Is Chelsea’s Marco van Ginkel the missing piece of Van Gaal’s puzzle?
Heading into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands team are desperate to redeem themselves for their horrifying display in Euro 2012.
Despite having a very impressive squad and entering the competition having finished runner-up in the previous tournament – the 2010 World Cup – they were simply horrendous and crashed out at the group stage with zero points.
Although they had an outstanding No.10 in Wesley Sneijder and two high-profile and very deep holders in the shape of Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel, the Netherlands had no balance to their midfield in Euro 2012 and it was one of the main reasons they crashed out of the competition at the earliest stage.
In all three games there was a huge void in the centre of the park which Denmark, Germany and Portugal were able to take advantage of and build attacks without any pressure.
It was clear that they severely needed an orthodox central midfielder like the excellent and very effective Kevin Strootman.
Alas, he was injured.
This year, heading into the World Cup, the Dutch have been dealt a very difficult group, having been drawn in Group B with Spain, Chile and Australia.
While Netherlands natives weren’t too enthusiastic about their country’s hopes looking towards the competition, they weren’t too negative either.
The main reason for their hint of optimism, though, was the availability of Strootman.
A superb box-to-box midfielder with great technical ability, strength, intelligence and wonderful athleticism, Strootman has been a joyous player to watch since his days at FC Utrecht before he joined PSV.
The 6’1” midfielder was consistently excellent for PSV and, upon joining Roma for a fee which rises to €20 million, he slotted right into the team with Daniele De Rossi, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic and became an even more exciting and effective player. Over the last season, he was one of the best midfielders in Italy and the top performing Dutch international beside Arjen Robben.
Disaster struck, though, when Strootman suffered an injury in the Oranje match against France which was aggravated in Roma’s next league game against Napoli and he was subsequently ruled out until October.
With that announcement, orange hearts were shattered.
‘The dream is over, humiliation beckons’ was the prevailing thought.
Such is the importance of Strootman that Van Gaal has had to completely change his system. If it had been any other player who picked up such a severe injury, even someone like Robin van Persie or Arjen Robben, Van Gaal would have been able to slot another player in without having to change too much.
However, Strootman is one of a kind for the Dutch. They don’t have someone else of that calibre who can fulfill that role.
Slot Jordy Clasie in beside Nigel de Jong, you have a very good midfielder with good technical and passing ability and great fight in him off the ball too, but you are still missing a player capable of driving forward with the ball with great pace from deep areas and the ability to effectively support Sneijder and the attackers.
Beyond that, Leroy Fer isn’t good enough, Tonny Vilhena isn’t as effective nor good enough defensively and Georginio Wijnaldum is just an attacking midfielder.
In Saturday’s friendly with Ghana, Van Gaal opted to stick Jonathan de Guzman alongside Nigel de Jong in his new formation which resembles a 3-4-3 in attack and a 5-3-2 in defence.
The Swansea midfielder is the closest thing Van Gaal has left to a more orthodox midfielder. There is a real need for someone to push up and support Sneijder while also helping to cover for the attacking full-backs in Janmaat and Blind.
Against Ghana the 26-year-old chipped in with some defensive work and looked positive on the ball, however, there remained a rather sizeable gap between the midfield and front three of Wesley Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie.
The Canada-born player was too slow and isn’t attack-minded enough to take on Strootman’s responsibilities.
There were some positive signs in his display though and Van Gaal will be hoping the former Feyenoord player will grow into the position ahead of their opening World Cup match with Spain.
It seems, though, that there is still one piece of the puzzle missing and it could be the presence of Chelsea midfielder Marco van Ginkel which the Dutch desperately need.
The 21-year-old midfielder is not as strong nor as athletic as Strootman, but he is dynamic, energetic, skilful, quick and intelligent and the only other box-to-box player who has a great ability to tie things together in the centre of the park.
In the early stages of the Dutch U21 side’s meeting with Scotland U21s during the week, they resembled a group of bright and talented individuals more than they did a team. Van Ginkel was the only player bringing the midfield and the attack together. He circulated possession smoothly and effectively and was quick to get forward and make himself available around the edge of the box.
As the game wore on, Van Ginkel became more effective and the Jong Oranje began to play more as a team, going on to win the game 6-1 with Quincy Promes netting a hat-trick.
The Chelsea youngster hasn’t been included in Louis van Gaal’s 23-man squad, in fact he was never considered, but that only makes sense since he featured in only two Premier League matches, having been out injured from August to March with a cruciate ligament rupture.
With only 13 minutes of Premier League football under his belt, there was simply no way Van Gaal could justify the inclusion of the youngster.
Although we cannot say how much of a role Van Ginkel would have played in Jose Mourinho’s side had injury not kept him out for the vast majority of it, the fact he came on in each of their opening two matches before suffering the injury was a positive sign.
Had he not been ruled out for almost the entire campaign, though, he would have had a great chance of making the Dutch team for the tournament in Brazil.
His absence is a huge loss to Van Gaal as the 62-year-old is deprived of the only player of a similar mould to his key midfielder.
Now, Van Gaal’s only hope is for De Guzman to develop into the central midfield role and be able to become a more effective player when it comes to attacking with the national side.
Otherwise, we may see a repeat of Euro 2012.