Ryan Ferguson explains how the present success at PSV is driven by the growth of heralded young prospects into consistent, elite performers.

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psv magdkdnkSlowly but surely, PSV are learning from past mistakes. After years of huffing, puffing and posturing towards sluggish failure, the Eindhoven giants have finally found a formula for progress, if not guaranteed success. After ten league matches, Phillip Cocu’s men sit proudly atop the Eredivisie with twenty-four points, four more than a spluttering Ajax and seven ahead of a floundering Feyenoord. At long last, de Boeren¬†are delivering on their much-debated promise.

How? I hear you cry. Well, initially, the present success enjoyed by PSV is a byproduct of this vaunted club finally getting serious about diagnosing its problems and taking concise and immediate action to fix them.

For instance, they’ve taken impressive steps towards rectifying the chronic problem of conceding out of nowhere goals of remarkable stupidity. Last season, during which PSV conceded on forty-five occasions, frequent lapses in concentration and glitches in defensive application marred any potential progress the team tried to make. Whilst fine physical specimens, Jeffrey Bruma and Karim Rekik lacked the experience and acumen to defend faultlessly for a full ninety minutes. It all became very predictable and exceedingly banal.

Yet, this term, strong defensive play has been the rock on which PSV have built what they hope will be a title-winning momentum. At present, they boast the second best defence in the Eredivisie, having leaked just eight goals in the ten contests. Rekik continues to develop; goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet similarly; and Jorrit¬†Hendrix, a natural centre-half, has been plugged into a defensive quarterback berth, screening the back four and helping it towards four clean sheets in his eight league appearances. Admittedly, there is still room for improvement, but, in mentality and hunger, Cocu’s defence has made huge leaps forward. To that end, PSV have compiled a goal difference of +22, a very healthy figure for any club striving to win silverware.

Similarly, the team’s overall improvement in front of goal has contributed vastly to this burgeoning balance. Last year, PSV were profligate and infuriating in the attacking third. Typically, they would dominate the ball for huge swathes, carve out a stream of chances, only to see crosses zip untouched through the six-yard area or shots screw wide of the target. It was absolutely infuriating. However, with the introduction of Luuk de Jong, a strong reference point in attack who has notched six goals in his first fourteen appearance, and with the ever-evolving influence of Memphis Depay, this fresh incarnation of PSV has been far more clinical. They thumped NAC 6-1, thrashed Cambuur 4-0 and dismissed Excelsior and AZ with incisive 3-0 victories. Accordingly, teams are once again petrified to visit the Philips Stadion, through fear of a complete and comprehensive whitewash. Just like the old dynastic days.

Elsewhere, the PSV revival is a tale of human growth and flourishing. We’re seeing before our eyes what was promised at the onset of this philosophical rebuild: a group of bright young prospects, led by a progressive young coach, evolving and improving and developing into stars. Cocu, who spoke candidly about building a “new PSV” upon assuming office in 2013, has certainly grown as a coach, taking on board and putting into practice sagacious advice from his mentor Guus Hiddink.

At times early in his reign, the former PSV midfielder looked ever so slightly startled by the depth and pace of elite football management, excelling when given time to plot a specific gameplan yet coming unstuck in the heat of battle. On the contrary, Cocu seems more comfortable this term; more cognizant of the task at hand; more understanding of his position. Accordingly, he’s become far more confident and assertive as a manager, finally granting to star players like Depay, Wijnaldum and de Jong the autonomy to make key decisions for themselves.

There is a greater trust between Cocu and his players.

Adam Maher, the hugely-talented, perpetually-afflicted playmaker held aloft as the original poster boy of this PSV revolution, has been by far the biggest beneficiary of this stronger bond, this greater freedom. Maher, playing in his favoured number ten position, has been in dazzling for thus far, creating danger, scoring goals and influencing play. He scored against Utrecht, breaking beyond the striker to steer home a Willems cross. He twinkled against former club AZ, scoring two, including a magnificent, slaloming effort that left five defenders in his wake and one goalkeeper plucking the ball from his net. He even prospered from a stroke of luck against Excelsior, when one of his probing crosses flew through the penalty area and nestled in the bottom corner. Finally, he’s getting the breaks, the rub of the green, the fine fortune which proved so elusive in his maiden season.

More than anything, it’s tremendous to see Adam Maher smiling again. His PSV career, spluttering from the offset, has frequently threatened to turn sour, amid exorbitant expectations and unmet dreams. But he’s never shied away, never hid or cowered behind teammates. He kept playing, kept trying, kept working. Now, the tide has finally turned. Maher is again playing on instinct, rather than thinking, pondering, worrying. He’s gliding across the turf, rather than treading on eggshells. The natural talent within has finally been unleashed, a phenomenal boost for PSV and Dutch football as a whole.

Similarly, left-back Jetro Willems, famously enigmatic, has morphed into a dependable, consistent, quality performer. Just like Maher, he’s always possessed an ability to sparkle sporadically, but with a few wonder goals and high-octane performances typically offset by a few defensive lapses and a shrinking in big games. Yet, this season, Willems has been absolutely sensational, perhaps PSV’s most persistently dangerous player. Venturing forward habitually and with searing pace, silky skill and scintillating verve, Willems asks questions of the opposition. He’s been involved in many goals this campaign, crossing for more potent teammates or dipping inside and unfurling fizzing shots. A fit, focused, fervent Willems provides a new dynamic for PSV. A dynamic which has been particularly profitable in recent weeks.

Thus far, PSV have set the Eredivisie pace, winning games and building momentum. Now, the most pertinent question is whether it can last; whether this expanding cluster of delicate and precociously talented young men can manage for 34 games what they’ve done for 10?

Admittedly, there are still weak areas. For instance, Bruma becomes more of a liability with each passing week. The big central defender has already been sent off twice this season, giving him four dismissals in just sixteen months at the club. How long can PSV carry a player pretty much guaranteed to receive a yellow card every 3.9 appearances? How long can they accommodate a player who gets sent off roughly once every 14.75 games? How long can they rely on a player so routinely afflicted with chronic concentration problems?

Whilst Cocu must address these issues, perhaps in the January transfer market, PSV have achieved a lot heretofore. They lost Depay to injury for over a month, but rode out the storm diligently and emerged unscathed from the other side. Now, Memphis is back and firing, with a pristine record of ten goals in ten games this term. With that sort of goalscorer, that sort of threat, that sort of game-changing wonder kid at their disposal, any Eredivisie team would thrive. PSV have a distinct advantage, just by keeping hold of him.

Having learnt from the past and talked endlessly about the future, PSV have finally confronted the business of delivering the goods. They’re sharp, driven and confident; hungry, skillful and free. Why can’t they go all the way? We’ve seen it before.

Ryan Ferguson (23 Posts)