 22 was named as Dutch Football of the Year, an award he would win again only a year later. Bergkamp kept on his goalscoring form and was the World’s Top Goalscorer in 1992 and as a result of his goalscoring antics, it landed him a chance of winning the prestigious Ballon d’Or award however he missed out on being the number one player on two occasions as he finished as a runner-up in 1993 and finished third place 1992.

Due to his form at Ajax, clubs all over came calling for his services. Real Madrid were one of the clubs interested but he was advised not to go there and ended up joining Inter Milan as he was insistent on playing in Italy. He joined for a fee of £7.1m, which doesn’t seem like much but at the time, it was a big fee. Bergkamp found it difficult in Italy and the resolute defending was a problem for him as he found it a lot harder to score and work his way past such well organised defenders. Bergkamp had to wait until September to score his first goal for the club against Cremonese and in total he only managed 8 league goals in his first season despite being very clinical in both Europe and the cup competitions, scoring an additional 17 goals. However, he only lasted two seasons in Italy before finding that this wasn’t the right league for a player like him. His second season was a disaster and he only managed to score 3 league goals which was barely identical to his goalscoring form at Ajax.

Bergkamp signed for Arsenal in 1995, only two years after signing for Inter. Bergkamp broke the club’s record transfer fee set at £2.5m as the Dutchman was signed for £7.5m. Bergkamp was the start of something new at Arsenal, they’d be in decline for the past few seasons and they needed someone with International status that was a proven goalscorer to come in and make an immediate impact. Bergkamp did take his time to settle and failed to net in his first six games but with the impact he made at his 11 years at the club, it’s safe to say that the investment was a great one. It was against Southampton that Bergkamp would grab his first and second goals for the club. Bergkamp made 33 apperances for the Gunners in his first season, scoring 11 goals. Helping them to a fifth place finish, ensuring qualification to the UEFA Cup.

It was Wenger’s appointment that marked a turning point in Bergkamp’s career. Both player and manager advocated an attacking style of play which suited Bergkamp’s game a lot more and despite playing fewer games in 1996-97, Bergkamp scored more goals in the Premier League and created 13 goals making him a force to be reckoned with. Bergkamp scored 120 goals for the Gunners in 11 years at the club and is regarded as one of the club’s greatest ever players. Most notably his goal against Newcastle in 2002 was the greatest goal he scored for the club and it is now regarded as one of the best goals in Premier League history as a fantastic piece of skill to flick the ball around Newcastle defender Nikos Dabizas resulted in an easy finish into the bottom corner for Bergkamp. The Dutchman was also part of the Invincibles in 2003-04 that went the whole season unbeaten in the league and he contributed by scoring five goals, not as impressive as previous years at Arsenal but he was 35 years old and nearing the end of his career. Bergkamp retired at Arsenal in 2006.


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Player Spotlight: Arkadiusz Milik

In his debut piece, Ethan Gore looks at Ajax’s Polish striker Arek Milik and ponders whether or not he could have an impact for the Amsterdam giants this season…

Milik had been on loan from Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in the 2014/15 season but Ajax had a clause in the loan deal that allowed them to purchase the striker permanently for €2.5m at any time during the loan deal. On 1st April, the deal was confirmed and Ajax had signed Milik permanently and it was revealed he would take the number nine shirt for the new season, replacing Kolbeinn Sigthorsson who had previously wore it.

Milik’s first season for Ajax was a huge success – hence, why they wished for his permanent signature. The 21-year-old scored 23 goals in total in 33 appearances for Ajax – 11 in the Eredivisie – making him an instant fan-favourite. He has the capability of replicating his form from last season once again, and with the players around him such as Davy Klaassen, Anwar El Ghazi, Riechedly Bazoer and Lasse Schone – he’ll have no problem with delivery. Milik has already scored one so far this season in the Champions League, however, unfortunately for Ajax they are out of the competition after being defeated by Rapid Wien over two legs.

Milik’s got a great eye for goal and has proved his ability up-top, he’s very clinical and when given the opportunity, he takes it very well. His hold-up play and ability to shoot from distance make him the perfect, all-rounded striker along with his work-rate on and off the ball. Milik has the perfect pedigree for a striker and definitely has the ability to perform to high levels yet again this season.

