Dutch football from Ajax to the Zuider Zee
It is now three seasons since PSV Eindhoven, Holland’s second most successful club, were Eredivisie champions. This is now their worst drought since the early 1990s.
With seven championships already to their name since the turn of the century (Ajax are in second with three), the club from Eindhoven are in unfamiliar territory.
Things could have got even worse, had the looming threat of administration become a reality; however the city council granted a €49 million life-line to a club many have dubbed an ailing giant.
The plan, one that’s seen as risky, sees the city council buying the ground under the Philips Stadion and leasing it back to the club at €2.3 million a year.
Much of the club’s financial strain has come off the back of missing out on Champions League football in the past two seasons. Prior to that, PSV had been either Holland’s sole representative in the competition or the Dutch side that went furthest, meaning they pocketed the bulk of the television money.
Before then, the Philips Corporation had bankrolled the club, helping bring in the likes of Romário and Ronaldo. It would be very unlikely for a promising talent from Brazil to make a similar move today.
It could be a while before PSV sign another player like Romario...
The club’s fiscal situation saw director of football Marcel Brands outline a new direction, which will now focus heavily on youth development and promoting players from within.
This change in policy is likely to be welcomed by the likes of Zakaria Labyad. The 18-year-old featured only sporadically last season, but is deemed to be the latest hot prospect to roll off a conveyor belt of talent that has previously churned out the likes of Ibrahim Afellay and Ismaïl Aissati.
The economic situation also meant the departure of star man Balázs Dzsudzsák to Anzhi Makhachkala for €14 million was a relatively welcome one, even if the Hungarian’s choice of club left some baffled.
Dzsudzsák called the move a ‘new challenge’, citing the cash-rich Russian side’s lofty ambitions. However cynics suggested he was merely prioritising his bank balance over his career prospects.
With Ibrahim Afellay leaving in January and Jonathan Reis injured, PSV’s title charge faltered towards the end of last season, despite the title looking like theirs to lose at once stage. The futures of other key players, such as forward Ola Toivonen, have also been in question, though the Swede is now expected to stay put.
In defence, Mexican centre back Francisco Javier Rodríguez has left the club for Stuttgart. American international Tim Ream has been touted as a possible replacement, but it’s unlikely the 23-year-old will leave the New York Red Bulls this summer. Brands has also hinted a third centre back could be brought through the ranks.
Manager Fred Rutten, who was Guus Hiddink’s assistant at PSV between 2002 and 2006, has yet to find his feet as the main man two years after taking the helm. Back-to-back third placed finishes are simply not good enough for a club that had won four league titles on the bounce not so long ago.
Could time be running out for Rutten at PSV...?
The biggest criticism of the former Schalke and Twente coach is that he is overly passive - it’s rare for him to unleash a ‘Plan B’ when things are going badly.
This was never more evident than during last season’s clash with FC Twente at De Grolsch Veste. PSV had just fallen behind when the nearest television camera zoomed to the bench and caught the 48-year-old staring aimlessly into the distance, powerless to change the course of the game being played out in front of him.
The chants and banners calling for his dismal and the return of Hiddink have yet to be acted upon, and he will likely be given one final season to get things right - and with the additions PSV have made, he’s got every chance.
Shortly after the cash injection from the city council was announced, Brands and PSV confirmed the double signing of Dries Mertens and Kevin Strootman from FC Utrecht for a more combined €13 million - a steal in anyone’s book.
Mertens was one of the league’s outstanding wingers last season, though he’s also adept at playing in a more central attacking midfield role.
His impressive performances caught the attention of many bigger clubs, both in Holland and abroad. Ajax were thought to be close to signing him in late January, but PSV ultimately won the race for the 24-year-old Belgian’s signature.
Strootman, on the other hand, has come a long way in a short space of time. Just 12 month ago he was preparing to start life in the second tier of Dutch football with Sparta Rotterdam.
Strootman has made a meteoric rise from Sparta Rotterdam to PSV...
But a move to Utrecht last season put him in the limelight, and an impressive debut season in the Eredivisie saw him the object of the attention of several top sides.
Initially a more creative playmaker, he has slowly developed into a bona fide regista/deep-lying playmaker, and is very comfortable on the ball.
His biggest strength is undoubtedly his positional sense and he is without question one of Holland’s brightest young prospects and a future regular with the national team.
But the spending spree didn’t end there. The ink on that double deal had barely dried when PSV announced they would be signing another of Holland’s most exciting talents, Georginio Wijnaldum from Feyenoord.
If the combined deal to being Mertens and Strootman was a steal, then €5 million for Wijnaldum is daylight robbery.
A total outlay of €18 million for three of the league’s most promising young talents is a very, very good summer’s business, and one that has had the likes of Ajax and FC Twente looking over their shoulders.
It seems like only yesterday that Ajax and FC Twente's final-day duel for the 2010/11 Eredivisie
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