From the Dutch Eerste Divisie to the national team in a few months, 2018 was a whirlwind year for Club Brugge winger Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld. Michael Bell takes a look at the forwards rise from PSV reject to one of the Netherlands most exciting attackers.

A careless pass from Belgium was picked off by Donny van de Beek and via Quincy Promes the ball lands at the feet of Memphis Depay. He looks up and threads a pass into the path of an unmarked Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld, who takes a touch with his left foot, steadies himself and then with his right he slots the ball through Simon Mignolet’s legs and into the net to earn Netherlands a 1-1 draw in Brussels.

The match on October 16th was Groeneveld’s first start for the Dutch national team and capped an excellent few months for the winger, who came through a number of setbacks on his way to the top.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a Dutch father and Nigerian mother, Groeneveld moved to Netherlands at a young age but immigration issues meant he spent time with three different foster families around the country before being reunited with his father. Despite his difficult home situation, football was a release and after spells with amateur side RKSV Margriet and FC Oss, he was snapped up by PSV Eindhoven in 2008.

Coming through at the PSV academy, Groeneveld impressed early on with his dribbling ability and pace on the wings. He would go on to play with the likes of Steven Bergwijn and Sam Lammers and a breakthrough was expected in Eindhoven.

Step after step was made in his eight years with PSV, but the club’s coaches, who often had run-ins with the youngster, appeared to lose confidence in Groeneveld, who also suffered from niggling injuries and he was released on a free in 2016 after only one appearance for Jong PSV and not a single first-team opportunity.

Speaking to Belgian outlet ‘Sportmagazine’, Groeneveld stated he knew something was wrong when his teammates were all signing contracts and turning up at training in expensive cars while he was only offered fares for his train.

He said, “I did not play at PSV and that had nothing to do with my qualities. I heard from trainers: I would play you, but I can not, there can be football and especially the top political reasons that you do not play: things that are looked at, but that have nothing to do with football. I was never allowed to sign a contract with PSV, all the other guys did, while I thought – and the trainers also spoke – that I was good enough to get that. When you see your fellow players in a Mercedes drive down the parking lot and you take the train home … That hurts, especially for someone like me, who has pride in him. ”

NEC Nijmegen were convinced by Groeneveld’s qualities and they moved quickly to snap him up on a free. He was initially inducted into the NEC reserve squad but after impressing he was handed his Eredivisie debut as a late substitute against his former side PSV. He couldn’t prevent a 4-0 loss but it was a start for the winger who would go on to cement his place in the line-up before the end of the campaign, which saw NEC relegated.

Off the pitch, Groeneveld worked hard in the gym and often stayed behind after training sessions to work on his technique. This paid off in the next campaign as the forward became a sensation in the Eerste Divisie. In the opening game of the season, Groeneveld provided two assists and scored in a 3-1 win over Almere City and that kicked off a great run of form.

The forward terrorised his Eerste Divisie opponents and contributed ten assists and five goals in his opening 12 games, which earned the youngster his debut for the Dutch U21’s. This was his first call up to any Netherlands national team age group.

NEC fell in love with the winger and CEO Remco Oversier said to VI, “When I just worked at NEC and saw him work, I knew: That is one that gets the Dutch national team within three years. He’s really good, is he not? If you send him into the depth without a ball, he is not exceptionally fast, but he is threatening, explosive and can go both inside and outside. His dribbling technique is also phenomenal. That boy has so much potential. You would have to analyze all of his goals, all different types. I literally saw right backs falling over because they did not know what to do anymore”

A back injury would keep Groeneveld out for two months but he would end last season with 13 goals and 17 assists in all competitions. Despite his best efforts, NEC failed to gain promotion and it was clear the club could not hold onto the attacker with clubs from around Europe circling.

Manchester City were heavily linked with a move for the youngster in the summer, while a sensational return to PSV Eindhoven was also talked about. However, Groeneveld followed his heart and chose a move to Belgium with Club Brugge, who paid NEC a measly fee of around €2 million.

He explained why he chose Club Brugge to Sportmagazine, “I consciously opted for Brugge. There was also interest from Germany, England and France. I follow my feelings, always. I can not explain how that works exactly, but here it just worked. Club really wanted me. I love that attention. When I came here, it was immediately clear to me. Compared to all other clubs that were interested – including Manchester City – I can best develop here.”

The move to Belgium has worked wonders for Groeneveld so far, with the attacker becoming a fan favourite almost instantly with four goals and three assists in his opening eleven league games while he has also gained some Champions League experience. The highlight of his club career so far came at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium against Atletico when Groeneveld picked up the ball on the left-hand side before cutting in and curling an unstoppable strike into the top corner. The match would end in a 3-1 defeat but Groeneveld had announced himself on a European stage.

His form brought up questions about his national team debut for Netherlands, while Nigeria were also making moves to convince him to commit his future to them. However, Groeneveld, who wears his Nigerian middle name Danjuma on his back, was always clear, “The Dutch national team is my dream, but I also have the African culture in me. Who knows, maybe I’ll play for Nigeria, I’d seriously think about it if they called me up, but it would be a shame. Because I want to get Oranje.”

That dream came true a week after his goal against Atletico as Ronald Koeman brought him off the bench in the 3-0 win over Germany. A few days later he registered his first Oranje goal in the draw with Belgium. The 21-year-old was now an Oranje star and only six months after his last appearance in the Dutch second tier.

Frustratingly for Groeneveld, his momentum was cut short with an injury suffered in the following Club Brugge game ruling him out for the rest of the year which meant he missed four of the club’s Champions League group games and Netherlands ties with France and Germany. Despite this, 2018 was an incredible year for the youngster and his star is only set to rise further in 2019

AC Milan are the first big name confirmed to be interested in signing Groeneveld and more will surely follow as it becomes clear that Groeneveld may not be in Belgium for long.

A move to one of Europe’s top clubs will be a great reward for a player who never gave up after several setbacks and has worked hard to take his place amongst Netherlands most exciting prospects.

Michael Bell (59 Posts)