If he stays fit for the whole season then he will undoubtedly play a huge part in Ajax’s title charge but he cannot do it alone as other players will obviously have to contribute. Although the young Pole is the key-man upfront and should he contribute the goals then he will be accredited as one of the huge factors for a potential title win.


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Football nomad James Efmorfidis MUST fulfil his potential at AZ

At the age of 19, James Efmorfidis has completed his move to – his fifth professional club – AZ Alkmaar. He has put pen to paper on a one-year contract at the Dutch club with the option to sign another two-year contract after the coming season writes Jeroen Adriaanse.

In 2011, the film ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ hit the cinemas. In it, there is a scene in which Gandalf reads out his letter to Frodo. It says: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Efmorfidis turned fifteen that year and despite his young age, he had already seen a lot of Europe. In fact, he had lived throughout the continent due to his father’s work and his football skills – Efmorfidis was a promising teenager, who impressed in continental youth tournaments.

Of Greece and Dutch descent, Efmorfidis was born on 18th January 1996. He lived in Greece initially but soon moved to the Netherlands with his family to begin his youth team career at Ajax Amsterdam.

However, his time at Ajax was a brief one because he moved to the youth academy of Spanish giants Real Madrid after just one year. This move was more based on family issues than on his performances on the pitch, as Efmorfidis was labelled as a huge talent at that time.

The young Greek played two years at Real Madrid and then decided to move to their rivals FC Barcelona, because he and his family were not happy with the academy. So the whole family hit the road, on the move again, and settled themselves in Barcelona. However, after two years at Barca and one at AEK Athens, his father had to return to Amsterdam, so Efmorfidis turned down Barcelona’s contract offer and moved back to Holland.

Luckily for him Ajax were keen on signing him up, so he was able to re-join their youth academy. Back in the Netherlands, he reinvented himself and took full advantage of the opportunity to train with the Under-19 squad.

Efmorfidis can play as a central midfielder as well as an in the advanced role behind the striker, but has been known to have a sort of a free role. His passing and movement are superb and moreover, his mentality and his vision are well advanced for his tender age.

He is an extremely smart player and is capable of finding the right teammate with every pass he makes. He is also a specialist regarding set pieces, especially when it comes down to striking the ball against the back of the net from a direct free-kick.

Unlike many left footers, Efmorfidis is not afraid to use his right foot to cross and finish in the box. Obviously his right foot isn’t as strong as his left, which is something he can work on- but at least he isn’t completely one-footed.

Nevertheless, he will have to step up his game as he is expected to spend this season with the reserve team, so if he fails to convince the board of his qualities, he will most likely has to add another team to his list at the age of 20.

However, due to the fact that he has already wandered through most of Europe and has experienced all kind of setbacks, he will naturally fight for his place at AZ. With his mentality and qualities he should not have any problems to become a key player at the reserves and eventually at AZ’s first-team squad.


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Unveiling PSV’s potential ‘next big thing’…

At the start of this week, PSV Eindhoven clinched the signing of one of Denmark’s hottest properties, 17-year-old right-winger Nikolai Laursen arrived at the Philips Stadion from Brøndby. To get the scoop on this new star in the making, we asked Brondby fan and Russian Football News chief editor (even though he’s Danish), Toke Møller Theilade to tell us all about him in this excellent article. Read on…

When Nikolai Laursen got his debut for Brøndby in a cup game against Fremad Amager last autumn, he became the youngest ever debutant of the club with his only 16 years and 252 days. Despite his young age it was obvious for the 4,745 spectators at Sundby Idrætspark in Copenhagen, that the young Brøndby wing was something special.

The young winger was moved from Brøndby’s academy to the first team last summer and Laursen quickly realized that professional football was different from the youth football he had been used to. In an interview with Brøndby’s official website he said:

“I have realized how much hard work means, and how important it is. I have in general learned a lot and developed my game, especially my defensive game. These two things have been the biggest changes with me since I was moved to the first team.”

