Mission accomplished: Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum ready to leave PSV as champions
At the start of the season, Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum made a pact: To win the Eredivisie with PSV before making the next step to one of Europe’s top leagues.
Now, after winning the 22nd Eredivisie crown in the club’s history, the pair are ready to move on. Depay’s future is sealed, as a medical is all that stands in the way of him and a €27.5 million move to Manchester United. For Wijnaldum, though, options remain open.
When the duo signed contract extensions in August 2014, it was met with a sigh of relief more than anything.
Depay had shown his talent on the international stage with Netherlands national team as they finished third at the World Cup in Brazil and was beginning to attract interest from several clubs, mainly Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Wijnaldum, who made his Eredivisie debut with Feyenoord at 16 and was captain of PSV at just 23, was also beginning to allure foreign clubs after positive performances last season and in Brazil.
As speculation intensified, there was a worry that, after one full season in the PSV first-team, the sublime talent would flee the nest, while the future of Wijnaldum, despite missing a large part of the previous season with injury, was also uncertain.
The pair ended up committing to the club to 2018 on paper, but the general understanding was that all parties were merely delaying the inevitable for a year. That decision has worked in favour for everyone.
With a team full of some of the most talented players in the country, it seemed that this would be PSV’s year, with the only obstacle in their way being Ajax’s desire to extend their four-year reign of terror.
There was no real challenge, though. Ajax turned out to be a complete irrelevance in the title race come the second half of the season as PSV strolled to their first league title in seven years.
That, though, is seen as just the beginning for PSV, as they look to remain at the pinnacle of Dutch football at the expense of Ajax and Feyenoord, while also making progress in European competition.
Of course, PSV must embark on the majority of this journey without at least two of the league’s most promising players.
With 22 goals in 29 Eredivisie matches (28 in 39 in all competitions), Depay has been the shining light of the Dutch top flight. Devastatingly quick, powerful, skilful and with an astounding devotion to constantly improving his game, the extra season in Netherlands has given him the chance to improve while playing a pivotal role in PSV’s fabulous season.
There remains some debate over whether the self-titled “Dreamchaser” could do with another year in his homeland before looking to try his hand at the elite. He is, after all, only 21, so he has a lot of developing to do as he does have some weaknesses to his game.
The winger is still somewhat inconsistent and his decision making can be questionable at times. His determination to make the difference for his team and get them out of a hole is admirable and it is something that sees him drop quite deep when his team is out of possession and drift inside too. However, too often he feels absolutely compelled to be the man to fire PSV to victory, which can often cloud his judgement. Depay loves a shot – he has hit more than any other player in the Eredivisie this season and last – and when overwhelmed by a desire to get PSV out of bad position, he will pull the trigger from wild distances, even if better passing options lie ahead.
These are aspects of his game that will develop over time, though. He is obviously far from the finished product, but the skills that set him apart from the rest of the players in the Dutch league can transfer onto a bigger stage. That blistering speed, those powerful shots and that impressive free kick taking ability.
In Wijnaldum’s case, there is less of an argument. He is one of the most experienced players in the team – Andres Guardado is the only regular starter older than he is. According to Opta, of all current Eredivisie players, none have scored more than the Netherlands international – 62 in 217 games – and all other players with over 200 appearances in the division are at least four years older than he is (apart from Piet Velthuizen, who is four days short of being four years older than Gini).
Wijnaldum is much more developed than Depay and it is unusual to see such an obviously talented player remain in the Eredivisie for so long. However, he has shown that in some cases, the benefits of staying can be plentiful.
The midfielder has fine-tuned certain parts of his game this term and has been an integral part of PSV’s style. Cocu’s team have been looking to play a dominant system this term, but have embraced a counter-attacking system on occasion.
Whichever style they adopt in each game, Wijnaldum (and Guardado) is pivotal in it being a success. His work rate is great, while his awareness and tracking of runs in midfield makes him a vital component in cutting out attacks coming through the middle. From here he can start a charge forward for his side. Also, Wijnaldum will move to cover both sides of the pitch, with the fluency in midfield alongside Adam Maher and Guardado giving him the freedom to do so.
As well as his ability to drop very deep and defend, Wijnaldum adds a lot to PSV’s attack. He has scored 13 league goals this term and chipped in with 3 assists. He makes excellent bursts forward and is great at finding space in advanced areas. With De Jong, Luciano Narsingh and Depay in the front three, Wijnaldum acts as solid backup, maintaining his presence around the box and charging in to attempt a shot – all of his goals come from inside the box – or a header.
It was important for Wijnaldum to remain at PSV for another season because injury ruled him out for all but 11 games last season. He has improved the speed of his game, his touch is softer and he is more composed on the ball and more effective.
