A Dutch Superclub Re-Born

Feyenoord finally ended nearly 20 years of pain last season with a typically dramatic final day in the Eredivisie, which saw Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side win the league title in a 3-1 home victory over Heracles. Captain and club legend Dirk Kuyt lifted the Eredivisie title in front of 51,000 die-hard fans at De Kuip in Rotterdam, signifying Feyenoord’s return to the big-time.

It was the perfect way for Kuyt to mark the end of his playing career. The forward, who was underrated in the Premier League during his time at Liverpool, put on a box office performance in front of the Feyenoord faithful, scoring a hat-trick to ensure the Rottderman side’s first Eredivisie title since 1998/99.

There was a sense of relief around Feyenoord’s title win, but the events that followed around the city were more along the lines of sheer carnage. The pictures of the day depict an array of explosions- as flares were lit, and drinks were thrown all across the streets and squares of the city, commencing ceaseless celebrations for the fans who had waited so long for this day to arrive.

In the following days, the Feyenoord fans were naturally imagining what the team would look like next season. As is the nature of Dutch football, the clubs that win the league are by no means guaranteed to keep hold of their key players. However, van Bronckhorst was ready for this eventuality and braced himself for bids from across Europe for his young talents.

Dirk Kuyt announced his retirement from football three days after his season defining performance which won the title for Feyenoord. He promised to fulfil his duty to the club by assuming a club role off the pitch, demonstrating his loyalty to the club where he made his name before he had joined Liverpool in 2006.

Kuyt had hinted at his retirement back in February in an interview with FourFourTwo. Kuyt told the magazine- “It’d be nice to be a coach… If I get the right feeling for it, I want to give it a go”. Kuyt certainly ensured that he gave Feyenoord everything he had as their key man in the coming months, and will never be forgotten for his role in bringing the Eredivisie title back to Rotterdam.

Feyenoord Title Parade
A generation-long waiting game: Red and Green flares take over the centre of Rotterdam after Feyenoord secured the Eredivisie title after such a long period without it

Once the summer transfer window opened in June, a deal for the highly-rated right-back Rick Karsdorp had been arranged with AS Roma for a fee as high as €19 million including add-ons. Karsdorp would, therefore, become the most expensive outgoing player in Feyenoord’s history, and the transfer was yet another sign of how strong the academies of Dutch football clubs still are. Karsdorp said about the move that it was “great step forward” and “I come here with a great desire and enthusiasm to play and to realise my dreams”.

Terence Kongolo left for AS Monaco in early July,  signing for £12.2 million, having made 138 appearances for the Dutch side. Still only 23, Kongolo will provide useful versatility for Monaco at centre-back, potentially filling the void left by Benjamin Mendy who was recently signed by Manchester City for a record £48.8 million. Kongolo is confident about the move and is keen to take up the challenge of playing for such a big club. Kongolo told the AS Monaco website: “I will discover an exciting new challenge at a prestigious and ambitious club”.

Feyenoord fans will also miss the excitement that Dutchman Eljero Elia brought to the side, with nine goals and eight assists in the league winning season. He has transferred to İstanbul Başakşehir for a bargain £935,000, despite a Transfermarkt market value of £5 million, which would have still been a fantastic price for any potential clubs interested in the tricky winger.

Elia has provided some insight into how Gio van Bronckhorst operates, and these departures will not necessarily be bad news for Feyenoord fans. Elia said that van Bronckhorst “knows how to motivate”, and about him that “it makes no difference to him if a player is a big name or not”. Therefore, if any Feyenoord fans were concerned about the next season, it is clear that van Bronckhorst will have a definite vision of what kind of team he will take forward.

So do these significant departures really matter to van Bronckhorst and his ambition to retain the Eredivisie next season? Not particularly. Especially considering arch rivals Ajax lost their captain Davy Klaassen to Everton, and rising star defender Jairo Riedewald to Crystal Palace, it is clear that a level playing field is more or less retained in every season that goes by in the Eredivisie.