In 2013, Brøndby decided to invest heavily in its academy, the so-called Brøndby Masterclass, in order to keep the biggest talents at the club for a longer time. During the past years Brøndby lost several young players to foreign leagues without receiving compensations, and the club decided that this had to stop. Unlike Nicolai Boilesen, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Andreas Christensen, Markus Bay and Daniel Wass who all left Brøndby for next to nothing compared to their talent, the Danish club will actually earn €1.3 million on Nikolai Laursen.  Part of Brøndby’s strategy has been to promote the biggest talents to the first team earlier than what they used to, and the case of Laursen proves how well it has worked so far.

Laursen got his Superliga debut in April against FC Vestsjælland, and it only took him five minutes before he scored his first goal, when he beautifully first timed a cross into the left corner of the goal.

The goal made him the fourth youngest player to ever score in the Danish league, just like he became the youngest player to score for Brøndby, a title he by the way took from the former Ajax player Niki Zimling.

After Laursen’s first goal, Brøndby’s sports director Per Rud was asked about his emerging star.

“He is always learning, and he is ahead of his age group. Physical he is on level with the rest of the squad, and he has some great skills with the ball. It was a delight to see him on the field. There are a lot of good players [at the academy], but he is a player we expect a lot from at the club.”

Brøndby’s supporters will be disappointed of how little they got to see Laursen before he left the club, but that they even got to see him on the first team was surprising for many. Laursen has been wanted by big clubs for a long time, and last summer he was very close to moving to German powerhouse Bayern Munich to join the slightly older Højbjerg. Bayern was however far from the only candidate to his signature with both PSV’s rivals Ajax and Liverpool being interested in his services. He did however end up signing a two year contract with Brøndby to end the rumours for a while.

As written earlier he has developed a lot in the past year, and he now feels ready to take the step to a bigger club.

“I feel like the time has come to test my talent at a big European club,” Laursen said “and at PSV Eindhoven I get the opportunity to take the next step in my career. I am deeply grateful for everything I have learned at Brøndby, and I could not have wished for a better football school, just like I will never forget my debut at Brøndby Stadion and the greeting the fans gave me. I want to thank everybody in the sporting sector that made this possible for me, and I hope to one day return home, because Brøndby will always be my club.”

At PSV, Laursen will join Lasse Askou Mikkelsen and Mathias Bonde who he knows from the Danish U/17 national team, and this might not be a coincidence. In an interview with the Danish website D’Bold Bonde revealed that he had recommended PSV to his friend. Bonde also promised to help Laursen settle in Eindhoven.


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Rafael van der Vaart: The Dutch Enigma

Battle weary, deadlocked in combat, two goals apiece on aggregate and deep into extra time at the Wildparkstadion, Karlsruher; after a draining 209 minutes over two legs of football, the two teams couldn’t be separated.

Both traditional names in the German game; one, Karlsruher SC, absent from the top flight for six seasons, now seemingly in the ascendency, riding the on the crest of a wave created by an emotive home crowd and most people’s favourites to finally consign the once mighty but now struggling, Hamburger SV, the only Bundesliga club to have never been relegated, to the drop for the first time in 52 years. 

With 115 minutes on the clock, the ball was drilled across the home team’s penalty box and found an unmarked, Nicolai Muller who simply couldn’t miss; Hamburger SV were safe for another year as Muller jubilantly charged through the police cordon to celebrate with the delirious travelling support.

Or were they?

If not for a last minute penalty save from German international, Rene Adler, Rafael van der Vaart’s final match for HSV, where he made 152 appearances and scored 45 goals over two spells, could yet have ended on a bitter note writes Steven Davies.

For Van der Vaart, once touted as being amongst the most creative players in the world, the past few months had been a challenging period for both the ailing Bundesliga giants and their iconic Dutchman who had been informed in March 2015 that he would not be offered a contract extension.

Thoughts immediately turned to the 32-year-old’s future destination; Spain, Turkey, Scotland, the USA, even a return to his native Netherlands with boyhood club, Ajax, were all mooted, while talk of unfulfilled potential remained, as ever, a constant companion.

Like his career, the story of the man himself is an unusual one.

Born in Heemskerk to a Dutch father and Spanish mother; Rafael van der Vaart grew up on a trailer park in Beverwijk near the banks of the North Sea which backed onto De Kennemers, his first club before he joined the famed AFC Ajax Academy at the age of 10.