Depay’s extra year was even more crucial. Leaving the Eredivisie last summer for a top flight club would have been a bad idea with so many inconsistencies to his game at that time. His first full season was not completely smooth or flawless. In the first months of the 2013-14 season, he was a very frustrating player in danger of becoming one-dimensional. It was not until after the turn of the year he became a more efficient and wiser player as he began to add more balance to his game by staying out wide when required and playing for the team.
Both Depay and Wijnaldum as well as Jetro Willems, Adam Maher and Luciano Narsingh have benefitted immensely from the improvements in PSV’s system this season and the vital addition to that has been Luuk de Jong.
De Jong’s movement up front is almost as important to PSV as his goals. An expert at creating space, his mobility, combined with Willems’ tendency to attack relentlessly and operate more as a winger than a defender, gives Depay room to come inside.
This has given Depay a lot of freedom on the wing and in the centre of the field, becoming a more direct threat at times, while Willems has been incredible this term – he has been linked to Manchester City and Real Madrid this season – as his crosses have been devastating and he has been creating chances constantly (if Willems remains in Eindhoven for next season, a year from now there will be a lot of talk about him with regards to a move to a bigger league). Depay, then, does not need to play as an out and out winger and in this system it is to his benefit and that of the team.
Wijnaldum has been able to link up easily with the attack because of an abundance of options and it has made him more effective in the way he powers forward with counter attacks.
“This summer would be a good time to make the next step,” Wijnaldum 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.”
Wijnaldum has followed such a smooth trajectory that it is impossible to argue that he is ready to make that next step.
So much attention has been paid to Depay that Wijnaldum seems to be slipping under the media radar at the moment. The midfielder – the youngest ever player to represent Feyenoord in the Eredivisie – has all the tools to succeed in the top leagues in Europe. He is versatile, intelligent, fast, strong, good in the air and technically sound. He is complete. For teams like Arsenal or Liverpool, he would be a sound investment. Manchester United have been linked to him since Depay’s move was confirmed and it would certainly be an interesting option for the Red Devils, but they have an abundance of midfielders, making it somewhat of a gamble for the player himself.
Depay, on the other hand, is a relatively raw talent, but he has picked his destination wisely as he will be able to continue his development smoothly under Van Gaal at Manchester United. It is certainly a better choice than Paris Saint-Germain, where Marcel Brands expected him to go 48 hours before the agreement with United was reached.
With United, he will be working with a manager who knows him and who has already coached him before and has a great record with young players. Depay is a different player to Angel Di Maria and Ashley Young, but with his versatility and Van Gaal’s belief in him, it is a good level to further improve his game and it seems likely he would get a chance to show his worth there.
After a fantastic season, in a way it is a shame to see PSV lose these two stars, but summer departures for the two of them has been looming over the Philips Stadion for the entire season. They have developed well in Eindhoven and are now ready to move on.
It’s not hard to tell that bright futures await both players. What is difficult, though, is how PSV are going to replace them.
In Depay’s case, it is perhaps easier to identify possible replacements. Jesus Corona from FC Twente should be one of their top choices, even Ricardo Kishna from Ajax could be an option, as could Jean-Paul Boetius, with the latter two reportedly unhappy at their current clubs and linked to moves away. AZ’s star Steven Berghuis too is a great option after a strong season with John van den Brom’s men.
Wijnaldum, though, is much tougher to replace because of how well rounded his game is. PSV are lucky that they have two excellent midfielders in Maher, who can take over a lot of the attacking responsibilities from Wijnaldum, and Guardado who has been spectacular since his move from Valencia which becomes permanent in the summer.
However, the defensive aspect becomes an issue because of Wijnaldum’s excellent ability to put an end to opponents’ forays forward. Nemanja Gudelj was linked, but looks set to join Ajax, while they have Jorrit Hendrix and Oscar Hiljemark already in the team.
They might need some proper investment to cover for that absence though. Davy Propper is one of the main candidates to join PSV after an amazing season with Vitesse. The 23-year-old is ready to play for one of the league’s bigger teams and has said he would like to play for either PSV or Ajax.
FC Twente’s Hakim Ziyech may be one option, which would resort in him being placed as the advanced creator of the midfield with Guardado and Maher slotting in behind and would mean they can resort to counterattacking football too. Ziyech has had less than a full season with the Tukkers, but their financial issues mean he could be available this year.
It will be a shame to see Memphis and Gini leave the Eredivisie, but it has been a long time coming. The absence of both will be felt by PSV next season, but as they look to remain a force in the Dutch league as well as in European competitions, their absences can be covered for with some smart moves in the close-season.
The futures of these two stars are bright, but even without them, so is PSV’s.