Gini out the bottle: Wijnaldum ready for the next step
In following the Eredivisie, fans get to see the early years of a player’s professional career and, over time, see how they develop from an exciting and promising starlet into one capable of playing at perhaps the highest level. Over the years, the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez and many, many, many more have developed in and then outgrown the league before going on to achieve incredible things. There are more to come, of course, in the likes of Daley Sinkgraven, Memphis Depay, Anwar El Ghazi, Richairo Zivkovic, Adam Maher, Jordy Clasie, Jean-Paul Boetius and, again, many, many more who are all capable of developing into real stars and doing something special in the game. Sadly, as the most electrifying talents are sold off quite early, very often spectators have a very small window in which they can behold week-in-week-out the full development of a player from a fresh faced youngster making cameo substitute appearances into a star ready to shine.
Still, in watching these players every week as an admirer of the league and the nature of Dutch football and enjoying seeing them develop, there is rarely a greater feeling than when you notice one who is ready to move on beyond the top flight of the nation’s game and take another step in a journey of a possibly remarkable career. Imagine, then, what it is like to see the consistent development of one player from almost a child into an ultimate professional over a full eight year period. It is a precious rarity.
At 24, Georginio Wijnaldum has completed his journey and has proven that he is ready to move on beyond Dutch football and take that next step to a top league. He is older than a lot of players who tend to jump from the understated division to the bright lights of one of Europe’s giant leagues, but he is completely prepared and is much better off because of those extra few years spent in his homeland.
“This summer would be a good time to make the next step,” he told De Telegraaf in October. “PSV know that I am ready for a new step. I am at the right age for it. I don’t want to be too old before I go abroad because I want to play for a few years in another country.”
This point has been a long time coming from a player who first stepped onto the park as a 16-year-old, becoming the youngest player ever to represent Feyenoord in the Dutch top flight. Since then, and particularly over the last two seasons, Wijnaldum has developed immensely and matured a great deal to become a player who is set to outgrow the Eredivisie.
Despite being a regular for a giant like Feyenoord before moving on to become the leading figure at PSV since his first league appearance in April 2007, an Eredivisie title still eludes him and he is determined to leave the league as a champion and the Pride of the South have not had a clearer shot at the championship for a few years.
With Memphis Depay, Luuk de Jong, Adam Maher, Luciano Narsingh and Jetro Willems in their ranks, the perennial Dutch giants could be on their way to a first title since 2008. Four-time reigning champions Ajax, of course, stand in their way, but it will be a close fought battle between the two and Wijnaldum himself adds a huge amount of weight to his side’s challenge as the beating heart of the team.
The Rotterdam-born player is an excellent all round midfielder. Looking at his statistics, there is nothing immediately outstanding or impressive from him, but that’s because he does not need to be. PSV have Depay to burst forward with immense pace and strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenders and goalkeepers. With the 20-year-old, Narsingh, and Willems they have an abundance of pace and when De Jong is added to the occasion, PSV possess a team with a formidable attack. Thus, the attention and the electrifying performances come from elsewhere in the team.
Gini, though, is absolutely crucial to the team’s attacks and just as vital to their defence. PSV’s squad ideal for playing counterattacking football, but, this being the Eredivisie, they have generally tried to line up in a dominant style. Wijnaldum is an ideal player for the former but is one of the main reasons they have found some success in their pursuit of the latter, as they currently sit top of the table with a four point lead over Ajax.
After Mark van Bommel retired at the end of the 2012-13 season, Wijnaldum was made captain of PSV at just 23 and was a deserving recipient of an armband previously worn by current coach Phillip Cocu, Arthur Numan, Luc Nilis and Ruud Gullit. He has shown that he is a worthy leader of the team, as he communicates constantly with his team-mates, giving orders to the other members of a very young squad.
Patrolling the centre of the park, Wijnaldum shows his awesome awareness and anticipation. The 24-year-old is vital for PSV when facing teams who play through the middle of the park. He expertly tracks the runs of any opponent he sees as a potential passing option and helps cut out attacks for his side and often immediately kick start those of his own side.
