Back in Netherlands national team and on top form, PSV Eindhoven left back Jetro Willems is finally showing his immense potential.

  • By Michael Bell
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wilmwpsvMost footballers can only dream of representing their nation at a major tournament aged 18, but for Jetro Willems the dream turned into a bit of a nightmare two years ago when he represented Netherlands at the 2012 European Championships.

In 2011 PSV Eindhoven secured the signing of the 17-year-old from Sparta Rotterdam, and although he was meant to be one for the future, a serious injury to first choice left back Erik Pieters saw Willems thrown into the first team. An impressive season followed with Willems showing great technique and an attacking content in the 29 appearances he made during his breakthrough year which saw his side finish 3rd.

Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk was clearly impressed by the youngster, and with Giovanni van Bronkhorst retiring and a lack of clear options at left back, Willems was selected in the final squad for the European Championships in Ukraine and Poland. Willems would go on to start all three games, but looked clearly out of his depth as Netherlands suffered three embarrassing defeats which rocked the nation that was World Cup finalists only two years before.

The youngster was caught out a number of times in defence and looked too timid to make strides up the pitch as Netherlands were sent home early.

The nation was angry with the performances of their stars and Willems was made one of the scapegoat’s due to his tender age. It was clear that he was not ready for such an intense tournament, and Louis van Gaal, who took over from Van Marwijk as coach looked at other options, with Ajax’s Daley Blind and Feyenoord’s Bruno Martins Indi becoming the favoured left backs.

Willems was not disheartened from the experience though and he worked on his game over the next season, honing both his defensive and offensive skills. During the 2013/14 campaign the left back showed he was ready to fulfill his potential, forming a formidable partnership on the left wing with Memphis Depay, and although their was still a few defensive errors, going forward Willems was a delight to watch. Quick, strong, and with excellent technique, Willems has it all, even chipping in with four goals in 28 league appearances.

Along with Daley Blind, it seemed Willems would battle for the left back slot at last summers World Cup, but a knee ligament injury suffered in April stole his chance at redemption. Netherlands excelled in Brazil and came back with a medal after finishing third with Blind gaining a lot of plaudits for his work on the left hand side.

Fast forward a few months into the new season, and it is clear that Daley Blind should no longer be a contender for the left back slot in the national team, after a number of errors in the defeats to Iceland and the Czech Republic. The former Ajax man now plays in the centre of midfield for Manchester United, and looks lost when asked to play back in defence.

New Netherlands coach Guus Hiddink promised to change his squad after the embarrassing form, and Jetro Willems has been called into the fold for the upcoming matches against Mexico and Latvia. The call up is thoroughly deserved for Willems, who has this season put in some of the best performances of his career so far as PSV sit comfortably at the top of the Eredivisie table.

I was present at the Philips Stadion to watch PSV beat AZ Alkmaar 3-0 last month in which Willems put in a man of the match performance, not only stopping any attack that came down his side, but he also set up two goals with wonderful passes. His first was a through ball for Luciano Narsingh which was played almost through the eye of a needle, while for the second he bamboozled a defender with his dribbling skills before whipping a cross to the back post which was eventually prodded in by Adam Maher. Willems has followed that up with some more crucial assists, most recently in the 3-2 Europa League win over Panathinaikos last week, and his attacking content is something currently missing for Netherlands.

Its been almost a year since Willems last pulled on the Oranje jersey in the 2-2 draw against Japan, but the matches against Mexico and Latvia offer him the chance to cement himself as the nations number one left back. He should be paired up with Depay on the left wing, and should the duo recreate their club form then they should be on track to regular places heading into Euro 2016 in France.

Two years since the Euro 2012 debacle, Willems is now ready to prove he is the best left back in the Eredivisie and the Dutch national team, and if he keeps up his steady improvement, a move to a foreign club could follow, with AC Milan, and Manchester United constantly linked.

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