Reminiscing of his childhood while a Tottenham Hotspur player in 2011, Van der Vaart told the Sunday Mail: “I had a fantastic time as a child. I like to go back there when I can.”

Playing football was always the most important thing to me. I always wanted to be a striker, to have a role as one of the stars in the team. When you want to play in that area of the pitch you need to work hard to become a top player.

“When I was growing up the ball was my best friend. I didn’t have an interest in toy cars or fire engines, computers or playing cowboys, it was only a football. It’s the way it had to be.”

“It was also a benefit to grow up living in a caravan. We had so many people near to us and many kids the same age.”

“We played football on the street and would be out there kicking a ball for hours and hours.”

Named AFC Ajax Talent of the Future in 1999, it was only a matter of time before Van der Vaart made his breakthrough at first team level and on 19th April 2000, aged just 17, he made his first team debut in a 1-1 draw against FC Den Bosch. Later, he was awarded both AFC Ajax Talent of the Year 2000 and Amsterdam Talent of the Year 2000.

The following season, Van der Vaart’s playing time increased and so too did this precocious young talent’s notoriety; being awarded AFC Ajax Player of the Year 2001, Amsterdam Sportsman of the Year 2001 as well as receiving the prestigious Dutch Football Talent of the Year (Young Player) 2001.

In spite of missing a great deal of the following season with two serious knee injuries, the latter of which requiring the removal of his entire meniscus, Van der Vaart, who netted 17 times in just 27 appearances, was named European Talent of the Year 2002 as the club completed the domestic double, winning both the Eredivisie Championship and the KNVB Beker with a 3-2 victory over FC Utrecht. Injury again limited his appearances the following season but did not diminish his effectiveness when on the field of play as he notched 22 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions. Although 2002/03 was a trophy-less season for the Amsterdam giants, save for success in the season opening, Johan Cruijff-schaal, Van der Vaart was on hand to fire the club into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League with a crucial strike against Olympique Lyonnais.

Having represented his country at U17, U19 and U21 levels, an 18-year-old Van der Vaart was handed his full international debut against Andorra on 6th October 2001. He would go on to amass over 100 caps for the Netherlands and was a part of the Dutch squads selected for Euro 2004, 2006 FIFA World Cup, Euro 2008, 2010 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2012; being named vice-captain in 2010 and 2012 behind Giovanni van Bronckhorst and later Mark van Bommel.

As was often the case at club level, luck frequently deserted Van der Vaart on the international stage when it came to the big tournaments, playing a bit part role at both Euro 2004 and the 2006 FIFA World Cup; as first, Dick Advocaat and then Marco van Basten, failed to successfully accommodate Van der Vaart in their respective formations. Although the latter did manage to find a role for Van der Vaart two years later as the Netherlands put together an impressive run to the quarter finals of Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland before being surprisingly eliminated by Russia.

Despite a turbulent time off the field, where his relationship with The Music Factory VJ, Sylvie Meis, to whom he was married in 2005, celebrity lifestyle and physical fitness all dominated the headlines, Van der Vaart was influential in leading Ajax to another Eredivisie crown in 2003/04.

The following season, Ajax coach, Ronald Koeman named Van der Vaart team captain but he was stripped of the honour a few months later following a high profile fall out with Ajax teammate, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which led to the Swede’s exit from the Amsterdam Arena and Van der Vaart’s later refusal to play out of position in a UEFA Champions League match in December 2004. Incessant injury problems, a deteriorating relationship with Koeman as well as his successor Danny Blind, coupled with abuse from opposing fans regarding his relationship with Meis, led Van der Vaart to announce that he would leave the club in the summer of 2005.

Compared to David and Victoria Beckham, Van der Vaart and in particular, Meis, became the focus of anti-Semitic chants and unfounded verbal assaults from rival supporters. Such were the veracity of these that a match against ADO Den Haag in September 2004 was stopped by the referee with the crowd being warned via the stadium announcer, that the match could be abandoned if the abuse persisted. Such was the furore, the issue was even discussed in the Dutch parliament.

