Exiled Geordie Paul Benneworth once again reports from the Netherlands, considering whether Georginio Wijnaldum is the new Robin Van Persie or Winston Bogarde…
After our weekly game of five-a-side last Monday, a Dutch colleague said that Newcastle United now have more Dutch players than the average Eredivisie club. With Georginio Wijnaldum being added to Siem de Jong, Darryl Janmaat, Tim Krul and Vurnon Anita, five Netherlands passport-holders is indeed more than turn out at the average weekend for Eredivisie sides.
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There has been something of a fashion for attracting players from the Dutch leagues in recent years, and all five of the Orange Mags came across from the Big 3 Dutch clubs; Feyenoord, PSV and Ajax.
The common wisdom has been that the Netherlands is one of the few places where there’s still real value to find in the market, with plenty of players ready to take the next step up.
We’ve seen other clubs make a raid on the Big 3 again this summer; Jordie Classie cashed in Feyenoord for an £8m move to Southampton, where his ex-coach at the Kuip Ronald Koeman will be hoping that the pocket rocket, can make as much of an impression as Wilfried Bony and Graziano Pellè did before him.
Louis van Gaal has definitely taken a rather bigger gamble on bringing Memphis Depay to Old Trafford. Paying £21m makes Depay the fifth most expensive Dutch transfer, with PSV delighted to have had one more season of Memphis at his best to help win the league before cashing in.
Van Gaal is a wily old fox and knowing Depay from his time with the Dutch team makes you think he knows what he is doing. But writing PSV-Manchester United reminds me of the risks you take with signing Eredivisie players untested in the Premier League.
In 2000, PSV played Manchester United in the Champions League, and one of the eye-catching players in their 3-1 victory was a certain Mateja Kezman.
After helping PSV to the league title four years later, he cashed in for Stamford Bridge, where after an anonymous season warming the Chelsea bench at the fringe of their League-winning side, he drifted round the fringes of European football for eight years.
There’s value to be had in the Eredivisie, but there’s also plenty of chancers and wannabe journeymen who see signing for a Premier League side as the high point of their career, a guaranteed five year jackpot to keep them going as they lucratively slide into obscurity via China and the Middle East.
So the £15m question is which of those will Wijnaldum be, a Van Persie or a Winston Bogarde, quick resale value or a millstone round the club’s neck for the next four years?
Without a doubt, Gini is a fantastic footballing talent with immense top-level potential. He was at Feyenoord as they teetered near bankruptcy, and between him and Ron Vlaar they kept the club alive.
He’s made a step up to a higher level twice in 2011, transferring to PSV and debuting in the Netherlands national side, since then winning all the major Dutch trophies in Eindhoven and taking a third-place medal in the Brazil World Cup.
But there’s three other factors that will undoubtedly affect whether he makes a difference at St James, namely his fitness, the manager and the squad.
In all three dimensions the Premier League is very different from what he’s been used to in his football career to date, and how he reacts to this new environment is arguably most important in determining whether we see the genius or a donkey.
Part of his fitness relates to a serious back injury he suffered in 2013, which restricted him to 11 appearances. But my greater concern is his capability to deal with the intensity of the Premier League, without a break in the winter, at a time when he need to build his condition up to deal with the increased intensity.
Part of Janmaat’s strength as a Newcastle player has been the way he has dosed his efforts and managed to sustain throughout the season the same work-rate that he showed for 70 minutes in the Real Sociedad friendly in last summer’s pre season.
The manager can make a great difference in allowing him the time to settle in and improve his fitness without reaggravating his injury, but another factor is whether the manager’s chosen formation suits him.
He broke through at Feyenoord when Jon Dahl Tomasson was injured, and that should already set alarm bells ringing in fans’ minds.
Tomasson was a great attacking midfielder and a goalscoring Number 10 for Feyenoord, but in Newcastle he was pushed too far forward into a second striker role because of squad injuries elsewhere, and we know that the last two seasons NUFC have been plagued by injuries and forced repositionings.
Finally, the question has to be of the rest of the squad. Wijnaldum thrives alongside a real number 9, someone who puts pressure on defences, can always take a pass and score, but also creates space for Wijnaldum around the box.
Last year at PSV, with Tyneside flop Luuk de Jong, he had that in spades, 14 goals the result. But without a real star striker, he may flounder, and despite Cisse’s inevitable departure it’s not yet clear who’s going to play that role.
Steve McClaren knows how Dutch football works, and has seen Wijnaldum up close from his time at FC Twente, so he may be able to nurture and get the best out of him.
McClaren’s injury record with regard to his players at Twente was also rather good, although he did suffer two alarming drops in form in his second period at the Grolsch Veste.
So the big remaining question mark has to be the Boardroom, and their signing policy for the rest of the transfer window.
Will they succeed in hauling in the marque striker that the club desperately needs, someone to create pressure and open space and time for our talented midfield and back line to thrive?
Perhaps last season was enough of a shock to persuade them of a need for change, but until I see the hard cash on the table, I think Gini’s going to have his work cut out at St James Park.