Feyenoord: Love in times of Kuyt and Elia

While only two important players left Feyenoord this summer, much is still unclear about how the team will line-up under the leadership of new coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

Three days before the start of the season, many questions are still to be answered. Who’ll be Feyenoord’s centre forward? What will the back-line look like? Which two midfielders will play in the advanced, offensive role? Which wingers are to be played? What exactly is the style Van Bronckhorst wants his team to play? Six weeks after the team’s first training, none of the above is clear.

Once again, Feyenoord has largely been renovated over the summer. Midfielder and captain Jordy Clasie was allowed a €12 million transfer to Southampton FC, where he is reunited with Ronald Koeman, the coach that between 2011 and 2014 played an important role in Clasie’s development at Feyenoord. Back-ups Khalid Boulahrouz and Joris Mathijsen weren’t offered a new contract, and left the club as free agents. And most painfully, Jean-Paul Boëtius, not long ago one the Netherlands’ highest rated young wingers, was sold for just €2 million to FC Basel, after a disappointing season and a long dispute over a new contract. But still, despite that upheavel, Clasie is the only regular starter to have left this summer.

Nevertheless, things have been shaken up in Rotterdam. With former first team captain Van Bronckhorst taking over from Fred Rutten, who was sacked after failing to qualify for the Europa League, it looks as if the board has given Gio the financial opportunities to strengthen his squad in ways to make sure the fledgling trainer’s premier adventure as first team coach won’t end in failure.

Whereas Rutten was told a 27-year old midfielder without much sell-on value was not needed (Tjaronn Chery, who moved to QPR this summer), this summer Feyenoord has signed multiple players in their late twenties: 27-year-old centre back Jan-Arie van der Heijden was signed as a free agent from Vitesse, FC Groningen centre-back Eric Botteghin, 27, is expected to move to Feyenoord soon, and so is Michiel Kramer, 26, while the 28-year-old winger Eljero Elia has penned a two year contract. Earlier this summer, the club completed the signing of 25-year-old midfielder Marko Vejinovic and Swedish prodigy Simon Gustafson (20). But the biggest transfer of this summer has no doubt been the return of 35-year-old Dirk Kuyt, nine years after leaving Feyenoord for a record breaking €18 million to Liverpool.

And yet, the biggest uncertainty of what the “new Feyenoord” will look like comes from the arrival of Kuyt. The former Dutch international scored 71 Eredivisie goals in 101 league games between 2003 and 2006 for Feyenoord, when he was played as a centre forward. But both at Liverpool and Fenerbahce he moved to the flanks and played as a right forward. During Feyenoord’s pre-season friendlies, he played at both positions, fueling rumors about an ongoing discussion in the team’s staff about Kuyt’s best position. Until now nobody seems to know what Kuyt’s best place in the team is.

In midfield, Gio opted for a change. While Feyenoord played with two defensive midfielders in the past seasons, the former Barcelona man turned the midfield around: he now plays with two attacking midfielders, and one defensive (Vejinovic, signed as Clasie’s replacement). But who those two midfielders will be is still a matter of doubt. Jens Toornstra is likely to play there, and so is Lex Immers, who for the past three seasons as been an undisputed starter for both Ronald Koeman and Fred Rutten. But during pre-season friendlies, Karim El Ahmadi has filled the role as well, while Feyenoord also has Joey Sleegers, who returned from a successful loan spell at FC Eindhoven, Jari Schuurman, the club’s biggest talent, and Swedish signing Simon Gustafson for that spot.

Despite a small change in the team’s system, so far it has been hard to see Gio’s vision for Feyenoord, how he wants his team to play and its players to develop. Over the past years, Feyenoord built a reputation of first team development of its own academy graduates. But this summer, the club has signed lots of outside players for positions where the club’s own talents should be given a chance to shine. Defensively, signing Van der Heijden will stagnate the chances of 18-year old Calvin Verdonk, who was linked to Liverpool in the past and, despite being still eligible for the U19s, was promoted to the first team this summer. On the midfield, playing chances for Bart Nieuwkoop, Jari Schuurman and Joey Sleegers aren’t big. On the wings, signing Eljero Elia after Jean-Paul Boëtius’ departure will mean that either Elvis Manu or Anass Achahbar, who both signed new contracts last season after impressing in a few games in a row, has little future at Feyenoord.

Tactically, no broad idea has yet been spotted in Feyenoord’s play under the reign of Van Bronckhorst. In friendlies against both Southampton and Olympiakos, Feyenoord was simply outplayed and the team lacked structure. Against first division side VVV Venlo it had no answer to a rigid, defensive style (Feyenoord lost 1-2).

Van Bronckhorst joined Feyenoord at eight years old, and left Barcelona to return to his first love even though he was still very much a regular at the Catalan club. It has earned the centennial international a lot of credit with both the fans and the club’s board. But yet another failed season is unlikely to be accepted by neither the mass nor the club. With the start of the season few days ahead of us, three signings expected to be completed this week (Elia, Botteghin, Kramer), and many tactical questions yet to be answered, the team’s puzzle needs to be completed rapidly. Otherwise, just like last year, a failure in the first few matches might have season-long consequences. For the club, and its coach.

Player to watch:

Marko Vejinovic was signed from Vitesse this summer as the replacement of Jordy Clasie. While playing in a more attacking role at Vitesse, the Serbian-Dutch midfielder will play as a defensive midfielder in Gio’s team. Vejinovic is an intelligent player, who impressed in pre-season friendlies with his insight, passing qualities and through-balls. Aged 25, he is ready to step things up at a bigger club to continue his impressive performance at Vitesse from last season.

BeNeFoot Prediction: 3rd

Check out all of BeNeFoot’s Eredivisie previews for 2015-16 here!

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