Instead of joining one of Europe’s leading clubs, such as Manchester United, Real Madrid or AC Milan, Van der Vaart opted instead to pen a deal with German side, Hamburger SV for a bargain fee of €5.5m.  Two years removed from being touted as one of the world’s brightest young stars who heralded the rejuvenation of the famed Ajax youth system, the Dutch starlet found himself making an inauspicious debut for his new club in the second round of the UEFA Intertoto Cup.

Dutch legend, Johan Cruijff echoed the confusion of many at the time in his column in De Telegraaf: “I don’t know what to say about it or what Rafael van der Vaart is doing in Hamburg. This would not have been thinkable two years ago, obviously things have not gone well for Van der Vaart.”

Despite having never been relegated in the history of the Bundesliga, Hamburger SV’s glory days were fading fast; the ‘Red Shorts’ having last tasted success in 1983, when the club secured both the Bundesliga crown and the UEFA European Cup – the year Van der Vaart was born.

Speaking to German news website Netzeitung shortly after his arrival in north Germany, Van der Vaart shed some light on his unusual choice of relocation: “When I came to Hamburg I was welcomed with open arms and the atmosphere just felt right. I don’t want people to think this is just a stepping stone for me, I want to achieve things with Hamburg.”

With a point to prove, Van der Vaart played a central role in Hamburger SV’s third place finish and 2005 UEFA Intertoto Cup triumph, scoring 16 goals in 35 appearances in his first season at the club. The following season saw Van der Vaart awarded the captaincy but also the return of his injury woes. Struggling for much of the season in the bottom half of the table, the club eventually attained a seventh place finish following the arrival of fellow Dutchman, Huub Stevens as coach.

The final season of what would become his first spell with HSV was Van der Vaart’s most prolific for the club, netting 21 times in 44 appearances. Inevitably, as his contract with Hamburger SV wound down with the mercurial Dutchman opting out of signing an extension, rumours began to circulate as to where Van der Vaart would be playing in 2008/09, with many of European football’s biggest clubs being lined up as potential suitors.

Arguably, it was the biggest club of them all who eventually won the race to Van der Vaart’s much sought after signature, when Real Madrid agreed to pay a fee of €13m to Hamburger SV for the Dutch international’s services. Real’s only summer signing in 2008, Van der Vaart, who agreed a five year contract with the Spanish giants, scored on his league debut, a 4-3 victory over CD Numancia and was nominated for the prestigious Ballon d’Or in October 2008.

However, the Dutchman netted only five times in 42 appearances and, amid rumours of a fall out with coach, Juande Ramos, was largely used as a substitute towards the end of a disappointing campaign. The following season began with a reported fall out with Ramos’ successor, Manuel Pellegrini; Van der Vaart even found himself without a squad number in preseason as his preferred number 23 was handed to Esteban Granero. An agreement was eventually reached between player and club; Van der Vaart was awarded his preferred number and Granero, the number 24 shirt instead.

Despite his troubles at club level, Dutch Coach, Bert van Marwijk instilled Van der Vaart as an important first team player at international level and on the 12th August 2009 he was even given the captain’s armband for the Oranje in a friendly against England, scoring a goal in a game that ended 2-2. Later, Van der Vaart helped the Netherlands to an appearance in the FIFA World Cup Final in 2010 in South Africa where a strike by Spain’s, Andres Iniesta broke Dutch hearts.

In spite of Van der Vaart reiterating an intention to see out his contract with Real, an £8m bid by Tottenham Hotspur on 31st August 2010 was accepted and the Dutchman signed a four year deal with the London club. After which, speaking to Marca, Van der Vaart shed some light on his decision, sighting the fact that Los Blancos had wanted to offload him a year earlier after the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka but that he had refused as his wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer at the time: “She had a very serious illness and it is true that she had to be treated at the Clinica Quiron. Last season, they wanted me to leave but I couldn’t leave for that reason.”

Opening his account with three goals in four Premier League games in addition to a goal and an assist in two UEFA Champions League games, Van der Vaart was named Premier League Player of the Month for October 2010.

The Dutchman ended a stellar debut season with 15 goals in 36 appearances; finishing as the club’s top scorer in the Premier League with 13, almost a quarter of the club’s overall total for the season, as well as recording nine assists.

