Feyenoord’s activity in the transfer window proves they are trying to better prepare Giovanni van Bronckhorst for a serious challenge to PSV and bitter rivals Ajax.

  • By Chaka Simbeye
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van bronckhoThere has been a sense of urgency about Feyenoord’s recruitment strategy this transfer window. There has been an emphasis on bringing in established talent rather than the normal Feyenoord system of focusing on burgeoning homegrown youngsters. However, rightly so as Feyenoord haven’t won the Eredivisie in 16 years and are no closer to sustaining a proper challenge on the top two of PSV and Ajax.

The Fred Rutten sacking and the hiring of unproven manager and club legend Giovanni van Bronckhorst evokes a similar feeling of a bridge passed by both Ajax and more recently PSV. Ajax had to segway from Martin Jol to a younger, fresher Frank De Boer while PSV had to adjust from Dick Advocaat to Phillip Cocu. It signals the integration of a new and more streamlined structure at the club where directors Marc Overmars and Marcel Brands focus on scouting and recruitment while the managers’ sole focus is the performances and progress of the team.

Brands pushed hard for the hiring of Phillip Cocu and found a young and impressionable manager who can be the platform for a new ethos around the club. This ethos is based on a balance between external and internal recruitment, a system where talented youngsters are given a chance but the team has a fine blend of youth and experience.

Feyenoord director Martin Van Geel seeks to strike this balance with van Bronckhorst by hiring a learned and respectable individual who understands the Rotterdam society and can maintain it while driving the club forward. Feyenoord are in need of results as after a disappointing season where they hassled PSV and Ajax in fixtures against them, but couldn’t translate it into any sort of sustained challenge on the league table.

Jean-Paul Boetius leaving and Eljero Elia replacing him is the most defining symbol of the Rotterdammer’s transfer window. Boetius was rated as highly as Memphis Depay over a year ago and has left for Basel FC while Depay moved to English Premier League giants Manchester United. Although Basel is a respectable club that frequently performs in European competition (and better than any Dutch club), it is notable that Boetius left without becoming a cornerstone of Feyenoord like Depay was in his final season at PSV.

Boetius was part of a 1994 age-group which was considered a golden generation amongst the De Kuip faithful. Kyle Ebecillio was part of that group before joining Arsenal at youth level but is now at FC Twente and a move to Championship side QPR has been touted this summer. Karim Rekik joined Manchester City at youth level and after two season-long loans to PSV and an Eredivisie title, is now at Marseille in Ligue 1. Terence Kongolo, Anass Achahbar and Trinidad Vilhena were all part of that generation too and after all showed early promise, only Kongolo is close to guaranteeing a spot in the starting XI this season.

“You can’t have a 21 year-old tutor a 19 year-old,” were wise words shared by Southampton manager Ronald Koeman who also managed Feyenoord. This quote brings clarity to the acquisition of Eljero Elia who has had a career of up and downs. After an inspiring beginning to his career at FC Twente and playing a World Cup Final in 2010 against Spain, an injury plagued spell at Italian heavyweights Juventus followed before an underwhelming spell at Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. Performances in a short loan spell at Southampton helped clear off the doubt of a once highly touted player.

At 28 years-old, he has invaluable knowledge and experience to pass on to the younger heads in the Feyenoord dressing room . He mentored Memphis Depay from afar and as a player still trying to find his best form, he himself joins Feyenoord with much to prove. The signings of Michiel Kramer from ADO Den Haag, Jan Arie Van Der Heijden from Vitesse and most importantly Marko Vejinovic from Vitesse all provide an experienced reprieve to a very young squad. While Simon Gustafsson who won the Euro U21s with Sweden brings more competition to midfield from FC Hacken in the Swedish League.

However, Varkenoord, Feyenoord’s illustrious conveyor belt of talent should not be undermined and youngsters should be given a chance like they always have been in Rotterdam. Feyenoord’s cycle of talent and the principles of Varkenoord almost seem a fictional tale. Imagine a group of boys meeting at Under 9 level and watching each other grow physically and mentally on a clear path to the first team. As many have journeyed across the street from the Varkenoord Sports Complex to De Kuip and then far beyond.

11 of the 23 players who made the final cut for the Dutch National Team that finished 3rd in the World Cup were former Feyenoord players with 9 hailing from Varkenoord. The talent must be trusted but it can’t drive Feyenoord where they and their passionate fanbase deserve to be alone, more experienced hands need to help steer them. The biggest indicator of that was in the Europa League playoff second leg against Heerenveen where with 10 men at the rapturous De Kuip in extra time, Elvis Manu went through on goal to drag Feyenoord closer to Europe only to have his shot saved by Kristoffer Nordfeldt (now of Swansea).To rub salt in their wounds, Heerenveen striker Mark Uth scored the winning goal almost immediately after at the other end.

The biggest concerns are the additions of Kramer up front and Feyenoord’s pursuit of Eric Botteghin of Groningen. Kramer could further hinder the growth of talented young striker Achahbar while Botteghin could hinder the burgeoning centre-back partnership of Sven Van Beek and Kongolo. Achahbar was only given a chance very late in Rutten’s tenure and he impressed with two goals against champions PSV being his highlight. However, Kramer is an experienced and seasoned Eredivisie goal-scorer with ADO Den Haag and could bring a certain clinical touch to a team that struggled for goals at points last season. Van Beek and Kongolo proved solid but one might feel it was too much responsibility placed on two sets of young shoulders as a calamitous 3-1 away trip loss to Heerenveen in the Eredivisie proved.

Feyenoord and all involved at the top level of the club need to find the right balance between needing to progress whilst maintaining their principles. There is a saying used at Feyenoord: ‘Geen Woorden Maar Daden’ which is Dutch for ‘not words but deeds’.It is a complex balance to strike but Feyenoord have already shown potential as their win against two-time Europa League champions Sevilla proved last season. They need to extend their potential into consistent success to finally bring respite to the deserving fans that pack De Kuip to the rafters week after week.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)