From left to right: Tonny Vilhena, Terence Kongolo, JP Boetius, Anass Achahbar
The Feyenoord youngsters keep on impressing. Last week, they beat PSV, this week the win over NEC prompted former Team Manager Bert van Marwijk to quip “Boetius is the best winger playing in Holland at the moment”… Asked if he was advising his successor he said “no no, of course not… but Feyenoord does make a strong impression. Great talents, good fighting spirit, fit… and they enjoy their football.”
Time to check out the youngsters.
“We are so used to winning titles. For us, it’s normal.” Not your average claim of a Feyenoord player. The last time the Rotterdam club snatched a title was in 1999. Bert van Marwijk managed to add a European trophy to the mix in 2002 but that was about it.
But the current up and comers at Feyenoord have the experience. Since Feyenoord scraped the bottom of the piggybank, the youth development team became creative. Cruyff adept Wim Jansen recruited his son in law Stanley Brard – another JC protege – and together they injected their views into the youth academy. This is now going on for more than 8 years and the results are finger lickin’ good… With Wijnaldum, Fer and Castaignos as examples generating healthy profits for Feyenoord, the supply line keeps on going.
This season, youngsters like Boetius, Vilhena and Achahbar have impressed while Kolongo (injured) and early exiters Rekik (Man City) and Ebecilio (Arsenal) are still with the gang in spirit.
Youth coach Erwin Pinas remembers it well. “The 1994 generation was sensational. Feyenoord always attracted top talents. These guys however play together since the early stages. And I assure you, they will all make it to the Dutch senior National Team.”
As per normal, the 4 Feyenoord lads are sitting together, talking loud and with their hands and feet as well. “We have been talking about football together for 10 years or so,” Terence Kolongo says.
All four Feyenoord players ( Boetius, Kolongo, Vilhena and Achahbar) were selected while very young. They started playing at 5 and were asked to play for Feyenoord when 6 years old. Tonny Vilhena: “I actually am a year younger then them but the coaches always wanted me to play with them.”
The four make it clear they consider themselves family. Achahbar: “I never had friends outside of football. My team mates were my mates. My team mates are family, really.” And Jean-Paul Boetius adds: “I hear stories of others and how they develop on the streets and learn stuff, you know. Well, we learned it at trainings camp, I suppose.”
Anass Achahbar: “I think we are all kept a bit shorter on the leash by Feyenoord and our parents. I am thankful to my parents for that now, but when I was younger I sometimes hated it. But kids like us, if we would be let loose, we could get deranged you know?”
The support they give each other goes further than just in gaining life experiences. Kongolo: “I made my debut when they weren’t in the squad. I was pretty nervous. There was no one for me to sit with. Whenever I play with one of them, I am never nervous.”
The lads are very positive about the Academy. Vilhena: “Anass is working with Roy Makaay now and with Gio van Bronckhorst. Obviously, you get better and better like that.” Achahbar adds: “I worked with John Lammers in the youth, the former NAC striker. He taught me much, to use my body properly, to keep an eye out for the third man…”
Boetius: “I think we are all boss over the ball. We can do most if not all with it. And that gives us confidence on the pitch. When I made my debut, it all went flowing. And I knew I was ready and my development had worked.”
Anass Achahbar remembers Cor Adriaanse in the B1 youth team. “He was fair but tough. I used to dribble too much. He would sub me and say I would never make it like this. “There is no time and space to dribble in the top” he’d say.” Kongolo adds: “He made us play on black shoes. All the other guys, the Ajax and PSV lads, played on colourful shoes. He wouldn’t allow us. “First you learn how to play, you have to earn these shoes” hahaha.”
About their debuts.
Achahbar: “When I heard that Kelvin Leerdam woulnd’t renew his deal with Feyenoord, I realised Tonny Vilhena would get a chance. Tonny is a special player. Mark my words…”
Vilhena: “For Anass, it’s always harder. A midfielder or defender can grow into the team. A striker needs to be there. Feyenoord expects strikers to score goals. Whenever you have Guidetti in front of you or now Pelle, you simply need to build patience. But you saw his goal against Prague? Anass will make it.”
Kolongo: “I think we all know now that a starting spot in the first team is an option. It’s possible. We have proven that.”
Boetius: “I think people will say that we have always been talented and that its normal for us to make it, but apart from our talent, we have all worked very hard. Always. We are winners, not just great talents. But once you are on the pitch, it doesn’t matter if you are a newbie or a veteran. It’s about your effectivity. I wasn’t nervous against Ajax, because I have played against these guys in the youth, you know? Why would I be nervous?”
Kongolo: (Asking his mates) “What didnt’ we win? We won everything… Title, cup, Super Cup, European title… Winning is part of our DNA…”
Boetius: “It’s true, at Feyenoord winning becomes second nature. In the youth system, I mean. Whenever we lost, I was in tears. And we created a strong mentality.”
Vilhena: “Last year I was asked to come to trainings camp in winter. And I had a 50-50 tackle on El Ahmadi, who was one of the leaders of the team. But I couldn’t back down. So we were head to head, yelling at each other. But it was a ball to be won… So when I was asked to join the squad at the start of this season, and Karim was still with Feyenoord, I immediately looked him up and shook his hand. I do have respect for the older players, but not when we are opponents in a game.”
The big jump to a tougher competition…
Achahbar: “I think we all had the chance to leave at a specific time. But I was clear: I want to show my skills in a packed De Kuip, in Feyenoord 1.”