The following season, Van der Vaart equalled a club record when he scored the second in a 3-1 victory over Queen’s Park Rangers on 30th October 2011, scoring in five successive Premier League games and would end a consistent season with 13 goals in 40 appearances.

On the international stage however, it would be disappointment once more, despite scoring a goal in the third and final group game against Portugal at Euro 2012, it proved too little to save a disappointing campaign for van Marwijk’s Netherands, which ended with a Cristiano Ronaldo double sending Van der Vaart and the Dutch home early from the tournament.

Rumours of renewed interest from the Bundesliga surfaced as the transfer window drew to a close in August 2012, with former club Hamburger SV and Schalke 04 interested in securing the Dutch international. Eventually, Van der Vaart would opt for a return to the familiar and re-joined Hamburger SV for a second time; being unveiled initially as the club’s new vice-captain before being appointed captain once more in April 2013, succeeding Heiko Westermann.

However, Van der Vaart’s second spell with HSV would be a disappointing one when compared to his first. With the club in decline, a slew of managers came and went, each failing to turn around the club’s ailing fortunes; with Thorsten Fink, Rodolfo Esteban Cardoso, Bert van Marwijk, Mirko Slomko, Josef Zinnnauer, Peter Knabel and Bruno Labbadia all spending time in the hot seat at the Imtech Arena between Van der Vaart’s return to the club and his departure at the end of his contract in the summer of 2015.

Things were little better away from the field. On New Year’s Eve 2012, Van der Vaart’s personal life unravelled once more as he and wife Sylvie, separated amid accusations of domestic abuse which Van der Vaart publically refuted and of his wife having had an affair. But, speaking in January 2013 to German newspaper, Bild, Van der Vaart publically apologised for his actions: ‘It was very foolish of me. I’m an idiot. I’m very sorry. It should never have happened.”

His wife responded by telling the same newspaper that they had resolved their differences: ‘‘I ​​have forgiven him already.”

Despite being on more amicable terms; the couple, whose only child, Damien Rafael was born on 28th May 2006, separated shortly thereafter.

On the field, a seventh place finish in 2012/13 was followed by an alarming slide the following season which saw the club finish 16th and have to scrape through a promotion/relegation playoff with Sp Vgg Greuther Furth on away goals to retain their Bundesliga status.

Meanwhile, any hopes Van der Vaart may have harboured of making Louis van Gaal’s Dutch squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup were dashed when a calf injury forced him to withdraw after having been named in the provisional 30-man squad; seemingly bringing his international career to an ignominious end.

The 2014/15 Bundesliga campaign was little better and history repeated itself with Hamburger SV’s 16th place finish and the club coming through the promotion/ relegation playoffs by the skin of its teeth once more, this time beating Karsruher SC 3-2 on aggregate.

In his second spell with Hamburger SV, Van der Vaart was far less effective on the field; scoring 16 goals in 78 appearances over three seasons between August 2012 and June 2015. It is this record of diminishing returns on HSV’s substantial investment that led the fallen Bundesliga giants to opt against renewing the Dutchman’s contract.

It is also his recent record which has led potential suitors to harbour doubts about taking the plunge on the 32-year-old.

In late March 2015, soon after Hamburger SV announced that they and their enigmatic Dutch playmaking would be parting ways at the end of the 2014/15 Bundesliga season, reports surfaced of a potential move to Major League Soccer; with Sporting Kansas City CEO, Robb Heineman tweeting that the club had held talks with the player.

Asked about the prospect of heading to America, Van der Vaart told Kicker in March 2015, “Everything’s open at the moment, but I can imagine playing in America. I want to keep playing at a good level for a few years.”

But, a few weeks later, Sporting Kansas City coach, Peter Vermes revealed to the Kansas City Star that the Dutchman’s wage demands had put a halt on any potential move stateside, “It wouldn’t make sense for us. No disrespect to him, but it doesn’t make sense for the kind of numbers we’re talking.”

At the beginning of May 2015, Bild reported that a sentimental return to boyhood club, Ajax was on the cards with the club attempting to force Van der Vaart’s hand, issuing their former captain an ultimatum; the Amsterdam giants reportedly offering Van der Vaart a yearly salary of €1 million, plus a signing-on fee of another million.

