Young talents are better off in the Eredivisie than chasing the Premier League dream

Karim Rekik and Nathan Aké are returning to Holland. Earlier this summer Jeffrey Bruma and Kyle Ebicilio did the same. All four of them left the Feyenoord Academy at a young age to chase their football dreams in England. All four of them returned. The money ogled on the island, but did luck do the same?

For over two decennia young Dutch footballers have moved to foreign clubs now, but in recent years, this number has grown. In the late 1980s  the 18-year-old Danny Muller, an Ajax player, was the first. He chose the adventure in Barcelona, but never got further than a few games in the B-squad of the Catalonian team. He went back to Ajax, where he played zero games and was subsequently looked for success elsewhere, at clubs like Standard Liege, AZ and Cambuur Leeuwarden. He could never fulfill the big promise he was when he left for Barcelona. In 2000, he ended his career, which mostly took place in the lower ranks of the Eredivisie.

In the years after Muller, the number of young talents who tried to get lucky abroad grew constantly. In 1989, Jean-Paul de Jong moved to Arminia Bielefeld at 18, and at the same age Raymond Victoria moved to Bayern München in 1991. They are just some examples, but none of the players who left Dutch football for an adventure abroad in these years made it to the first-team, only playing some matches in youth teams or the reserve squad.

In the late nineties, the number of players moving to foreign clubs took a sharp increase. The transfer of Brian Pinas from Feyenoord to Newcastle United in 1997 started the beginning of a new era, in which scouts from international clubs scour the youth academies for young talents to lure to their clubs with promises of lots of money and big careers. Two years after Pinas, Chedric Seedorf left Ajax for Real Madrid, only to leave after just one season for Internazionale, where his big brother Clarence played. What followed was a career like a nomad, taking him to the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Surinam and France. With no success. Since 2012, little has been heard from the once so talented player.

Bruma takes a step down and returns to the Eredivisie

Many young Ajax players left at that time for an adventure abroad at big, renowned teams. All of them returned to the Netherlands after a couple of years, their squashed football dreams only to be a yet another footnote in Dutch football history. Who remembers players like Nabil Abidallah, Guillermo Graaven and Sergio de Windt?

After 2005, more transfers followed. Big money now has a bigger role in football than ever before. Clubs are bought by superrich Russians and Americans, who only want lots of success – instant success. Youth academies have developed in barns in which many youth players try to fullfill their dreams. All over the world scouts try to find the new Pele, Cruijff, Figo or Ronaldo. Dutch teams are no different. FC Twente scouts a lot in Middle and Eastern Europe, Feyenoord is eagerly looking for hot prospects in Scandinavia, and only UEFA rules stopped them from adding 14-year-old Norwegian Emil Hansson to their famous Academy last year, and Ajax is adding players from all over Europe to its youth teams this year. Meanwhile, international scouts hunt like raptors for Dutch talents at the Dutch academies.

After the transfer of goalkeeper Tim Krul from ADO Den Haag to Newcastle United in 2005, many talents followed his lead. Krul is, after loans at Falkirk and Carlisle United, just one of the happy few for whom an early transfer turned out be a good step in their career. Nacer Barazite, Vincent van den Berg and Patrick van Aanholt followed Krul in 2006 to England. Barazite is nowadays playing in Austria, Van den Berg is back at non-league side Excelsior Maassluis and Van Aanholt is loaned out to Vitesse for the third season in a row. Vincent Weijl, who left AZ for Liverpool in 2008, is looking for a new club after flopped adventures at Spanish side Eibar and Helmond Sport and SC Cambuur.

The players that followed them in the next years didn’t become as succesful as they hoped either. Jeffrey Bruma is back in the Netherlands, just like Kyle Ebicilio. Just some of these recent expats made it to an occasional game in the first-team of Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City or Arsenal, usually in League Cup matches when managers selected their reserves. Recently Nathan Aké has been linked to be loaned out to Vitesse and Karim Rekik was loaned to PSV for one season. Both left Feyenoord in the summer of 2011, and both seem to be returning just two years later.

Ouasim Bouy left Ajax to join Juventus but went on loan to Brescia

From Muller in 1988 to Ouasim Bouy in 2012, 45 young Dutch talents, who had not played in the first-team yet, left for an adventure abroad. Some of them, like Mark van den Boogaart and Rob Busscher, were allowed to leave the reserve teams of clubs like Feyenoord, Ajax and PSV and can’t be seen as big talents like Aké, Bruma or Barazite. Some of them made some appearances in the first-team, but most of them were sold or did not get a new contract. Meanwhile, they saw their former teammates developing into first-team starters at club level and even for their national team. Bruma’s former team mates Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi and Jordy Clasie are regular starters in Feyenoord’s first-team and even the national team, just like Aké’s friends Tonny Vilhena and Jean-Paul Boëtius, for whom a debut in the national team is just a matter of team, both being selected by coach Louis van Gaal.

Of the 45 players who left the Netherlands early, only one player broke through: Tim Krul. It is a very low number, which should make young prospects think twice about leaving Dutch academy’s for a foreign team. Sixteen-year-olds are barely better off at Manchester City, Arsenal or Chelsea. If they really want to make it in professional football, staying in Holland seems to be the best choice. Let it be a lesson for our heroes of the future.

