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Jens Toornstra: The solid signing Feyenoord needed

It’s official now. two time Dutch international Jens Toornstra has signed his four year contract at Feyenoord, making a four million move from FC Utrecht to Rotterdam. Even if he won’t be a regular starter, the 25-year-old is solid signing Feyenoord needed.

It was on a Sunday morning somewhere in the spring of 2009 when Toornstra woke up by the sound of his telephone ringing. The night before, the player had celebrated yet another win with his team, Alphense Boys. On the other side of the line was Maurice Steijn, coach of the U23 team of ADO Den Haag. That season, the 20-year-old Toornstra, had impressed, oh yes, how he had impressed. While playing in the Zondag Tweede Klasse (fifth tier of Dutch football at that moment), he had scored 25 goals in his first senior season. And now something bigger was on his path.

Steijn, once a professional footballer himself, told Toornstra that he “had been watched”. Scouts from the team from the city of peace and diplomacy had been tipped by veteran journalist and spokesman for the national team Kees Jansma that Toornstra was “something special”. For years, the team from Alphen aan de Rijn had been one of the most succesful amateur academies in the Netherlands, sending their biggest talents to the biggest clubs every year. But somehow the scouts of Feyenoord, Ajax, Sparta and ADO had missed Toornstra. Growing up in Alphen, he started playing football at small side TAVV before moving on to Alphense Boys at age 11 to develop himself further and he finally made his first team debut in 2008. That year, his first as a senior, he impressed everybody with 25 goals, leading his Boys to the championship.

And that’s when ADO called, asking if he would be interested in joining their reserves team, signing an amateur contract and maybe, just maybe, make his way to the first team eventually. Toornstra didn’t had to think twice. Afterwards, he bought a 1994 Suzuki Swift to replace his bike and drove to the Zuiderpark stadium in Den Haag everyday, the once famous and feared former stadium of ADO, now mostly demolished except one stand and the pitch and turned into the training ground.

Quickly after moving to Den Haag, Toornstra, who kept up his Fiscal Law & Economics studies at the University of Amsterdam, got a place in the first team, only to never get out of it again. He impressed on the midfield, playing both as an attacking midfielder and a controlling one. In December 2009 he signed his first professional contract. Finally, he could change his Suzuki for a car from the club. In his second year in Hofstad, ADO surprised everyone with the seventh place in the Eredivisie, thereby securing a place in the UEFA Cup qualifiers. Together with Lex Immers, Dimitri Bulykin and Wesley Verhoek Toornstra formed the core of the team giving back pride to the club and its supporters, after years of financial and sportive troubles.

After he has grown out to be one of the most talented midfielders in the Eredivisie, Toornstra finally made his move upwards in the winter of 2013, signing a contract at FC Utrecht, despite interest from clubs like PSV and Feyenoord. It’s the step he needed. In Utrecht, Toornstra became the most productive midfielder in the league, scoring 17 goals in 41 league games. And, quite unusually for an Utrecht player, Toornstra was called up for the Dutch national team in the fall of 2012 for a trip to Indonesia. There he played his first, and to this date only, two caps.

Now, more than a year later, Toornstra finally makes the transfer he dreamed of as a kid, seeing his best team mates leaving for bigger clubs but himself never making it onto the scouting lists. Feyenoord, the club he supported as a little boy, started negotiations with his club after midfield target Hakim Ziyech announced he had chosen FC Twente above the team from Rotterdam. The club had followed Toornstra for years, even when he was still an ADO player, but never found the right moment (and money) to finally bring him in.

Until now. This summer, Feyenoord has sold its four most important players. Daryl Janmaat, Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij and Graziano Pelle have left the club with some €33 million, of which only about €10m can be used for reinvestment in the team. Now that captain Jordy Clasie is likely to make a €10 million move to FC Porto, where he will be reunited with Martins Indi, the club desperately needs to strengthen its midfield. Toornstra is the first of two transfers with which coach Rutten gets the midfield quality he is looking for. Toornstra will not be used for Clasie’s controlling midfield position, for which Aston Villa midfielder Karim El Ahmadi will return to De Kuip soon, but is likely to compete with Tonny Vilhena for the left-central midfield one and his friend and former ADO team mate Lex Immers for the number 10.

Will the €4m midfielder be a back up at Feyenoord? Yes, quite a chance. But with signing Toornstra Feyenoord is finally starting to solve one of its main problems: its lack of back up players who can easily replace starters. John Goossens and Ruud Vormer, two midfielders brought in as free agents in the summer of 2012, never impressed and are simply not good enough for Feyenoord. Youngsters Rick Karsdorp and Joey Sleegers seem to have a bright red-white future ahead of them, but are not yet ready to stand up and replace the established Eredivisie players Vilhena, Clasie and Immers are.

For Football Director Martin van Geel, his summer job is not yet done. Karim El Ahmadi is likely to make a return to Feyenoord in the upcoming days. El Ahmadi was one of the strongholders in the 2012 Koeman Kids team that led the club to its first Champions League campaign in 10 years and afterwards made a €5m transfer to Aston Villa. El Ahmadi can be the calm, controlling midfielder Feyenoord needs if Clasie leaves, and with his load of experience, including more than fourty Premier League games, he can guide still only 19-year-old Vilhena and lead the team.

And finally, the targetman striker Feyenoord so desperately needs is something supporters and pundits are looking forward to for months now. But with John Guidetti striking off the list after checking his confident medical documents and Napoli striker Duvan Zapata not allowed to leave the Italian club, few options are left. The club will now go all in on Wolfsburg forward Bas Dost, but he has told media he still thinks he has a future at the Germans, though his playing prosperity is little after the club brought in Nicklas Bendter and is said to sign Lukas Podolski soon.

For Toornstra, it won’t matter too much which striker is in front of him. At both ADO Den Haag and FC Utrecht he has shown he can score goals easily. Combined with his mentality and ability to play everywhere on the midfield, Feyenoord might have signed their most solid player this transfer window yet.

Photo credit: Frank Stout (@Frankstout on Twitter)




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