BeNeFoot Eredivisie Player of the Year 2013: Alfred Finnbogason

A striker with a great goalscoring record in the Eredivisie is usually met with great scepticism. When a forward is smashing goals in with aplomb in the Dutch top flight and built up as one with a bright future, they are instantly dismissed by the outside world. Regardless of the likes of Luis Suarez, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Pierre van Hooijdonk, Dennis Bergkamp and Ronaldo who have come through the Eredivisie and gone on to achieve wonderful things in bigger leagues, there’s always a reluctance from those on the outside looking in to buy into the hype surrounding a high scoring striker in the Netherlands. The apprehension comes from previous strikers who have excelled in the Eredivisie but failed everywhere else. Afonso Alves scored 34 goals in one season in Holland, but resembled an amateur at Middlesbrough, Bjorn Vleminckx has drifted into obscurity after topping the goalscoring charts with NEC and Mateja Kezman went the same way after he did so three times with PSV.

As a result of such failures, there is a belief that a goal in the Netherlands is worth about a third of a goal in a league such as the English Premier League.

While the number of goals is always a critical statistic for a striker, to get the sense of the real potential of a striker in Holland, one must combine it with other aspects of the player.

It is here that it becomes clear that current Eredivisie top goalscorer and the BeNeFoot Eredivisie Player of the Year 2013, Alfred Finnbogason, is a very talented striker with the potential to play at a very high level.

In comparison to the likes of Alves, Kezman, Vleminckx and the as of yet unproven Wilfried Bony, the Heerenveen frontman is clearly a better all-round player. Bony, for instance, relied on his strength more than anything else to hold off the defenders and power his way towards goal and his scoring record with Vitesse is taken out of context.  Finnbogason, though, is technically superior and has greater speed than the Swansea striker and it also took him 15 games less to reach the 40 goal mark in the Dutch league than Bony.

Alves’s record is often taken out of perspective, too. The Brazilian scored 29 of his 45 Eredivisie goals in nine games, the remainder of his record comes from 16 goals in 30. He scored four hat-tricks in one season in the Eredivisie, not counting the four goals he smashed past Feyenoord in one match. By comparison, Finnbogason has scored 27 goals in 2013 in 30 games, having scored only one hat-trick in that time.

When Finnbogason makes a step beyond the Eredivisie, he is more likely to join the group consisting of the likes of Suarez and Huntelaar than he is to drop into the contingency of failures.

He is technically superior to the likes of Alves, Kezman, Vleminckx and Bony by some distance. He has a good first touch and good passing ability, which allows him to link up with those around him and as a result he has picked up eight assists this year. He is averaging 1.8 key passes per game this season – a very good rate for a striker.  Furthermore he has great pace and, with a shot conversion rate of 27% in 2013, he is a fantastic finisher.

The striker has certainly developed a lot since he moved to the Eredivisie. In fact, his current statistics will be a surprise to those who watched him during his spell with Belgian side Lokeren.

The Iceland international joined Heerenveen in August 2012 and quickly promulgated himself as a star in the making in his first home game for the club as he scored two goals to earn a draw against reigning Eredivisie champions Ajax.

From then on, Finnbogason never looked back as he became a constant source of goals and points in a crucial period for the Frisian club. The side had just lost their magic trio of Bas Dost (33 goals), Luciano Narsingh (eight goals, 12 assists) and Oussama Assaidi (10 goals, seven assists) as well as right back Daryl Janmaat and midfielder Viktor Elm. Not only were several key players departing, but there was a change in coach as Marco van Basten came in to replace the outgoing Ron Jans. After only a few weeks, Van Basten had his quarrels with those in the boardroom. The former Ajax and Netherlands boss was enraged that the club had received millions for the outgoing players, but had spent only a fraction of it on new recruits. In a competitive league consisting of strong Ajax, Vitesse, PSV, Feyenoord and Twente sides, it was going to be difficult for a downgraded Heerenveen to challenge for European spots, let alone make a push for the title as they did the previous year.

And so it was. Come the winter break, Heerenveen sat in 13th place, only six points above bottom side Willem II. However, there was one bright spark amongst the failing team. Their star striker Finnbogason.

