Dutch football from Ajax to the Zuider Zee
As comebacks go, the one endured by PSV Eindhoven star and Netherlands international Erik Pieters on Friday evening wasn't the best. His return to competitive football after a nine-month layoff is one he will never forget, for all the wrong reasons.
But his transgression – serious though it may be – was the least of Dick Advocaat's worries as his PSV side once again showed why many describe them as 'Jekyll and Hyde' - a trait that once again threatens to undermine their title challenge.
Pieters is PSV in microcosm: attack-minded yet defensively vulnerable. Given de Boeren’s back-line is often described as a soft underbelly, it’s no great surprise that they see attack as the best form of defence. That reliance, due to years of neglecting their defensive game, cost them a shot at the title in the previous two seasons. And it could do so again this time round.
PSV had the honour of hosting the first Eredivisie game of 2013, and with opponents PEC Zwolle in a midst of a relegation battle, this was a perfect opportunity – as Pieters tweeted to his 17,000 Twitter followers – to ensure a good start to the New Year.
A win would also put pressure on their title rivals, especially FC Twente, who were at the time level on points with the Eindhoven side. Instead, both the left-back and his team endured a nightmare, as the visitors romped to a surprise 3-1 victory.
PEC Zwolle got 2013 off to a surprising start in the Eredivisie
This wasn't a wake-up call, rather further confirmation that nothing had been done. Even by Eredivisie standards, this result was a shock; Fred Benson, who scored a brace for PEC Zwolle, was almost lost for words. "We expected to lose by four goals," he said in disbelief after the full-time whistle.
Advocaat struggled to find an answer: "I cannot explain why we fell short of expectations. The players had a collective off-day. PEC Zwolle was sharper than us and deserved to win."
However this historic result – PEC Zwolle’s first victory in Eindhoven since April 1983 – was overshadowed by the actions of Pieters, who for a few minutes descended into madness.
When PEC Zwolle scored their third from badly defended corner with 23 minutes remaining, an upset was all but inevitable; what happened next wasn't. Pieters, blood rushing to his head, mistimed a challenge deemed reckless - his comeback was marred by a straight red, though his tumultuous evening wasn't over just yet.
Pieters (centre) puts across his case to the referee
What followed was a moment that could secure a nomination in this year's Darwin Award, as Pieters gave a whole new meaning to 'blood, sweat and tears'. Visibly furious, he took out his frustration on a nearby window.
The glass broke, slicing his arm and leaving a trail of blood leading to the dressing room – the damage was so severe (it was later reported that he had ruptured an artery and eight tendons) he was rushed to hospital for immediate surgery, involving a skin graft.
A return to sick bay beckons, so soon after recovering from ankle surgery, and before that a fractured metatarsal. This most recent setback, self-inflicted though it may be, is the most damaging.
"I understand his emotions, sent off in his comeback after nine months injured, but the way he reacted was unprofessional," Advocaat lamented post-match. His suspension is certain to be increased due to his regrettable behaviour.
Before being internally disciplined – possibly through a fine – he issued a public apology. “As a footballer you set an example for the young and old. I have not,” he began. “I bear all consequences as a result of my stupid and unacceptable behaviour.”
The below video shows both the foul and the aftermath of his second moment of madness. Be warned - it does, of course, feature a bit of blood...
Pieters, it should be said, isn't the first player in the Eredivisie to be sidelined as the result of taking their anger out on an inanimate object. Sergio Romero, the former AZ goalkeeper, famously broke his hand after punching the dressing-room wall in a rage following their KNVB Beker exit to NAC Breda in 2009.
Although Romero made a full recovery, the same can’t be said for Rob Oomens, formerly of Willem II, who suffered similar injuries to Pieters when a fish tank in his home broke as he cleaned it. After eight surgeries, it was decided that continuing to play football was not a sensible option if he wanted a fully functioning arm and hand – blood flow to his fingers is still minimal to this day. “I hope Pieters doesn’t go through what I did,” he told Omroep Brabant. “It was a stupid action, he has the potential to go far as a footballer, should treat his body more carefully.”
As Oomens alluded, Pieters’ actions were out of character, club legend Willy van de Kerkhof couldn't believe what he witnessed: "It was so unlike him. Normally he’s a quiet boy, this behaviour however shows little respect to the club and referee."
Harrie Timmermans, president of the supporters club, was equally dismayed: "He has a close relationship with the fans, but we cannot accept this behaviour. Hopefully he gets the adequate medical care because, at the end of the day, this is also a personal tragedy."
The suspension and injury – the early suggestion from doctors is that he’ll miss six weeks, but there is a fear he could be out for the season - will mean it will be a while before we see him back in a PSV shirt.
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