N.E.C.: Resurrected, lessons learned?
After a record breaking one-year spell in the Jupiler League – picking up 101 points in 38 games, while scoring 100 goals in the process, N.E.C. are back in the Dutch top flight. With only two players left of the team who played in the last Eredivisie match back in May 2014, the Nijmegen side has undergone a huge transformation, but are now facing the same difficulties as two seasons ago.
The squad back in 2013/14 was unbalanced and filled with players from all over Europe, who all left immediately after N.E.C lost the battle against relegation. Having learned from the past, director Bart van Ingen stated several times this summer that N.E.C. main objective on the transfer market would be signing Dutch speaking players, but with three of the four new defenders coming from abroad that turned out to be a tough if not impossible job.
With Iceland international goal keeper Hannes Halldórsson, central defender Wojciech Golla (1 cap for Poland) and Chelsea loanee Todd Kane as full back, the club from the oldest city in the Netherlands seems to have done well on the market, but it remains to be seen if they can end N.E.C.’s horrendous streak of 46 Eredivisie games without a clean sheet any time soon.
In addition to those three defenders, former FC Twente full back Bart Buysse was snapped up from Cercle Brugge in his homeland Belgium, talented midfielder and Portuguese youth international Janio Bikel came over from sc Heerenveen and 21-year-old winger Mohamed Rayhi joined after he left PSV.
Despite 14 players leaving Nijmegen, only the loss of fan favorite Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who moved to AZ Alkmaar, is seen as a major blow. With 12 goals and 17 assists, the Iranian international had a pivotal role in the 100 goals that N.E.C. managed to score in the Jupiler League. But with 31-year-old striker Sjoerd Ars, who is set to make his Eredivisie debut this season, Anthony Limbombe and Christian Santos, the club have kept their three most prolific players of last season.
With more transfers on the horizon – there are currently just six defenders, including 34-year-old veteran Jeffrey Leiwakabessy, while reserve goalie Joshua Smits is injured – there’s no cherry picking yet for debuting manager Ernest Faber. The former assistant manager of PSV took over Ruud Brood’s role, who joined PSV as… assistant manager. With the current squad, Faber should be able to meet the club’s demand to prevent relegation with Van Ingen hinting that it should even be possible to be a challenger for 10th place.
Player to watch: Christian Santos
They were regarded as N.E.C.’s magic four. Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Anthony Limbombe, Sjoerd Ars and Christian Santos managed to score a blistering amount of 77 goals amongst them. But while the first three all had a proven record, Santos was undisputed the biggest surprise in Nijmegen last season. It took some time to get settled and show his value to both manager and fans, but he only missed two minutes in N.E.C.’s last sixteen games, scoring 12 goals in that run. While not blessed with a great technique and a bit sloppy sometimes, Santos has proven to be an excellent finisher and really strong in the air. Thanks to his impressive tally of 23 goals in 34 matches, the 27-year-old attacking midfielder even made his debut in the Venezuelan national team. Having played in the lower leagues in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, it will take some time to adapt to the level and pace in the top flight, but Santos will be on the score sheet without a doubt.
BeNeFoot prediction: 15th