Mark Lievisse Adriaanse is a fanatic Feyenoord supporter and freelance journalist, writing about both politics and football. You can find him on the twitter too: @Markla94.

There are 9 comments

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  1. Jenko

    Writing an article about young dutch talent moving to EPL without any mention of Arjen Robben should be a criminal offence

    • Mark

      @Gary: Hehe, Jordy Brouwer. Got arrested some time ago for owning a weed plantage. Left Topklasse-side HBS this summer for non-league team DHC Delft.

  2. Tim

    Nice article. I think Chelsea are a fantastic example of a club whose youth policy is utterly flawed.

    Aside from the Dutch examples, consider also Miroslav Stoch, Fabio Borini, and a healthy English contingent who’ve failed after ‘developing’ at Chelsea: infamously Michael Woods and Tom Taiwo, plus Scott Sinclair, Patrick Bamford…

    • G-Man

      @Tim: Patrick Bamford hasn’t failed at Chelsea & he wasn’t brought through there either. He was purchased for £1.5 million from Nottingham Forest and is currently on loan at MK Dons where he is arguably the best striker in League 1 at present

    • Duus

      I think it is quite unfair to say Chelsea’s youth policy is flawed, i agree it once was but i really doubt it is anymore as they have invested and put alot focus on it in recent years.

      Nathan Ake is 18 years old and then blame Chelsea for not giving him first team football ? He made 6 appearances for Chelsea last year if i remember correct. That is ALOT for a kid at the age of 17, show me how many 17 years old kids made 6 appearances for a Top club? I havent seen ANY top club in Premier league do that last year except Chelsea, Nathan Ake is a bright talent but he still is 18 years old the majority of youth players from own clubs making in into the first team at a top club is usualy around the age of 20+ he is just 18 so he still got alot to learn.

      For example take a look on Josh McEachran. The guy was a imense talent and it was clear for everyone that he really was a epic gem of a player and had a very bright future ahead of him and possible be as good as Lampard,Gerrad etc. At the age of 16 he was years ahead of many other players at his age which was wonderful but then he reached the age of 17ish where the u21 team was not a good enough challenge for him, his progress nearly stalled for a season cause of it. The year after he got loaned to Swansea where he got promised PL football but apparently Swansea did not do that and he was a regular benchie and only manged 4 games the whole season so his progress obviously stalled even more.
      In season 12/13 Chelsea made the decision to give him a less agressive loan to Middlesbrough where he manged to come into the first team and made 38 appearances, he did manage to start developing again but he has never really looked the same and people expect far from what they once did. There is no doubt that he can make a good rotation player for Chelsea but he wil never be Chelsea’s “Xavi” which was what most people expected.

      This story really show that something is VERY VERY wrong and is crippling the development of our youth players in England so FA really needs to wake up and admit that they made a crucial mistake and fix it.
      Keep in mind some players are very good others arent so its very easy just saying the club policy is flawed or “The club destroyed the player” instead of actually looking at the situation and maybe realise that just maybe the player just wasent good enough.

      I believe the best thing for Nathan Aké is going on loan to gain first team experience and vital playing time for a mid table club in PL or a club some where else around that level and not too different from PL.

      The article also seems to forget when players reach the age of 16-17ish in PL their progress usualy stall quite abit due to below par youth leagues and no real challenges for the kids. That is an HUGE issue which FA seems to ignore and just blame the clubs that is their fault. I.E look at Barclona/Real Madrid they have a B-team and the good youth players can play in a league just below La Liga when they out grow the U19 team. i can guarantee you it gives a hell of alot quicker development for the kids in the B-team than being stuck in a shitty non competetive U21 league in England which reminds more of a friendly match than a league fighting to win and to earn a living. So when Chelsea loan out their youngsters to gain similar experience like kids from Barcelona/Real madrid youngsters get in their B-teams there is made articles like this about PL teams neglecting their youth players by loaning them out. And when you look at the reason why they do loan their players out a different picture emerges! The FA is actually the ones who is making it difficult and slowing down progress of their clubs youth players by simply not giving the players that is too good for the U21 team and not good enough for PL a good enough challenge to develop. Youth players of that calibre dosent get the vital team experience to continue their progress which forces the clubs to loan out their youth talents because they dont got a B-team like Barcelona and Real Madrid so imo there is absolutely no difference in loaning a player to another club in a league that suits his playing level or putting him in the clubs own B-team. Difference is just that English teams do not have a B-team and is therefor is “forced” to loan out their players if they wanna give their players the quickest way to develop enough to play for their first team. Funny thing is that FA blames the clubs that there is not enough british youth talents and refuse to admit that there actually is a problem when it is obvious that kids in England progress considerably slower than what you see in Germany,Spain,Italy,Holland,Belgium,Argentina,Brazil etc.

  3. Bodo

    Not sa familiar with the Dutch ones, but Belgium has a few too. And some did make it : Nainggolan through Serie B clubs in Italy, Hazard went early on to LOSC, Januzaj is surfacing at Manchester United.
    Obviously a lot more examples failed, but this just to show it isnt entirely impossible to achieve success through an early move abroad.

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