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.
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.
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.