At the start of the year, Vincent Janssen was performing modestly for Mexican side Monterrey but after a shock call up by Louis van Gaal in June, the striker is now set to start Netherlands World Cup opener against Senegal. Michael Bell looks at the forward’s resurgence.

On 9th January 2022, Vincent Janssen played a disappointing 57 minutes for Monterrey in their 0-0 draw against Queretaro. The forward was now in his third year in Mexico and his place in the starting line-up was no longer guaranteed as he had to settle for a bench role in the coming games.

His first goal of the year wouldn’t come until 1st May 2022 and seven days later he netted again, in what would prove to be his final game for the club. All of this was happening under the radar in the Netherlands as most people had forgotten about Janssen, who had left Europe in 2019 following a difficult period with Tottenham Hotspur and failed loan with Fenerbahce.

Janssen came straight back into focus when Louis van Gaal decided, out of nowhere, to name the striker in his squad for the UEFA Nations League games against Wales, Belgium, and Poland in June this year.

The press and Netherlands fans were shocked as Janssen hadn’t appeared in Oranje since 2017 and his form didn’t seem that of a forward who should come into contention.

While at AZ Alkmaar, Janssen looked like a striker fit for the national team and made a big impression when he scored and gave an assist on his first start against England in a 2-1 victory at Wembley. However, he was part of the Danny Blind squad that failed to reach the 2018 World Cup, and his form with Tottenham, as well as injuries, led to him leaving for Mexico and entering obscurity.

So what was Janssen doing back in Oranje? Well, Van Gaal was short of options up front and wanted a forward who could hustle and link play. He may have had a helping hand from Blind, now Van Gaal’s assistant, who possibly told him how useful Janssen could be if given the right motivation.

The call-up was a shock to the country but also for Janssen, who had arranged his wedding for the dates of the Nations League games and clearly hadn’t taken a return to the Netherlands into consideration. He would miss the first three Nations League games but was immediately put in the starting line-up for the clash with Wales on 14th June.

Against the Welsh, Janssen brought back memories of his previous period in the national team as he hustled and moved around with energy upfront. He managed to hold the ball and ended the game with an assist in a 3-2 win. Van Gaal was impressed and Janssen was given a big boost of confidence.

This callup may have led to Janssen’s decision to return to Europe with Belgian side Royal Antwerp, who are led by Marc Overmars at a technical level and have Mark van Bommel as head coach. Back in Europe, Janssen had a point to prove and now had the opportunity to win his place in the World Cup squad.

Van Gaal used Janssen in the final two Nations League games, which both ended in victories, and the forward also impressed in Belgium. After a slow start, Janssen has nine goals and four assists in 17 league games for Antwerp. He was named the October player of the month in Belgium and this sealed his spot in Van Gaal’s World Cup squad.

However, Janssen may have feared for his spot when he was shown a straight red card in a cup game just days before the squad was announced. Luckily, this did not affect his selection.

Speaking to NOS, Janssen said that he always believed in a return to the Netherlands and a World Cup spot, “I always took into account that there would be that possibility,” However, that possibility must have seemed far away when he trotted off against Queretaro, before the hour mark, in January.

Last week, Van Gaal did not only confirm Janssen in his squad but also stated that the striker is set to start the opening game against Senegal. Memphis Depay is not fit enough to play the full ninety minutes and Janssen is going to get the nod ahead of Luuk de Jong or Wout Weghorst.

Janssen is not the most effective finisher, but his work rate and bustling style of play could be perfect in a 5-3-2 formation. He is the most similar in terms of style to Memphis and will look to form a partnership with the much speedier Cody Gakpo and Steven Bergwijn against Senegal.

“Nothing is unbelievable in football,” Janssen told NOS; The 28-year-old is right as his resurgence is one of the biggest shocks of the year in Dutch football. No Netherlands fans would have even considered him for a squad spot, let alone a start in the World Cup at the start of the year.

His resurgence and return to the national team could be seen as a stroke of genius from Van Gaal if the Netherlands succeeds.

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