Wilfried Bony too cool for the Eredivisie
Throughout this season, the Eredivisie’s top performers, as always, have been continually linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Stefan de Vrij, Kevin Strootman, Christian Eriksen, Jordy Clasie, Marco van Ginkel, Siem de Jong and Bruno Martins Indi are all players who have caught the eye of several top sides across the continent. But there is one man around whom speculation, links and rumours have grown to an extent which dwarfs those of every single one of the aforementioned players. With 30 goals in 27 games for Vitesse, Wilfried Bony has become the subject of much discussion throughout the season and has been linked to top clubs in the Premier League, Serie A and Russia predominantly. As we approach the end of the season, the suitors are queueing up to try to convince the Arnhem club to sell their star asset and persuade the Ivorian that they are the club for him.
Many people hold doubts over the likelihood that Bony will transfer the utterly phenomenal form he has been in since the beginning of the season to another club at a better league. It’s unreasonable to expect Bony to leave the Eredivisie this summer for the Premier League, his ideal destination, and score 30 goals in 27 appearances just like he has done this term. Nobody really believes he will be able to do so, but it’s important to acknowledge that Bony brings more to the field than his reputation as a goal-machine. Much more.
Nicknamed “Daddy Cool” after the hit track by the similarly named Boney M., the 24-year-old striker is an all-round marvel. He embodies the perfect combination of efficiency, elegance and showmanship. He swivels his hips as he beats the nearest defender and slams home a delightful goal, marking it with a joyous celebration which, very often, takes the form of a rather funky dance. Bony is just a joy to watch.
It’s not just his goalscoring ability which makes Daddy Cool a wonderful asset for Vitesse. In fact, it is important not to focus too much on that aspect of his play, considering he is playing in Netherlands. Feyenoord striker Graziano Pelle, who is currently second to Bony in the goalscoring charts, is having the best season of his career in terms of goals by some margin and the Italian striker recently commented that there are no top class defenders in Eredivisie and that it is very easy to score in the league (not that we didn’t know that already). In fact, the former Parma and AZ forward says 21-year-old Virgil van Dijk from FC Groningen is the only player who has really tested him this season in the Dutch league.
While we can admire Bony for his goalscoring record, which is fantastic, we have to remember the likes of Afonso Alves and Mateja Kezman, who both enjoyed prosperous seasons in Holland but failed everywhere else they went. But when we discuss Bony, we can acknowledge that the player possesses a whole host of key attributes which set him apart from the rest in the Dutch top flight. First of all, he isn’t just a targetman, he is as adept at playing as an attacking midfielder as he is a centre-forward and he plays a crucial part in all of Vitesse’s attacks. The Ivorian striker’s first touch is utterly remarkable and his athleticism is very impressive as he has great strength and speed. These qualities are on show in every game in which he plays and, when coupled with his excellent creativity and marvellous passing range and accuracy as he links up with his supporting cast, make him a very entertaining and exciting player.
Bony signed for Vitesse from Sparta Prague for just over €4 million in January 2011. The then 22-year-old made seven Eredivisie appearances in that season, during which he scored three goals as Vitesse looked to avoid dropping into the league’s relegation places. His first full season with the club was decent, although in no way astounding. The forward recorded 12 goals in his 28 league matches of the regular season and was crucial in his side’s pursuit of European football as he scored in every playoff match as Vitesse booked a place in the Europa League qualifying round.
