Dreaming of Barcelona: Heerenveen’s Daley Sinkgraven can go all the way

Following the sale of star striker Alfred Finnbogason, Bilal Basicikoglu, Rajiv van La Parra, Arnold Kruiswijk, Christian Kum and Ramon Zomer, as well as the departure of coach Marco van Basten, it was expected that Heerenveen were going to start a long journey down a slippery slope this season. Talk of their imminent demise began to intensify after the Friezen started the season with one point from two games. To make matters worse, they then lost their most important remaining player, Hakim Ziyech, to league rivals FC Twente. The 21-year-old was voted the club’s player of the year last season, ahead of Eredivisie top goalscorer Finnbogason, and had started the season in excellent form with a goal in each of the first two games before he departed to the Enschede club.

The loss of so many players meant incoming coach Dwight Lodeweges was left with a very thin, youthful and inexperienced squad. Furthermore, with Heerenveen’s precarious financial position, the new boss could be sure he wouldn’t be given a great deal of money to use in the transfer market to boost his squad. The former Cambuur trainer, however, added wisely with what he had. Sam Larsson came in for just over €1.5 million, while Thomas Dalgaard and Morten Thorsby were signed for about €1 million between them. Jordy Buijs and Jeroen Lumu came in for free and Mark Uth and Doke Schmidt returned after the end of their successful loan periods at Heracles and Go Ahead Eagles respectively.

Uth, Thorsby and Buijs have become important players, slotting in alongside Luciano Slagveer, Joey van den Berg, Marten de Roon and Pele van Anholt to help cover for the loss of so many players as the team recovered from losing their opening game to FC Dordrecht to pick up 11 points from the next five games. However, while transfer money has been low, the one thing Heerenveen haven’t cut back on in recent years is investing in their youth academy and with the breakthrough of youngsters such as Joost van Aken, Bilal Basicikoglu and Slagveer. This has helped them over come potential crises after selling players throughout the years and there is one such young starlet who has emerged and played perhaps the most crucial role in helping the team avoid great decline.

Having first appeared in the Heerenveen first team in the second half of last season, playing 15 games, only five of which he started, Daley Sinkgraven has quickly developed into a pivotal player for Heerenveen.

The 19-year-old has proven to be a very talented, versatile and bright player, having already been utilised in the centre of midfield, attacking midfield and on the left wing in the first-team – looking bright in each position. His mobility and growing importance to the side has helped Heerenveen immensely in remaining a strong, competitive team.

The teenager, the son of Harry Sinkgraven, the former Groningen and Zwolle player and ex-coach of Heerenveen’s women’s team, started the current campaign on the left side of the attack before slotting into the midfield following the sale of Ziyech. It is here he has been able to combine all of the magnificent aspects of his game to become a critical player for his side, showing that he has potential to grow into a fabulous all-round midfielder – one capable of reaching an extremely high level. His movement is very impressive, his touch is delicate and he is a quick thinker with a great eye for a pass.

The midfielder has been crucial for Heerenveen this season

The midfielder is not a direct replacement for Ziyech, as there are some differences to their playing styles, but he has taken on a lot of the responsibility left over following the sale of the Netherlands Under 21 international.

The Assen-born teenager has been utilised as a box-to-box midfielder in recent weeks, as opposed to a No.10, and has become the main source of inspiration for the boys in blue and white stripes. Playing with his head up, he has the incredible vision and delivery to play a delicate through ball to open up chances and this season he has opened up more goalscoring opportunities than anyone else in the team. Centre-back Buijs is the only Heerenveen player to have a higher pass success rate than Sinkgraven, but the midfielder has made more passes and has completed a higher quantity than Buijs.

The youngster is not as much of a goal threat as Ziyech, with the one goal to his name coming from the only shot he has taken this season, but Slagveer and Uth are the players who carry the pressure of hitting the net – Sinkgraven is the creator.

While he is an excellent attacking player, his defensive work is absolutely crucial to Heerenveen this season – something which sets him apart from Ziyech. Off the ball, his positioning and his intelligent pressing as well as his excellent work rate see him contribute a great deal to the team. His tackling is solid, his energy, stamina and pace mean he can rush back to help out when attacks are foiled from the very first minute to the last, often dropping in between centre-backs to further enhance the back line. Also, he is a good reader of the game, with a penchant for cutting out passes around the middle of the park and instantly starting a quick attack for his side.

In the 15 matches he played last season, Sinkgraven made four assists and attracted a lot of attention with his obvious talent. Throughout the summer, with Siem de Jong having left and Daley Blind following shortly afterward, Ajax’s midfield needed a severe boost and they were soon linked to the starlet. The player himself has named Barcelona as his dream club, but admits an intermediate step is needed, and sees the Amsterdam club as a potential stepping stone.

“Youth coaches sometimes tell me I can become a great, but that it would require me to get everything out of my career,” he told RTV Drenthe.

“To now say that I am going to play for Barcelona one day, well, I can’t of course. I have to give 100% in each and every training session and be the best.

“You can’t go from Heerenveen to Barcelona without taking a stepping stone.”

When asked if that could be Ajax, he replied: “That is a nice club, yes, then you are very good.”

The move didn’t materialise in the summer, though, as Frank de Boer praised the player but revealed he was after someone with a bit more experience.

Sinkgraven will only benefit from an extra year in the Heerenveen first-team, but the decision to choose age over this particular precocious talent seems to be a huge loss for De Boer. With his creativity, pace and excellent football brain, Sinkgraven would undoubtedly boost a currently inept Ajax midfield. Sinkgraven may be young, but he is certainly good enough for the reigning champions and if he develops significantly over the course of the season, with his contract running until 2017, he will be worth a significant sum at the end of the campaign and the interest will be much higher.

With the strength, tackling ability and positioning of a deep midfielder, the vision, creativity and passing delivery of a No.10 and the pace and skill of a winger, along with magnificent close control and acceleration, Daley Sinkgraven is able to combine his excellent attributes to make one of the brightest young players in the Eredivisie – a league full of them. While a move to Camp Nou seems a distant dream at the moment, it is certainly one he has the potential to realise. First, though, Sinkgraven must ensure he continues to improve over the next few years, after that, the sky is the limit.

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