PEC Zwolle: Can Zwollywood produce yet another fairy tale?
Dealing with the loss of key players is something PEC Zwolle have shown to have a real talent for. Across their three years in the Dutch top flight since their promotion under Art Langeler, they have seemingly easily overcome the departure of their biggest players and still managed to achieve sporting progress.
This season, though, will put the strength of their recruitment strategy to the ultimate test, though, with the very core of their team ripped out. In a difficult financial situation already, the club’s hierarchy have been unable to reinvest in the squad significantly.
Striker Tomas Necid and defender Maikel van der Werff both left for free, while Joost Broerse retired and goalkeeper Warner Hahn returned to Feyenoord after his loan spell ended. The loan of Lars Weldwijk and free signing of Dirk Marcellis and Josef Kvida helps limit the damage, but these are not signings fans can get too excited about. Furthermore, the loss of Hahn is one which has not been covered for so far, neither has the €1 million sale of winger Jody Lukoki.
The biggest issue by far, though, is the loss of Jesper Drost. The PEC youth graduate was sold for “serious money”, according to the club’s technical director, but his skill, technique and direct style will be sorely missed. What’s worse is that his departure is further exacerbated by the injury to Mustafa Saymak in pre-season. Another PEC product, Saymak was the star of the midfield beside Drost and has been ruled out of the entire campaign before a ball is even kicked.
Having been robbed of their two stars, coach Ron Jans’ squad is decidedly thin, though the intelligent manager will be confident of salvaging something this season. While another sixth placed finish and a third consecutive KNVB Beker final look unlikely, it will not be seen as a disaster for PEC if they finish as low as 12th or 13th.
Bart van Hintum, Trent Sainsbury, Thomas Lam and Bram van Polen can all combine to make a respectable back four. Ben Rienstra will be the star man of the midfield and will have to work hard to protect the defence while controlling attacks from deep, though it remains to be seen what can be expected of former Feyenoord youth player Rick Dekker and Wouter Marinus.
Winger Ryan Thomas has been developing well over the last two years but needs to be more decisive and Ajax loanees Queensy Menig and Sheraldo Becker will hopefully take advantage of their first-team opportunities.
Weldwijk was a failure in England after impressing at Excelsior in the second tier. As a big and strong striker, he seems to fit the profile for the ideal replacement to Necid, but he has a lot to prove. Of course, Stef Nijland showed to be an effective substitute at times last term, but he is not the man fans will be hoping they have to rely on for goals throughout the campaign because he is simply far too inconsistent.
Player to watch: Ryan Thomas.
The New Zealand international has already shown to be a promising and quick young winger, but he seems to be developing as a more direct and confident threat too. His talent is obvious, but he is perhaps still a bit too lightweight and this campaign will be a big one for him. Ron Jans needs him to link up well with Veldwijk from the beginning, while he must try to keep adding to his own goals tally.
BeNeFoot Prediction: 11th