Much has rightly been made of Cody Gapko lighting up the Eredivisie this season, with the PSV Eindhoven captain delivering the kind of numbers which underline why so many Premier League clubs were interested in signing him last summer.

However, Gapko is not the only talent burning brightly in Eindhoven

During PSV’s recent win over an albeit weakened Arsenal, which ensured their Europa League group qualification, those who do not watch Dutch football on a regular basis will have received their first taste of the exciting prospect that is Xavi Simons. 

The dynamic and versatile 19 year-old Dutch forward is thriving under the stewardship of Ruud van Nistelrooy, one with just a bit of knowledge about how to put the ball into the back of the net. Yet his name had somewhat dipped below the collective radars of those scanning for the next big thing in European football.

That is certainly no longer the case. It has been a fantastic couple of months for the Amsterdam-born number 7. In what is effectively his first season as a regular, following a summer move from Paris St Germain, at the time of writing Simons has 10 goals and 4 assists in 19 appearances in all competitions. He has started every game in the Eredivisie and Europa League, scored on his debut against Ajax as PSV won the season curtain raiser – the Johan Cruyff Shield – and has now deservedly been named in Louis van Gaal’s provisional squad for the Qatar World Cup. In terms of statistics, impact and sheer excitement, Simons is running Gapko close as the standout player in Dutch football at present. 

Sometimes the hype around young players is justified but just takes a little longer to come to fruition, and that seems to be the case with Simons. Previously named among the Guardian’s “Next Generation 2020”, Simons was given the ultimate footballing education at Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, becoming one of its most highly-rated and sought after products. He then moved to PSG at 16, when a new contract with Barca could not be agreed. It maybe isn’t surprising that he ultimately was not able to kick-on in Paris with such a star-studded selection of attacking players blocking his path. Indeed, he made just 11 first-team appearances across three years, with his most significant contribution being a penalty miss in a surprise Coupe de France defeat to Nice. 

The decision he made to follow home comforts by returning to his native Netherlands on a free transfer shows that Simons has a wise head as well as electric feet. The right environment is so vital for prestigious young players – just take a look at how fellow 19-year old Jude Bellingham has thrived at Borussia Dortmund – and Simons has found the ideal place to develop the obvious talent that had not been given the right opportunity to flourish in France. 

In terms of core attributes, Simons is the archetypal modern forward – quick, strong with both feet, a creator as well as a goalscorer. He can dribble past players or find space with intelligent, incisive movement. What’s more, he is remarkably versatile for one so young. It is difficult to pin down what exactly his best position is, which makes him such a threat to opposition defences. He is listed as an attacking midfielder, but has also played regularly on the right and as the main striker. Go through his goals this season and Simons is a player who instinctively knows where to be when the ball is in the box and can cause equal havoc by driving inside from the wing or arriving late from the middle of the pitch. 

It is evident that Simons already possess that lethal combination of natural attacking prowess and in-game intelligence that all the very best have. Right now, there does not seem to be an obvious ceiling as to how good he could become. He is inevitably still raw with room for development but it is extremely satisfying to see him start fulfilling the promise many predicted. 

His progress at Philips Stadion has certainly caught PSG off guard, with questions being raised about why they agreed to let such a talent go, even if they did initially want it to just be a loan. However, it has been reported that the club has the option to buy him back from PSV next summer. Indeed, it is expected that many of Europe’s biggest clubs will now be circling, and it will be interesting to see if PSV will sell when he signed a 5-year contract and with Gapko already likely to depart.

The transfer rumours will go into overdrive if Simons gets the chance to represent his country in Qatar this winter. The Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, going into his third tournament as national manager, has traditionally stuck to tried and tested selections and systems but he simply could not ignore the form of Simons for the initial extended squad. There is more international experience ahead of Simons, yet is there more talent? A starting place is a step too far, but how dangerous could his pace and skill be off the bench? There is no reason why he could not do a job playing as the number 10 or one of the two forwards in van Gaal’s preferred 3-4-1-2 formation. The previously stated versatility is also a real asset for a coach to have in a tournament squad. Whether van Gaal decides to select a player with zero caps in his final 26 is still up for debate, yet Simons, who has played at every international level, has merited a spot. 

So keep your eyes peeled because there is more than one star burning brightly at PSV. Xavi Simons may have only just arrived on centre stage but it might not be long before he becomes the lead act – for club and country. 




Joe Baker (4 Posts)