Tonny Vilhena spent the whole of last season on the bench and seemed like he would spend this season there too. He played his way into the starting lineup and found his stride to stay there. His departure from Feyenoord is disappointing for everyone involved but there is a talented young player on the market for free.

  • By Chaka Simbeye
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vilhena feeTonny Vilhena grew up in a quiet, residential neighborhood west of Massluis which is a 30-minute drive from Rotterdam. His upbringing was protective in a close-knit family, so much so that his father who is also his representative relays critiques of his performances to his son. Vilhena also turned down a move abroad last year to stay close to his mother who was ill. However, in the post-Koeman season under Fred Rutten, his father had little to nothing to critique as he spent the majority of the season on the bench. This season after initially starting on the bench, he played his way into an integral role in Giovanni Van Bronchorst’s side.

In the season opener, he came off the bench to put 10-man Feyenoord ahead at home against Utrecht in a 3-1 win and he also came off the bench to assist the winning goal away at De Graafschap in a 2-1 win but that still did not earn him a starting spot. His first start came in the first Klassieker of the season against Ajax in November as it looked like it was going to be his second consecutive season as a bit-part player. For some fans at Feyenoord, it signalled arrogance in the player while for others it was confusing as a player once heralded as an integral component of a golden generation to come out of Varkenoord and a player who was highly rated by Ronald Koeman had found himself on the bench.

However, by December he had managed to play his way into the side and began to hit his stride again, even scoring an incredible free-kick from a tight angle in a 3-1 away loss against NEC Nijmegen. This was in the final game before the winter break as this devastating loss would leave a ‘dark cloud’ hovering above Feyenoord during the winter break as manager Van Bronchorst later put it. During the training camp, pictures emanated of Vilhena karate-kicking teammate Michel Nelom in a dispute over a rough challenge but the two would sort it out before the season restarted. Sadly, this for Feyenoord would just be the tip of the iceberg as their team fell apart at the seams, losing the next seven consecutive games.

Van Bronchorst realized the balance in his midfield was wrong as Marko Vejinovic was strong on the ball but not defensively assured and with all that Simon Gustafson gives in the final third, he lacks in mobility. Regardless, between December and January represented Vilhena’s first purple-patch in a while as he contributed 4 goals and 3 assists in a team that seemed to be held together by passionate support at home and a brilliant Dirk Kuyt. By the time Dick Advocaat came in to advise Van Bronchorst who was in his first season in management, Vilhena had made himself an integral part of the midfield restructure. His energetic and gritty box to box style meshed with an ability to open up the game with beautiful through balls and a habit for attempting the extraordinary made him a fan favourite again.

In a 4-2 loss against AZ Alkmaar where the only consolation for Nelom’s terrible positioning and former youth reject turned national sensation Vincent Janssen’s hat-trick, was Vilhena’s strike from long-range which cannoned off the crossbar and into the goal. One could still hear the thumping sound the ball made when it crashed against the crossbar ringing in their ears when Van Bronchorst described Vilhena as ‘the man in form’ in his post-match press conference. The frustrating thing for Feyenoord fans is that the only goal that could possibly match his stunner was Anass Achahbar’s bicycle kick against Heerenveen and Achahbar who was part of the same generation of youth products as Vilhena, has already signed for PEC Zwolle.

Vilhena will also leave for free as his contract has run out and outgoing Technical Director Martin Van Geel’s futile efforts to tie him down to a new contract were muddled up by poor communication on both ends of the deal. Vilhena’s preference was to stay but to earn a similar wage to high earners like Jan-Arie Van Der Heijden while apparently Van Geel announced his departure without informing Vilhena’s camp that a deal could not be reached. Fans are left flummoxed as another youth product after Jean-Paul Boetius and Achahbar have been allowed to leave, especially as Vilhena has played his way from obscurity and into Danny Blind’s latest Dutch National Team squad.

“I dare to compare him with Edgar Davids, who gave a team always something extra. Not that Vilhena has so far shown this, but it is in that boy. Wonderful player,” said former manager and Fox sports analyst Mario Been.

“A young player just gets better of a strong competition, but he must occasionally to play. The selection of today and the selection can not be compared to my time at Feyenoord,” said former Feyenoord manager and current Southampton manager, Ronald Koeman.

Vilhena is a box to box midfielder who loves to make challenges as one can remember his feisty challenges on Riechedly Bazoer in De Klassiekers against Ajax this season. He also enjoys driving the ball with his low centre of gravity and turn of pace while he likes to create from deep with a daring passing style. He also enjoys getting involved in the final third with goals and assists as he offers a passing option and can play clever passes and one-twos around the box. He has 6 goals and 4 assists in all competitions while creating 37 chances this season as his progressive attitude shows in his passing statistics with 756 passes at an accuracy 79% with 83% being forward passes according to Squawka. He makes 3 long balls per game with 2 key passes while taking 2 shots per game. He also participates defensively with 2 tackles, 1 interception and 1 clearance per game.

Feyenoord already have replacements for him in Renato Tapia who they signed from FC Twente in January and the highly rated Jari Schuurman from the academy. Mario Been and Feyenoord legend Wim Van Hanegem have both criticized Feyenoord’s treatment of Vilhena while pointing out that the club could’ve spent their money more responsibly. Vilhena will leave Feyenoord after a solid season including a third-placed finish and a KNVB Beker triumph while the rumours are that he has interest from clubs abroad. Vilhena is still only 21 years-old and will be a bargain for any clubs for free as he possesses huge potential, it’s a shame that he didn’t get to truly fulfill it at Feyenoord.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)