Settled side and homegrown heroes help PSV end Ajax’s Dutch dominance
PSV Eindhoven ended a seven-year wait for Eredivisie glory by hammering Heerenveen 4-1 at home in their latest outing to bring the Dutch domestic title away from Ajax.
The Lightbulbs have an unassailable lead over the Amsterdam outfit, who had previously won four top-flight crowns in a row under Frank de Boer. It is another modern era Netherlands national captain turned coach, Phillip Cocu, that can celebrate a first major milestone in management now, however.
Left-footer Cocu had two spells with Eindhoven as a player, the second of which ended with Eredivisie honours when PSV scooped the 2006/07 title. The approach then, when compared to this term some eight years on, throws up an interesting contrast.
Ronald Koeman’s spell in charge of the Lightbulbs followed on from predecessor Guus Hiddink in that talent from around the globe was lured to the Philips Stadion.
In the mid-2000s, Dutch football was another backdoor into Europe for Latin American players; a route most notably taken by Luis Suarez. At PSV, the title-winning team captained by Cocu in the 2006/07 campaign contained seven players from throughout this region.
The bulk of these were Brazilians; goalie Heurelho Gomes (who went on to play for Spurs) joining then Chelsea-owned pair Alex (pictured with Gomes above) and Alcides, and current Samba Boys squad centre forward Diego Tardelli.
Wingers Jefferson Farfan (Peru) and Edison Mendez (Ecuador), plus the versatile Carlos Salcido (Mexico) made up the remaining Hispanic heroes. Eindhoven blended these foreign faces, which also included Australia anchorman Jaso Culina and African attacker Arouna Kone (Ivory Coast), with senior Dutch pros.
Cocu himself fell into this latter category, joining fellow Barcelona old boys Patrick Kluivert (pictured below during 2007 title celebrations) and Michael Reiziger for a last hurrah in their homeland.
With Belgium counterpart Timmy Simons also an engine room option, there wasn’t much room to promote youth, with Barca flop Ibrahim Afellay (on loan at Olympiakos this term) the only notable exception.
Fast forward to the present and Cocu the coach has done a complete 180. There are just six foreign players in PSV’s entire squad, down from more than double that eight years ago.
Discounting back-up keepers, just two of the current Lightbulbs’ first-team set-up are over the age of 24. Injuries to Colombia right back Santiago Arias and homegrown winger Florian Jozefzoon apart, Cocu has also been able to name a settled side this season.
Much has already been written about Memphis Depay, the jewel in Eindhoven’s crown, but the Lightbulbs have not been turned back on with this title tilt by just one prodigious youngster.
Reported Manchester United and Spurs target Depay happens to have made the biggest scoring contribution, netting 20 from a wide berth, yet former Newcastle United forward flop Luuk de Jong has also had a magnificent campaign.
Toon Army supporters shall detract from cold on paper, despite impressive stats of 19 goals and 10 assists, saying he could not cut it in the Premier League.
That is their prerogative; however, there is no doubt De Jong has gone on to bigger and better things at PSV, having left Twente (where he also picked up an Eredivisie winners’ medal) for Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach before turning 22.
Luciano Narsingh completes the front three of this current Lightbulbs vintage, ably deputising for Jozefzoon with 10 assists and five goals. The form of current PSV captain Georginio Wijnaldum should also be noted, netting a dozen from a forward-thinking midfield berth.
Operating alongside another box-to-box performer Adam Maher in Eidhoven’s engine room has been Valencia loanee Andres Guardado, cleverly converted by both club and country into a handy holding player. The Mexico centurion, at 28, is the only elder statesman regularly called upon by Cocu this term.
Behind Guardado are a couple of centre backs with Premier League connections. Jeffrey Bruma has really blossomed since becoming the latest signing from Stamford Bridge, while Manchester City-owned Karim Rekik will have earned rave reviews from Etihad scouts reporting into his parent club.
Academy graduate Joshua Brenet (pictured above), meanwhile, has covered the full back berths superbly, especially for the injured Arias. Jetro Willems is the undoubted bright spark of the Lightbulbs’ back four, though, with a dozen assists from the left flank of defence vital to the cause.
So often, it’s been Ajax’s youth lauded and lost; Siem de Jong and Daley Blind’s sales to Premier League pair Newcastle and Man Utd being notable examples.
Feyenoord, meanwhile, saw their defence dismantled following Koeman’s switch to Southampton and the international exploits of Daryl Janmaat, Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi at the last World Cup under Louis van Gaal.
PSV have certainly profited from their two biggest domestic rivals cashing in on young Dutch talent, and everyone in Eindhoven should savour that success now. Cocu’s conundrum going forward is how will he change the Lightbulbs now that it looks like being their turn to have their players poached?