The side improved immensely as the new campaign began, however. Young midfielder Marco van Ginkel, full-backs and Chelsea loanees Patrick van Aanholt and Tomas Kalas as well as wingers Gael Kakuta (also on loan from Chelsea) and Renato Ibarra are all very young and have developed significantly to play a key part in Vitesse’s season. Bony has also improved and he picked up straight where he left off from the beginning of term. The glorious season he is currently enjoying opened with a goal in the first week in a 2-2 draw with ADO Den Haag and from then on he hasn’t stopped putting the ball in the net as Vitesse challenged the Eredivisie big-guns and remained in contention for the title throughout the year. One thing that has shown the true quality of Bony is that he has made the difference for FC Hollywood on the Rhine against the biggest teams in the league. His magnificent, nonchalant 90th minute backheel beat Erwin Mulder and secured the three points for the black & golds in the 1-0 win over last season’s runners-up and title challengers Feyenoord. This marked the beginning of a spectacular goalscoring run, in which he found the net 16 times in 14 games, including a performance that inspired his team to a 3-0 win over Groningen, despite playing an hour with only ten men. Weeks later he netted a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw against Heerenveen before almost single-handedly dismantling reigning champions Ajax in the Amsterdam ArenA with both goals in a 2-0 victory, Ajax’s only home defeat of the season (the Amsterdam side’s only other defeat so far also came at the hands of Vitesse, while Bony was on international duty in the African Cup of Nations). Their next big opponents were Twente, who, at the time were sitting top of the league. Steve McClaren’s team played a rather defensive game and marked Bony very closely, but the striker showed his versatility and dropped deep to pull the strings and create chances for teammates. The clearest opportunity of the match came when the number nine played an inch perfect through ball from the middle of the park to send Van Ginkel one-on-one with Nikolay Mihaylov but the goalkeeper read the situation well and blocked the youngster’s shot to ensure the game ended 0-0. Next, the striker chipped in with a 75th minute winner as Vitesse came from behind to beat PSV, against whom he would score two in their next meeting to secure a draw and he then made the difference in Enschede with the only goal of the game to beat Twente.
The skills were on show and the goals kept on coming. Boney M. was on repeat over the PA system in the Gelredome as the fans celebrated goal after goal from their talisman.
One of the best performances of the current season was the 5-3 victory over Heracles in late February. Along with 20-year-old Van Ginkel, Bony controlled the game, scoring a hat-trick and grabbing an assist for the young midfielder who netted a brace in that game. There was, however, one black mark on the striker’s performance – he missed a penalty. Panic ensued following the final whistle as Bony told Eredivisie Live after the game that he wanted to leave immediately. The Russian transfer window was open until the end of the month and, he said, a top side (the name of which he insisted he didn’t know) had come in for him and he wanted the two clubs to reach an agreement and he would be off.
Vitesse, though, were having none of it. They are in a comfortable enough financial position to reject any offers and they insisted they would dismiss the advances of any suitors and hold onto their goal-machine. Bony’s desire to leave Gelderland has been obvious since very early on in his time at the club. He always maintained that Vitesse is nothing more than a stepping stone for him and a move away from Netherlands has seemed just around the corner throughout this season.
Come the first day of March, a move had not materialised and Bony was still a Vitesse player. He may have been disappointed to still be stranded in Arnhem, but he didn’t let it show. He remained very professional despite his desire to leave and he has gone on to score in every single game since then, keeping his team in the title race.
While Bony’s form has kept up, Vitesse’s, on the other hand, hasn’t. The 2-2 draw with PSV was followed by a seven game winning streak which was brought to a grinding hault on Saturday. Bony scored one and set up another as Vitesse romped to a 3-0 lead over relegation battlers Roda JC. But the Kerkrade side, aided by the sloppiness and loss of concentration of the hosts, showed their resilience and embarked on a great comeback to draw 3-3. The slip-up means that Vitesse are now five points behind league leaders Ajax with four games to go and are now, along with PSV and Feyenoord, out of the title challenge.
The focus now, Bony says, is on ensuring they stay in second place to secure they make it into the Champions League qualifying round next season. This Sunday’s clash against Feyenoord, over whom Vitesse hold a one point lead, will be crucial if they are to do so. If Vitesse are to secure the runner-up spot, Bony must keep up his incredible form and there is no better parting gift he can give to the Arnhem natives than helping them book a place in the qualifiers of Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
Contracted until 2015 and at a club which, unlike most Dutch sides, has no real need to sell its most valuable asset, it will take a large bid to convince Vitesse to let him go, but it is very likely that it will be done.
Wherever Wilfried ‘Daddy Cool’ Bony is plying his trade next season, he will be a valuable asset for his club, no matter how they choose to use him. But his absence will be felt, not only at Vitesse, but in the rest of the Eredivisie too, where he has provided fans of Dutch football plenty of entertainment and joy.