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FC Groningen: A potential Eredivisie-surprise package

Following a disastrous season, the 24th of June saw the first training session of the new season for FC Groningen. And there were plenty of new faces to spot, while many from last season will be absent. The head coach Pieter Huistra was sacked after the end of last season. Brian Van Loo, Koen Van de Laak, Petter Andersson, Danny Holla, Skodran Metaj and Dusan Tadic have left the club. Enevoldsen has gone to Belgium and Pedersen is also in talks with KV Mechelen, Oluwafemi Ajilore can leave and newly promoted Bundesliga side Fortuna Düsseldorf are interested in Sout-Korean striker Hyun Jun Suk. Count reserve-team goalkeeper Renze Fij, who went to Heracles and you are looking at an entire team of departures.

FC Groningen have not stood still though. Robert Maaskant has arrived as the club’s new coach. He won the Polish championship with Wisla Krakow in 2011 and at 43-years old he can still be considered one of the more promising managers in Dutch football,. In recent seasons, players were often sold towards the end of the summer and their replacements brought in later still. Last season was the ultimate example of this: The negotiations surrounding striker Tim Matavz had already begun with several clubs in February but the Slovenian was only eventually sold on the final day of the transfer window to PSV Eindhoven. As a consequence, his replacement David Texeira, arrived at the last moment and had little time to adjust to life in the Netherlands.

From that perspective it is logical that general manager Hans Nijland secured the early, and lucrative, sale of Tadic to FC Twente (€7.7 million). This gave Groningen both the financial muscle and time to do business, both of which have been used to the optimum. Seven new players have been lured to the club before the start of the new campaign. They include Dutch youth internationals Marco Bizot and Género Zeefuik, late bloomers Michael de Leeuw and Mitchell Schet, FC Den Bosch captain Paco van Moorsel and more exotic prospects Filip Kostic and Stefan Magnasco. It all points to a new transfer policy. It is certainly noticeable that the squad is already virtually complete and furthermore that whereas previously Groningen have focused on expensive talent from the Danish Superliga, the emphasis is now on young, Dutch and affordable players. An exception is only made for the brightest of prospects. There is thus a lot to be expected from Filip Kostic, who could be the latest in a long line of success stories from Groningen’s famed scouting system.

Igor Mladenovic, a journalist for Goal.com and sfunion.net, revealed that the left winger is a player of considerable promise: ‘Basically he is a rough diamond with great physical abilities, very explosive with the ball at his feet, quicker than Tadic but with less flair and vision, therefore you should not expect him to get anywhere near the amount of assists Tadic had in his time at Groningen. From all this, you can gather his main weaknesses would be being a bit predictable at times, though he is working on that aspect. Also, a useful new side to his game is the fact he has learned to take a good set-piece. His main strength is his technical ability with the ball at his feet, he is really fast and possesses accurate dribbling.
‘If I had to compare him to a Dutch player I might go for Eljero Elia, who is also incredible in terms of technique but lacks vision. With the right type of instructions though he can easily good enough for Eredivisie, especially since he has a good mentality being extremely serious with the way he handled his career. His uncle is his main counsellor (though he’s not his agent) and really takes care of him a lot.’
It all sounds very good.

Stefan Magnasco did not attract interest from Chelsea and Bolton for nothing. Rupert Fryer, co-founder of www.southamericanfootball.co.uk and contributor to the Guardian, the Observer and the Football Ramble amongst others, too, has described the transfer of Magnasco as “a coup”.  ‘[He has] lots of promise. Could be a very smart move for all concerned. He works the whole flank well and has improved defensively over the last 12 months, mostly in the sense of positioning.’ Joel Sked from chileanfootball.wordpress.com is also upbeat about the transfer: ‘His natural position is right-back but like a lot of Chile players he is versatile which will obviously help in Holland where the psyche is for versatile players. So he can fill in at left-back and in midfield. The fact he is a regular in the defence of Chile’s third biggest side at 19 years old shows the promise. A level up, especially in Europe, should be good for him. As a modern day full-back who could play wing-back he is energetic and dynamic.’ Again it does not sound too bad.

The new (old) path the club is following rightly brings a lot of optimism. Seven players have been bought for the price of one Femi Alijore (€3.4 million), ‘the Nigerian defensive midfielder that could do anything except for head the ball,’ Nijland infamously said, but who might just be the biggest flop the club has had in recent years. All the new players have enough potential to grow and reach a more than acceptable level for a club like FC Groningen. With Bizot (who is a particularly talented goalkeeper) and Magnasco, last year’s problem areas have been strengthened significantly. The club are also on the lookout for another central defender. Schet had more assists(10) last season than Tadic and De Leeuw(10) scored more than Texeira. Dutch under 21-striker Zeefuik is beginning to fulfil his early promise and according to Nijland, he could have been sold on for a huge profit before even kicking a ball in green and white. With Kostic, it appears that the club has filled the hole left by Tadic and van Moorsel was one of five nominees for the Jupiler League Player of the Year award. With ten goals last season, he looks to be a player who can add to the firepower of the team.

There are positives to be found in every single one of the newcomers. What’s more is that Groningen will go into the new season with seven players who featured for Jong Oranje in the past year. Added to that are Serbian and Chilean youth internationals and a number of players who are around the 25 mark – yet to reach their peak. Alongside them, the squad boasts the often-criticised midfielder Tim Sparv (former Southampton youth player), who is a Finnish international, while Uruguayan forwards David Texeira and Matias Jones should be much more at ease with both football and life in the Netherlands. Much is also expected of Belgian central defender Jonas Ivens, who is capable of a much better season than his last. Former NAC Breda and FC Augsburg utility player Kees Kwakman is fit again, three times Swedish international Emil Johansson will compete for the left-back spot with Dutch youth international Lorenzo Burnet, and van Moorsel will want to show he has what it takes at the top level. All of the above serves to give FC Groningen fans plenty of grounds for optimism ahead of the new Eredivisie season. FC Groningen could just be the surprise package of Dutch football next year.

In cooperation with Gary Niblock (@Goalgary)

Thank you  Joel Sked (@sked21) and Igor Mladenovic (@Mladenovic_) for providing information.  Thanks to Rupert Fryer (@Rupert_Fryer) for providing information and reviewing the article.




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