After a summer which saw many PSV players star at the World Cup, Ryan Ferguson explores the effect keeping a strong core will have on the Eindhoven club.

  • By Ryan Ferguson
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psvdepdePhillip Cocu enters his second full season as PSV coach knowing that fan patience is running low and, after six years without an Eredivisie crown, time is of the essence. The present title drought is de Boeren’s longest in almost three decades, a totally unacceptable record at a club built on consistent success. Thus, a prevailing sense of urgency, catalyzed by fan disquiet after a poor showing last season and embraced this summer by incoming General Manager Toon Gerbrands, has seen PSV maintain a core of strong players whilst rivals have been considerably weakened. Accordingly, many forecasters see Cocu’s men as early favourites for the title but, in post-Hiddink Eindhoven, nothing is ever so straightforward.

So far, the club has targeted quality over quantity in the transfer market, beginning to add experienced cogs to its machine of highly-talented youngsters. Remko Pasveer, a capable goalkeeper signed from Heracles Almelo, will complement prized prospect Jeroen Zoet nicely; Luuk de Jong, a very talented centre-forward whose stock was artificially damaged by frustrating spells with Mönchengladbach and Newcastle, will have an excellent opportunity to rekindle the devastating form which earned him recognition at FC Twente many years ago; and prime target Steven Defour, who the club is working hard to sign as replacement for the long-lost Kevin Strootman, could potentially be a huge difference-maker. For Marcel Brands and Cocu, attracting players of this calibre is a huge leap in the right direction.

Yet, arguably, their best work this offseason has been in keeping Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum, two superstars bestowed with incredible influence in Louis van Gaal’s enthralling World Cup squad. During the summer, both players grew before our very eyes, becoming responsible, effective, big-game performers capable of dazzling on the largest stage. In defiantly taking a stand by keeping and squeezing such exceptionally-talented stars into an otherwise modest Eredivise, PSV is bound to forge an advantage. This was a move which needed to be made, akin to club declaring “no more players will leave until we finally win the title,” and one which will be extremely exciting to watch.

Whilst Depay and Wijnaldum, marquee player and club captain, rightly standout as the most important pieces of the PSV puzzle, other potential stars must take the next step in their development if the club is to reach its ultimate goal. In particular, this will be a pivotal campaign for Adam Maher who, a year ago, was heralded as the next great Dutch playmaker, before a desperately disappointing season derailed his progress. A dynamic, ball-playing trequartista, Maher was signed for big money after illuminating the Eredivisie with AZ; PSV icon Mark van Bommel advising Brands to do everything in his power to bring the silky-skilled prospect to Eindhoven. However, since assuming van Bommel’s legendary number six jersey and, symbolically, his mantle as the driving force in the PSV engine room, Maher has struggled infuriatingly for form. Such was his inefficiency last term, Cocu refused to select Maher for vast periods, and frequently used the youngster out-of-position whenever he did.

However, PSV fans can only hope that a summer of rest, coupled with the spotlight switching to other members of the team, will enable Maher to finally kick-on and flourish. Somewhere deep inside him, there’s a truly sensational footballer waiting to emerge; a wonderfully daring artisan capable of eclipsing even Depay in terms of pure game-changing talent. If Cocu can coax the very best out of Adam Maher and help him fuse with Depay and Wijnaldum into a truly terrifying triumvirate, PSV will undoubtedly win the league. That seemingly straightforward task, however, will be a lot harder than you think.

Amid this suffocating conjecture, one fact remains undeniably true: it will be easier to win the Eredivisie crown this season than last. Every club which finished above PSV in 2013/14 has hemorrhaged deep-impact talent, whilst, as outlined previously, the Eindhoven giants have remained stoic in the face of interest for their players. Ajax lost inspirational captain Siem de Jong and face a grim fight to keep hold of indispensable midfield metronome Daley Blind. After selling Daryl Janmaat, Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi and Graziano Pelle (three-fifths of it’s terrific defence plus the talismanic captain who so often hauled them to glory), Feyenoord settled on 32-year old journeymen Khalid Boulahrouz and Luke Wilshire as replacements. Further afield, Twente lost Dušan Tadić, Heerenveen sold Alfreð Finnbogason, and Vitesse will be without Lucas Piazon and Christian Atsu.

Sure, Ajax will roll some new shiny academy graduates off the production line to compliment a very good squad; Feyenoord will similarly cobble together a team of capable youngsters; and the plucky clubs from Enschede and Friesland will, as ever, find some novel way to remain competitive. But, quite frankly, these teams enter the season with far more questions than answers and, at this stage, PSV power-brokers do not envy any of their nearest rivals. The way Gerbrands, Brands and Cocu see it, PSV have a far more settled, far more talented, far more experienced squad than an overwhelming majority of the Eredivisie. As a result, it’s also far more prepared for a serious run at the championship. The time has come.

Admittedly, PSV offloaded striker Tim Matavž and saw loan deals expire for the influential trio of Karim Rekik, Bryan Ruiz and Park Ji-Sung, but, for once, Eindhoven decision-makers were ready with contingency plans. As mentioned earlier, Luuk de Jong is capable of setting the Eredivisie alight and, in some quarters, is being viewed as a considerable upgrade. Similarly, Brands promoted highly-skilled playmaker Marcel Ritzmaier to the first team following a lengthy loan at Cambuur, and continues to work day-and-night on concluding a deal for midfield bulwark Steven Defour. If these new additions mesh quickly into an already-productive team bound, by the gift of young age, to develop naturally this year, PSV will shuffle ever closer to the Promised Land.

In all, Cocu has a squad bursting with prodigious ability. Zoet is a fine shot-stopper with razor sharp reflexes; Santiago Arias, a flowing right-back of verve and energy, will look to continue his ascension as a fan favourite; and Jeffrey Bruma will only get better. Jetro Willems will look to eradicate the inconsistencies in his game; Maher will attempt to find the antidote to his woes; and Luciano Narsingh may experience a renaissance. Oscar Hiljemark should build on a phenomenal debut season, in which he became the beating heart of the PSV midfield; Stijn Schaars will just keep plodding along; and Jürgen Locadia may finally blossom into a twenty goal striker. As for Depay and Wijnaldum? Well, the whole world knows about them.

Ultimately, I believe we’ll witness another classic duel between Ajax and PSV for the Eredivisie crown, just like the good old days. After years of separation and uncertainty, these warring factions, these anathema houses of footballing success, have once more distinguished themselves from the pack. Ajax, with a scholarly spine and fleet of budding stars, will look for an unprecedented fifth consecutive title; PSV, with a galaxy of prospects orbiting a newly-purchased core, will try everything to thwart their near nemesis. Fundamentally, the destination of the fifty-ninth Eredivisie championship will be decided by the lucky breaks, head-to-head matches and general vagaries of a marathon season about to unfurl.

Enjoy it, if you can stand the tension.

Ryan Ferguson (23 Posts)