At the start of the above video, we can see Wijnaldum in the centre-circle, following the ball while communicating with Joshua Brenet (PSV’s No.20), who passes off Albert Rusnak (Cambuur’s No.11) to him. Wijnaldum, while still keeping tabs on where the ball is, knows exactly where he needs to be to eliminate the Manchester City loanee as a passing option. Eventually, as Brenet moves out of position to follow his man, Wijnaldum easily follows Rusnak and eventually takes up a place in PSV’s back line.
As play comes to that side, Wijnaldum and Brenet are able to limit Cambuur’s options by doubling up on Rusnak and Daniel de Ridder. As they look to find another way around them, a misplaced pass is pounced on by the skipper who immediately kickstarts a counter. While it might be fruitless, it shows how important and useful Wijnaldum is in a team which can demolish any Eredivisie side with counter attacks.
In this video, we see the equalising goal which was the catalyst for PSV in their 3-1 turnaround against Ajax.
Wijnaldum had performed well up against Daley Blind and Davy Klaassen in the midfield. Whoever came through the centre generally belonged to him and it helped in cutting off Ajax’s circulation in a vital part of the field.
As Nicolai Boilesen prepares to take the throw in, Wijnaldum is not goal side of Blind, but he always know where he is and thinks and acts quickly enough to follow his run, judge the admittedly poor throw and seize possession. From here, his quick thinking and acting allows him to play a quick one-two and move the ball onto De Jong who launches it forward for Narsingh to carry on the attack. Depay slots in his fifth goal in three games, Narsingh announces himself back in the team with a vital move in a smashing display, but it was Wijnaldum and his simple but integral movement and awareness who instigated the attack.
PSV tried to match Ajax for large spells in that game in terms of possession-based football and attacking style, but it was the focus on counterattacks in the second half which saw them come from behind to beat the four-time reigning champions. In the first-half, though, they were not entirely hopeless and still created a lot of problems for the home side. Again, an important aspect of that potency was down to Wijnaldum.
While the former Feyenoord midfielder is excellent at tracking runs from deep of opposing midfielders, he easily exposes the inability of his counterparts in doing so when PSV are going forward. His quick bursts forward and into space make him a real danger, but his ability to pick the perfect moment to charge toward goal is impressive.
His quick thinking and smart passing ability sees him help keep the ball in circulation in midfield and speed up attacks, while it also allows him to open up key opportunities for his side.
The makeup of the PSV midfield has caused Phillip Cocu some problems so far this season. Desperate to run with a 4-3-3, he has found it difficult to play with Wijnaldum, Maher and Andres Guardado together in the centre and get the best out of them.
A key issue was in the fielding of Wijnaldum and Maher in the same team. Asked to play a different role in a much bigger team, the latter did not have an easy transition into the PSV side following his move from AZ. He has looked more settled this term, but he still underwhelmed in the opening few weeks of the season when his displays were compared to those he put on in Alkmaar. At his former side, Maher was used to being the main creative outlet and was always heavily supported, thus limiting his defensive duties. At PSV, he wasn’t given such a free role and he struggled to adapt. In recent weeks, though, he and Wijnaldum have looked much more compatible, partly down to the captain’s versatility and the 21-year-old settling in and being given more freedom. This growing stability is absolutely crucial to PSV’s title chances, but the weakness remains in the way they defend. With Maher and Wijnaldum improving together, Guardado is the player who must play the deepest of the three, yet he is no destroyer, nor is he a player who can build quick attacks by carrying the ball on from the defence. The Eindhovenaren need a more defensively solid midfielder who can free the other two up and really get the better of their captain and all aspects of his game.
While PSV have several weaknesses defensively, they remain a strong side and simply must be in the top two come the end of the season. A lot of the attention this season is on Depay and understandably so, but Wijnaldum is absolutely critical in everything PSV do. It has become quite clear that the player is about to complete his development in the Eredivisie and is right to set his sights on moving on in the summer. Where he will end up is difficult to say at the moment, but he would be a good signing for most clubs in the top flights of England, Germany, Spain or Italy. He has everything he really needs to succeed and at 24 he will continue to progress at a higher level.
He is still young, of course, but having made his debut over seven and a half years ago, he is almost a veteran in the Eredivisie. Now, though, it’s time to let Gini out the bottle and produce his magic at a higher level.