Boetius: “Kyle Ebecilio and Karim Rekik chose to go. Can you imagine, if they were still part of this squad? Feyenoord would have an almost all self-developed team…”
Kongolo: “There are more roads leading to Rome and they took the foreign route. We still talk everyday. Sms, or skype… I know Tonny Vilhena didnt want to go yet. He had the chance too. Like we all did. But it does feel like we lost family.”
Vilhena: “I didn’t want to go. My goal from when I was six was to play in this jersey in a full De Kuip. I wouldn’t leave before having realised a starting spot. But I do miss the lads.”
Achahbar: “I was pissed off at Karim when he told he’d go to City. We were together every day. Our fathers were mates… I think we will get the chance later. We will stay for that. Karim and Kyle felt they had to do it then. But, according to the scout reports, we will one day all play together in England, haha.”
Kyle Ebicilio in London…
Ebecilio was 16 years old in the summer of 2010… Oranje was going for gold in South Africa and Oranje under 17 would win gold in 2011.
Ebicilio: ” I have the photo books and look through them regularly. Gets a smile on my face. It was so cool to win a big trophy and see the faces of all your best mates on the pitch with you. I was voted best player of the tournament and Tonny Vilhena was joint top scorer with me… Very cool…
But the whole Ebecilio family bar his sister Sam, decided to move to England in that summer. “It was a tough decision. I didn’t just make that on a whim. I had sleepless nights. I had to tell my brothers… It was hard. But Arsenal had presented itself to me with such an enticing pitch… I had to go. And my mates, they understood.”
Kyle is really Anglicised, if that is the word. He drives on the left side of the road and his little brother can’t read Dutch anymore. He goes on: “The development I got at Feyenoord was amazing and I am really thankful, but I think Arsenal is giving me more now. Physically, I am stronger, smarter too. I think differently about football I guess. But I can see that things are going really well in Rotterdam. When I was there, I had to deal with Leo Beenhakker. There was a different philosophy. It wasn’t certain that I would get a look in. Now, with Van Geel and Koeman, Feyenoord is truly exciting again.”
Ebecilio played one game in Arsenal 1. A friendly against Southampton. “For me, it’s about the practice now. The games will come, I hope. Being on the same training pitch as Van Persie and Nasri… I played with Fabregas, Vermaelen, Alex Song, Emmanuel Eboue… Believe me, that has made me better. And Van Persie was always talking to me, about things. Same as Song and Vermaelen, they are all focused on you making yourself into a success. Arsene Wenger is not very talkative but he sees everything. He told me recently that I surprised him positively with my development. But not a lot of people see it, hehehe. But he does, and that is key.”
Ebecilio’s deal is ending soon, but Arsenal wants to renew. “I do too, I love it here, but I do want to make some minutes now. I need to play games now…”
Karim Rekik in Manchester then…
Karim and family rent a home from Man United defender Jonny Evans. His neighbour is a former Man United business manager. “This city breaths football. There is always some gathering. Recently I saw Karim El Ahmadi (Birmingham) and Oussaidi (Liverpool) who love to hang out in Manchester.” The Feyenoord defender had a smorgasbord of clubs wanting to sign him and when he knew he wanted to leave Feyenoord, he visited them all. “Atletico Madrid offered us a house with a pool, Chelsea mapped out this whole plan and at Juventus I felt like a movie star. President Agnelli even came to shake my hand at dinner.” But Juventus ended up number 2 on the list. Because Man City was able to impress the youngster most. “At City, they had this map they took out. With all my games of the last two seasons. They had followed me well, they knew my game, my strengths, my weaknesses… They told me exactly how they’d work with me. I was overwhelmed.”
Rekik was disappointed in Feyenoord. “When I was there, Beenhakker was in charge. He is old-school. I went in to talk to him about my future. And I never meant money, I meant my development, my chances. He basically gave me a new contract and said “take it or leave it.” I didn’t feel the love, you know? He also said “I can get you to practice with the first team but if that doesn’t work out, we’ll drop you into Excelsior.” That is not how I manage my own career…. So Man City it was.”
The Rekik family settled in well. Dad Mo works at the club and helps new foreign players settle in. Mum Judith is a volunteer at the club while 10 year old Omar is said to be a huge talent in the Under -12 of Man City.
The Rekiks have a strong bond with the Ebecilios in London. “Kyle is my brother, but so are the lads in Rotterdam. If you would ask me what I’d miss about Holland, it is basically them.”
Karim is the leader of the pack. The skipper of all the teams too. “I have been captain from when I can remember. Don’t know why or how that came about. Probably my position in the field and my extraverted personality. But I have been collecting a lot of trophies and did a lot of speeches, haha.
He recently got a pro contract at Man City. He is there for another five years. Assistant manager David Platt told him the plan. “I will go to another club on loan now, for half a year and next season I will fight for a starting spot.” Rekik can’t stop talking about training with the big boys. “I thoroughly enjoy that. The ball caressing Silva, the power of Tevez, the focus of Kompany… I take it all in.”
Balotelli’s name conjures a smile on his face. “I liked him. He was a nice guy, a very nice guy. I think he has a good heart, but he can lose the plot a little, hehehe.”
Rekik has the future. He knows it. “Mancini told me recently he would have played me against Man United if Clichy would still have been sick. He has all the faith in me. I know the guys in Rotterdam are playing as starters now, and that is fab, but my time will come too. And once that happens, we will start winning trophies together again too, hahaha.”
Because the lads all end their dreaming with Oranje.
Vilhena: “To play World Cup in orange together, is my dream.”
Boetius: “It will happen.”
Kongolo: “Make Holland World Champ.”
Achahbar: “We did it once before, why not at senior level?”
Rekik: “The six of us in Oranje, I know it will happen.”
Ebecilio: “And then we will win gold, because we are used to winning.”