FC Groningen: The prize came at a price
Whatever happens, 2015 will be a vintage year for FC Groningen. On May 3, the first major trophy in club history was won. A wait spanning 90 years, if you include pre FC Groningen’s GVAV, was finally over. An Albert Rúsnak brace saw the Groningers beat PEC Zwolle 2-0 in an otherwise unremarkable final to lift the KNVB Beker.
As often with Dutch teams, that prize came at a price. First the most important player of all left, as expected. At 27, Tjaronn Chery was looking for a final challenge to see how far he could take his career, preferably combined with a good paycheck. The midfielder was involved in 21 goals for the northerners last season and eventually found a new home in Queens Park Rangers. Unexpected was the loss of captain Maikel Kieftenbeld. The pitbull-terrier in the Groningen midfield left for Birmingham City as the Blues met the release clause of €250,000. Meanwhile, the departure of towering Brazilian defender Eric Botteghin looks imminent.
Even though the spine of the team of the last two years has been dismantled within a summer, there is still plenty of backbone to rely on for a successful campaign. Newly appointed captain Rasmus Lindgren flirted with a move back to Scandinavia, but is set to stay for his fifth full season. The Swede has proven himself a talisman for the club, as European competition was reached in each of his previous four full campaigns. Simon Tibbling took the summer out in search of a trophy rather than a transfer, winning the Under 21 Euros with Sweden. The darling of the Groningen crowd is the latest in a long list of Swedish Euroborg favourites and there is little to no doubt that the neat-passing midfielder will go on to play for one of Europe’s bigger clubs one day. Another talented midfielder still at the club is the aforementioned Rúsnak, who has his name set in stone in the FC Groningen history books. The 21 year old Slowak played from the left last season and is set to succeed Tjaronn Chery as the number 10 of the Trots van het Noorden.
With the addition of Bryan Linssen (10 goals, 8 assists last season) from Heracles and Jesper Drost (8 goals, 8 assists) from PEC Zwolle, extra goals have been brought in. Last season, the dependence on Tjaronn Chery (15 goals) and Michael de Leeuw (17 goals) was a problem for FC Groningen. With the new assets FC Groningen look set to offer more of a variety in goal threat. Danny Hoesen will be determined to redeem himself after a failure of a first season, while Jarchinio Antonia looks to gain consistency.
With energetic full backs Abel Tamata (new, from PSV) and Hans Hateboer, FC Groningen are looking to bring back some of the press and power that made them so good to watch in the mid 00’s. The first glimpses were to be seen in the Johan Cruijff Schaal game vs PSV, where a fresh FC Groningen dominated large parts of the game but saw the individual quality of the reigning champions run them out winners 3-0. It might take some time to click for the Groningers, but boring it will not be in the Euroborg.
Player to watch: Simon Tibbling.
The midfielder only joined FC Groningen in January 2015, but by the end of the month he seemingly could have already left the Groningers for a bigger destination. Such was the hype surrounding the round-faced youngster, who looks like the reward that cheers him up most after a game is an old fashioned bottle of cola and a bag of crisps. But while he may appear a boy, he is definitely a man on the field. A maestro even. Regularly boasting pass percentages of 90 percent or higher, he is a neat player who makes his team tick. But there is more to Tibbling’s game than that. The 20 year old from Stockholm is an accomplished tackler and dribbler, the latter ensuring him of the nickname ‘Dribbling’ in his native country, with press drawing comparisons with Tomas Brolin, both due to qualities and appearance. Within 12 months, surely a big club will come in for him, FC Groningen fans meanwhile will enjoy the performances of the little boss for as long as they can.
BeNeFoot Prediction: 6th