De Graafschap: Hope without any expectations
After a terrible season in which the bare minimum – promotion/relegation play-offs was only secured on the final day, De Graafschap miraculously made the step up to the Eredivisie. After beating Almere City (in extra time) and Go Ahead Eagles, FC Volendam proved the sternest test but in the battle of the yoyo clubs the Zebras prevailed. This has been a welcome boost for manager Jan Vreman albeit one that will put considerable pressure on the shoulders of a man who has spent a lifetime at the club. The sixth-placed finish in the regular season is more indicative of the team’s true calibre than the manner in which they negotiated the play-offs. Major upgrades are needed to avoid a long relegation battle. To make matters worse, the club have also lost quite a few players too with little cash from it to spend: leftback Caner Cavlan has made the switch to Heerenveen while Jerry van Ewijk preferred a stay in the Jupiler League at relegated Go Ahead Eagles.
The Doetinchemmers will have to rely on vast improvement from some of their talented youngsters (Koolhof, Vermeij, Vida) and hope that the new signings brought in are instant hits. The two additions that stand out are Andrew Driver and Nathan Kabasele. Driver, a 27 year-old winger, knew the club from Football Manager and has joined the blue-whites on a one year deal. If he can replicate any of his form that made him a favourite at Hearts, the De Graafschap fans are in for a treat. The 21 year-old Kabasele is a familiar face for the Zebras. The forward, who can play as a striker and from the wing already spent a season on loan at the club in 2013/14 and after extending his contract at Anderlecht has now been allowed to develop himself a bit further. The loanee is a Belgium u21 international and looked promising back then, adding both physicality and trickery to an young and inexperienced side. After a year of standing still he will be eager to get his career back up to speed at the club he knows well.
The signing of Alexander Bannink meanwhile could prove shrewd; the midfielder comes from FC Emmen on the back of an excellent season and required no fee. Centreback Ted van de Pavert is a more familiar face for the Eredivisie followers; the defender (23), with all the makings of a cult hero, is the only player left that was a regular for De Graafschap when they relegated from the Eredivisie in 2011/12. If all goes well for De Graafschap, they might surprise a few people, but they will need to hit the ground running. A big task for Jan Vreman but the inexperienced manager will no doubt relish the challenge.
Player to watch: Hidde Jurjus
As Volendam threw the kitchen sink at De Graafschap, there was one man who kept his head when his teammates risked losing theirs. Hidde Jurjus proved impossible to beat for both Go Ahead Eagles and FC Volendam, as he racked up four consecutive clean sheets to lead De Graafschap to play-off glory. The 21 year-old is the main reason De Graafschap went up, but would not even have played part in the final of the play-offs if it was up to the KNVB. The youngster had impressed so much even during the season that he had received his first call-up for Jong Oranje but rejected the invite, thus missing the Toulon International tournament.
For Jurjus though, a kid from the region, De Graafschap’s promotion was always more important than individual recognition. With his qualities, the young man from Lichtenvoorde won’t be short of suitors in the near future. With a calm and composed temperament reminiscent of Jasper Cillessen at that age and reflexes to match, Jurjus might well turn out to be De Graafschap’s decisive man this season.
BeNeFoot prediction: 18th