At the time, Ajax coach, Frank De Boer urged Van der Vaart to make a decision on his future, telling Dutch TV AT5: “I understand that Rafael can’t immediately say yes. But we have issued an ultimatum to him. It’s about how he sees his future. Rafa also has to want [a return home]. I think that Rafael can be a good reinforcement.”

But by the end of the month, speaking to Voetbal International, Robert Geerlings, Van der Vaart’s agent, dismissed the option of a return home in favour of exploring other options including those from clubs in Spain, Turkey, Scotland and Italy, “Rafael has yet to decide his future. Ajax have waited long enough and it’s courtesy that we inform the club.”

His ambition as strong as ever, despite falling out of favour with Bondscoach, Guus Hiddink, Van der Vaart has stated he has no intention of retiring from international football and still harbours hopes of being selected should the Netherlands qualify for Euro 2016. Speaking to Kicker in March 2015, the Dutchman reiterated, “I will never retire, because I believe that it’s a great honour to play for your country. Should I find a good club and play well there, I can still be of value for the national team.”

This ambition, driven by a desire to leave a legacy, to not merely play a part but instead be the focal point at both club and international level became clear as Van der Vaart made his final decision; a decision every bit as unconventional as his career to date.

At the beginning of June 2015, after much speculation, Van der Vaart confirmed his intention to link up with newly promoted La Liga club, Real Betis; confirming to De Telegraaf that a discussion with sporting director, Eduardo Macia sold him on a move to Andalucía.

“Eduardo Macia told me Betis want to be the fourth best team in Spain; that in a short space of time the club will return to the upper echelons of La Liga. It’s a wonderful project.”

Having reportedly taken a pay cut, the move will see him relocate closer to family in nearby Chiclana, in the neighbouring Cadiz province, My roots are also here, so I want to make my contribution.”

The chance to be the fulcrum of this “wonderful project” clearly swayed the Dutchman’s thinking as he reportedly turned down Ajax’s much more lucrative offer to take up the challenge with Los Verdiblancos; a club whose one and only La Liga triumph to date occurred in 1935, last tasted Copa del Rey success in 2005 and have spent recent seasons yo-yo-ing between Spain’s top two divisions.

Unconventional, unpredictable and as enigmatic as ever; Rafael Van der Vaart will relish the prospect of being the man to take the expectancy of an ambitious but unfashionable club upon his shoulders for one more “wonderful project” in an eventful career.


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Southampton’s Eljero Elia: The Saints’ story so far

In September 2009, a vital World Cup qualifier between The Netherlands and Scotland was locked at 0-0 with a little over 15 minutes of the match left. At this point, Arjen Robben, the Netherlands star man, and most dangerous player on the night, was somewhat surprisingly replaced by a largely unknown 21 year old, his name? Eljero Elia. Elia went on to expertly round the keeper and grab an 82nd minute winner for the Dutch, maintaining their 100% record. Since then, Elia’s career has had its ups and downs, but he is now back in the spotlight after his move to Premier League side Southampton. So, what is the story so far, of the player once dubbed The Netherlands golden boy? Fin Crebolder tells all…


Lets go back to 2004, where Elia was a 17 year old prodigy playing at ADO Den Haag. He had been at ADO since 1996, although he spend did two years at Ajax from 2000 to 2002, before returning to ADO Den Haag. He had excelled in the youth team for many years, and made his long awaited debut in 2004 against Groningen. He went on to make 4 appearances for the club that season, scoring his first goal for the club in a 2-1 win over AZ Alkmaar. After this breakthrough season, he established himself as a consistent starter for the club, making 56 appearances, scoring 8 goals and getting 4 assists. At the end of the 2006/07 season, it became apparent that Elia was to leave the club. He had conflicts with the coach, Lex Schoenmaker, and also had no intention of playing in the Eerste Divisie (ADO had been relegated). Ajax showed in interest in him, but the deal involved him being loaned back to ADO Den Haag for a season, which he had no intention of doing.


