The Dutch national team were one of the biggest surprises of this summer’s World Cup. Expected to flounder, they instead soared under the guidance of Louis van Gaal and his new look side.
When deconstructing the 23-man squad van Gaal selected, it might be considered somewhat surprising to learn that 11 of those players were graduates of the Feyenoord academy - more than any other club.
Four years ago however, the club was in a far more negative situation. A 10-0 defeat at PSV Eindhoven represented the lowest ebb for a club that is sometimes known as ‘Slapende Reus’ (the Sleeping Giant). Over €40million in debt, and finishing the season in 10th place, their resurgence can be attributed to the appointment of Ronald Koeman in the summer of 2011.
Reaching a crescendo last season as the club finished in second place, for a number of Feyenoord’s stars their stellar club form bled over into the Dutch national team and the summer’s World Cup. That in turn attracted suitors and left Feyenoord unable to compete financially - the peak salary at the club is around €700,000 per annum.
Daryl Janmaat, Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij were sold to Newcastle, Porto, and Lazio respectively, while Graziano Pelle and Koeman both moved on to Southampton.
Losing a significant part of their spine, it has left new manager Fred Rutten with an unenviable task. Of the €33million they collected, 65% has already been reserved to cover the club’s debt. Adding experience to the ranks with Luke Wilshire, a player Rutten worked with at FC Twente, and former Chelsea defender Khalid Boulahrouz, the new Feyenoord boss has also nabbed the exciting young Heerenveen winger Bilal Basacikoglu.
Still keen to make further moves in the market, the priority is signing a striker. Pelle’s absence is sizeable, and while Mitchell Te Vrede netted in the 1-0 victory at ADO Den Haag, reinforcements are required. The club have been strongly linked with a return for John Guidetti - the Swede enjoying a prolific loan spell at the club under Koeman in 2011.
As for the replacement in the dugout, opinion is divided. Rutten had enjoyed a good record at FC Twente, the club he spent his playing career with, recording a 53% win record. However it was followed by unsuccessful spells at Schalke and PSV, before a move to join Vitesse and a fourth place finish helped restore his reputation.
Presented with an opportunity to qualify for the Champions League, the club were unfortunate to fall 5-2 on aggregate to a Demba Ba inspired Besiktas. Still capable of making the Europa League, it will be the first time the club have competed in the competition since 2008.
Forced to sell off a clutch of their academy graduates, attention now turns to those who remain as well as a crop of new starlets. Having been able to keep hold of Jordy Clasie, the fulcrum of the club’s midfield, they also boast a promising centre back in Terence Kongolo and a powerful forward in Elvis Manu. Jean Paul Boëtius was reportedly watched by Tottenham and although he sits behind more experienced wingers in Wesley Verhoek and Ruben Schaken, he could still make an impact.
Perhaps the most prized member of the group is Tonny Trinidad de Vilhena. Just 19-years-old, and once described as “a more complete version of Edgar Davids” by former Ajax coach Aad de Mos, he is able to play in a box-to-box role or a more advanced role. Earning a call-up to the senior national team in March, his positional versatility is supplemented by incredible power and technique.
Stream of talent
With the club’s academy producing so many first team players, it is also worth noting those who have flown the nest - players such as Karim Rekik at Manchester City, Nathan Aké at Chelsea, and Kyle Ebecilio formerly of Arsenal. Such a stream of talent would normally be expected of a top class academy with expensive facilities, yet at Varkenoord this is not the case.
“It is to do with people, the atmosphere,” technical director Martin van Geel told the Independent in a recent interview. “The accommodation is not good, unbelievable, like an amateur club. The training ground is no good, it is too small. It is very difficult to work there. It has all to do with the people.”
Yet as the club’s fans will tell you, no amount of kind words will help the team on the pitch, more the period of transition for Feyenoord will run in line with one of the popular terrace chants: “Geen Woorden Maar Daden” (no words only deeds).
A second place finish was the consequence of a fantastic final season under Ronald Koeman, and if the club continue to put their faith in youth, then the future in Feyenoord will most certainly be a bright one.