Throughout that first-half of the season, it was Finnbogason’s goals that kept Heerenveen from falling even further down the table. His two against Ajax were critical, but also were his brace in Arnhem which helped them secure a 3-3 draw against Vitesse, the goal against VVV to earn a point and his goal and assist to see them collect all three in the return fixture against Vitesse.

While they weren’t far from the relegation spots, they also remained in contention for the Europa League playoff place, however, a big push from the beginning of 2013 was required to do so. Incredibly, they made it. And crucial to it all was Finnbogason and his partnership with the excellent Filip Djuricic and Rajiv van La Parra.

His first two goals of 2013 saw his team rescue draws against Zwolle and VVV before he scored the winner against Twente.

The most memorable match, though, was the 2-1 win over NAC Breda. A turgid first-half performance from Heerenveen and, in particular, Finnbogason was followed by a poor start to the second period in which the Breda club took the lead. The Icelandic forward was given a chance to pull his side level with a penalty in the 75th minute, but his poor attempt from the spot was kept out by Jelle ten Rouwelaar.

It wasn’t Finnbogason’s day, it seemed.

But the striker didn’t shy away, he persevered and eventually popped up to score two quick-fire goals to steal the three points in the crucial clash against the fellow relegation candidates.

That match came during a run in which Heerenveen won six in eight league games and booked their place in the Europa League playoffs. It was an illustration of one of the striker’s most valuable strengths. He is one who never hides away no matter how poorly he is playing and is always looking to create chances and score, even when it seems his team are dead and buried. Of course, crucially, he has the technique, speed and finishing ability to put it to good use.

He ended the campaign having scored 24 league goals, 10 of which came after the turn of the year.

In the summer of this year, Heerenveen again downgraded in a few areas. Djuricic, the most important player after Finnbogason, departed to join Benfica, while Jeffrey Gouweleeuw and Sven Kums both left and Yassine El Ghanassy’s loan period ended.

Although new recruits Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Yanic Wildschut added to the attacking options, neither of them are of the standard of Djuricic. Luckily, however, Van La Parra, Luciano Slagveer and the very bright 20-year-old Hakim Ziyech have helped cover for the loss of the Serbian international and ensure the supply to Finnbogason remains.

Throughout the summer, the speculation surrounding him started to grow. He was the subject of offers from Celtic, Werder Bremen and Augsburg, but neither side offered enough money to convince Heerenveen to open negotiations. Towards the end of the transfer window, the striker was hoping for an improved contract from the Dutch club and when one didn’t come, he began to look at other options. However, Heerenveen rejected all overs which came in for him.

The 24-year-old shook off all his disappointment though and started the 2013-14 campaign brightly. Incredibly brightly.

With two goals and two assists, he guided Heerenveen beyond AZ in a 4-2 win on matchday one and from there he was off, scoring 12 goals in his first eight league and cup appearances. His two goals against Ajax were most impressive as he kept his side in the game, allowing them to match the champions in a 3-3 draw, a scoreline which was repeated with Roda, with Finnbogason chipping in with a goal and an assist. Then, a penalty and a late goal made the difference as they beat Groningen 4-2 and he scored the winner in a close battle against local rivals Cambuur.

The striker did go through a slight dry patch. He went two league games in a row without scoring and was criticised by his coach in the 2-1 defeat to NEC for playing with “arrogance” and was unproductive in the 3-0 loss against Utrecht. However, he bounced back in remarkable style, scoring three against RKC Waalwijk the following week, his first hat-trick in the Eredivisie.

Finnbogason’s excellent performances and his magnificent goalscoring record have seen him linked to a whole host of clubs. He has caught the attention of Everton and Celtic, while his agent recently confirmed that he has spoken to Roma technical director Walter Sabatini about the striker and insisted that there are others who have made contact about him.

A move is imminent for the Icelandic striker, but whether he opts to leave in the January transfer window or in the summer remains to be seen. Either way, Heerenveen will be busy reviewing a few offers for him.

Alfred Finnbogason has had a fantastic 2013. A year full of further development, a whole load of goals, some assists and infinite entertainment. While Feyenoord’s Graziano Pelle was a very close contender, no one can deny that Finnbogason is deserving of the BeNeFoot Eredivisie Player of the Year award.

[Stats courtesy of OptaJohan]

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