Feyenoord’s chances of retaining the Eredivisie title next season are high when considering the existing players that van Bronckhorst has in the squad. He can build upon the capabilities of central midfielders Karim El Ahmadi and Tonny Vilhena, as well as the more advanced midfield role played by Jens Toornstra, who occupies the space in behind last year’s 21 goal striker Nicolai Jørgensen.

Toornstra had a terrific season from attacking midfield, netting 14 times in the league, laying on nine assists for his teammates across 34 appearances- a guaranteed source of goals for Feyenoord week after week. Nicolai Jørgensen also announced himself in the Dutch league in devastating style, achieving double figures in both goals and assists domestically, with a combined involvement in 31 Eredivisie goals for Feyenoord.

Elia runs off to celebrate
Off to pastures new: El Ahmadi and Vilhena run after Eljero Elia to celebrate. The two midfielders provided Feyenoord’s attacking base last season

Gio van Bronckhorst has also gone about his summer spending in a typically astute manner, not splashing the cash frivolously. Instead, he has purchased some of the Eredivisie’s rising stars on the cheap, such as Heerenveen’s Jeremiah St. Juste at centre-back, and Ridgeciano Haps from AZ Alkmaar at left-back.

At only 20 years old, St. Juste will slot in nicely next to the experienced Brazilian Eric Botteghin, who played every minute for Feyenoord in the league last season, chipping with four goals and earning himself a place in the Eredivisie team of the season.

Haps will be a promising replacement for the departed Terence Kongolo, possessing lightning quick pace up and down the left flank. He made an impressive 33 Eredivisie appearances last season for AZ, who finished 6th place in the table. His ability to burst forward and take on opposing defences with his dribbling will be an exciting proposition for Feyenoord next season in their quest to retain their title.

Yesterday, Feyenoord made their marquee signing of the summer so far, bringing Steve Berghuis back to Rotterdam. Berghuis had a sensational stint on loan last season from Watford, and for just £5.5 million, van Bronckhorst will be expecting Berghuis to build on the seven goals and five assists he registered.

Along with left-winger Jean-Paul Boëtius joining from FC Basel for £1.2 million, van Bronckhorst’s attacking options for next season’s title defence most importantly provide variety. Their squad depth has therefore improved, with six fresh acquisitions replacing the notable departures. There has also been the promotion of three under-19 players as part of Feyenoord’s ongoing youth policy.

Gio crying
Overwhelmed: Gio van Bronckhorst got caught up in the moment of winning the Eredivisie title, but he will be hungry for more success next season

With Feyenoord returning to the UEFA Champions League next season, van Bronckhorst will be testing his coaching abilities on a more advanced level. He always has a focus on the impact that games have on his players and the squad overall, as they learn from a physical point of view, but also how their mentality is tested by such competition.

In an interview with Life After Football, van Bronckhorst drew upon the personal challenge, but also what the Champions League means for everyone else at Feyenoord. He said the UCL is “a big challenge for me, for the team, for the players, but it is also a nice challenge”.  In the same token, van Bronckhorst does not get carried away by past achievements, instead referring back to the experiences he had playing in the Champions League as a player for the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona.

“It will be difficult” van Bronckhorst acknowledges, “but we can learn from it and become better”. It is clear that with a refreshed squad ahead of the new season, van Bronckhorst has a long-term goal to achieve at Feyenoord, but places an emphasis on how much his players can learn from such an elite competition.

Everyone involved with Feyenoord will, therefore, be relishing the prospect of the new season, having come to the terms with the way in which the best talent from the Eredivisie inevitably moves on to other clubs around Europe. The fans are still buzzing from their title triumph in May, with many of the new players tried and tested in the Dutch top tier.

Most importantly, Gio van Bronckhorst will have his team equipped to compete on all fronts in 2017/18, with the hope that he can bring even more joy to the fans of a team that has now returned back to the big time.

 

 

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