Elia joined FC Twente on July the 1st, 2007, for a fee of around €180,000. He made his debut in a 2-2 draw against Utrecht in August, but didn’t score his first goal until February, in a 2-1 win over Heracles Almelo. He made 36 appearances that season, scoring two goals and assisting two. The 2008/09 season proved to be a pivotal one in Elia’s career, largely due to the appointment of Steve McClaren. McClaren managed to create a side capable of winning the Eredivisie title, and Elia was pivotal to the sides success. He scored 14 goals in all competitions including 9 in the league, and also got 10 assists, a vast improvement on his previous season. Over the course of the season, Elia also made his Champions League debut and scored his first European goal in the Europa League against Manchester City. In the January of the season, Ajax stated their interest in him and had two offers rejected. Elia ended the speculation by signing a contract keeping him at the club until 2013. At the end of the season, Elia was named Dutch Football Talent of the Year.


Despite signing a new contract, Elia stated that he wanted to leave the club at the end of the season. After his excellent season, many clubs around Europe showed interest in him, and on the 5th of July 2009, Hamburg signed him for €8.5 Million. He made his debut a month later, coming on as a substitute in the opening game of the season against Freiburg, and scored his first goal for the club two weeks later, in a 4-2 win over Wolfsburg. He made 35 appearances over the course of the season, scoring six and creating nine goals. This impressive debut season in Germany earned him a place in The Netherlands 2010 World Cup squad. He made a large impact in South Africa, coming off the bench to good effect in six of seven games in the Dutch run to the final, including a 50 minute appearance in the final, where The Netherlands lost 1-0 to Spain in the dying minutes of extra time. However, this season proved to be the peak of Elia’s career so far, as his career began to take a downhill trajectory. In his second season at Hamburg, Elia was often rotated, playing a full 90 minutes only nine times over the course of the season. This left him considering his options, and his future at the club looked to be in further jeopardy when he claimed to the press that the club’s style of play didn’t suit him, and also said that the club didn’t look after him when he was sidelined through injury. He was subsequently fined for his comments, and it appeared inevitable that he would leave the club sooner or later.


On the 31st of August 2011, four games into his third season at Hamburg, Elia signed for Juventus for a fee of €9 Million. This proved to be Elia’s worst career move by a long way, as he struggled to make any impact at all in what was an incredible season for “The Old Lady”. Due to Conte’s preference to play a 3-5-2 formation with wings backs, Elia very rarely found a place in the team, and made just five appearances all season, starting just one game, despite the fact that he didn’t have any injuries or suspensions throughout. Due to this catastrophic season for him, Elia missed out on a spot in The Netherlands Euro 2012 squad.


In an attempt to revive his now stalled career, Elia requested a transfer on the 11th of June 2012, and returned to the Bundesliga a month later, this time playing for Werder Bremen, who paid €5.5 Million for his services. He struggled in his first seven appearances, and admitted that he was finding it difficult to adapt to the teams style of play. He went on to make 25 appearances in his first season, but only scored one goal, in the DFB-Pokal. He was also suspended by the club after he was caught speeding. Despite a disappointing first season, the club decided against selling him, and he made an encouraging start to the 13/14 season, scoring two goals in  a 3-3 draw with Nuremberg. He also found the back of the net in two consecutive games against Mainz and Hoffenheim in late November. He ended the season with four goals and four assists, and became a fan favourite due to his exciting and eccentric style. Elia started the 14/15 campaign in the starting line-up, and got an assist in the opening day fixture. However, illness coupled with a controversial tweet in the build up to the derby against his former club, Hamburg, meant that he was dropped from the first team, and he struggled to cement a spot in the starting lineup after that, largely due to his attitude, along with the impressive form of winger Fin Bartels.


That brings us to present day, where Elia is currently plying his trade at Premier League side Southampton, following Ronald Koeman’s decision to bring him in on loan. Elia has had an impressive start at the club currently 3rd in the league, causing havoc for defences with his pace and trickery, and exciting fans and pundits alike. He scored his first goals for the club when he bagged a brace in a 2-1 brace over Liverpool. Whilst it is evident that Elia will never become the global superstar he once promised to be, at a rising club like Southampton, under the management of his compatriot Koeman, Elia still has time to surpass his previous achievements, and maybe even become a key player for the Oranje once again.


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