Most Oranje fans would want any competition to stop now to make sure players like Robben and Huntelaar and Nigel de Jong won’t get injured… With Strootman out and Van Persie on the brink of being out ( sources claim that his injury might take longer than 6 weeks) any more bad luck amongst the mainstays would mean disaster.
This is not how the young talents look at it. And we do have a couple. With Strootman out and with Van Gaal opting for the 4-3-3 he is working with (wingers, penetrative midfielders, attacking full backs) a number of youngsters are aware they might be playing the World Cup this summer (albeit short….).
Davy Klaassen can’t stop smiling. He’s 21 years old and asked to come and model the new Oranje away jersey with his peers Joel Veltman (Ajax) and JP Boetius (Feyenoord). Klaassen smiles when he is confronted with skipper Van Persie’s kind words about him. In the game vs Barcelona, young Klaassen had the wherewithal to keep Barca at bay in the dying minutes and play like a veteran.”I read what he said in the newspaper. You then realise that these guys are watching me play like I am watching them. It hit me suddenly and it felt great.” Van Persie said he had enjoyed watching Klaassen playing for time. “Well, I did get a lot of positive responses to that but that was probably mainly because it was against Barca.”
And with the mention of Barca, the discussion goes to the Real Madrid – Barcelona clash of last weekend. Klaassen: “Seeing that game did not give me any incentive to leave Ajax very soon. Man, that was such high level! I actually believe you should leave the Eredivisie at the moment where you feel you are at your top and you cannot grow anymore. Like how Sneijder and Ibrahimovic and Kuyt left.” Jean-Paul Boetius agrees. “Davy is right. And I think your gut feeling will tell you too. I have had my fair share of offers from abroad but I wanted to break into the first team of Feyenoord first. And make myself important for the team.”
Klaassen: “Playing CL or with Oranje is really a different level. It goes so much quicker. And I noticed that the energy drains away when you need to adjust to this. It’s massive. I think I can handle the level, but playing a World Cup is not the same thing. It’s at least three massive games in a short time span, maybe more. And then all the pressure. And playing top nations, right? There are no shabby teams there. And I have learned from the Barca game that if you have a plan and stick to it, it can work.” Boetius adds quickly: “Don’t forget one Lionel Messi didn’t play…’ Klaassen: “True. That is a big difference indeed.”
Klaassen knows the team manager is a fan and his call up for Oranje gives him the feeling that he might get lucky (with Strootman not fit). Boetius dreams of the World Cup too. “Mr Van Gaal has some options of course. Memphis Depay is a very good left winger. We played together in the youth Oranje teams. He as left winger, me on the right. I will do all I can these coming weeks and let’s hope it’s enough.
Klaassen will first party a bit with Ajax and the Eredivisie Shield. The fourth in a row. Has Boetius congratulated Klaassen already? The Feyenoord winger: “Listen, the Ajax of these past weeks is not the same Ajax as at the time of that Barca game. It feels like they’ll make it exciting again. And Feyenoord will want to finish as high as possible.” Klaassen: “Ah, yes, you’ll go for the second spot. Nice…”
But there is more. Stefano Denswil (20) made his debut for Ajax in November 2012 but is still not a regular starter for Ajax. The central defender is quite a complete defender, with his length, speed and athlethecism. But he is still young and too kind. “I need to become more of a killer. I have worked with Jaap Stam and Frank de Boer on my defensive skills. It’s hard to go from Ajax youth to the Ajax 1 team. The difference is huge. The resistance at Ajax 1 is much higher. You saw that how we won many games easily in Europe in the youth CL ( Ajax lost against Inter Milan in the finals but beat the likes of Barca and Liverpool with aplomb). I am not happy yet and I think the coach shows this with his choice of starters. It’s as simple as that. De Boer always says: as a defender, you can never let both the man and the ball go past. If the ball goes past, the man stays. That mentality I have to learn.”
Karim Rekik is the PSV central defender this season. Developed at Feyenoord and now under contract with Manchester City. “I had a good talk at the start of the season with Man City. They wanted me to stay and I would be able to play 5 to 10 games in the first team. Mainly League Cup and lesser important games. I needed more games, so I decided to go for a loan spell. I preferred Holland because of the open play, the focus on youth and the Dutch style. I only needed one conversation with Mr Cocu to know that PSV would be the right team. Their vision but also the fact that they signed Jeff Bruma, Adam Maher and had Wijnaldum and Jetro already…”
Denswil: “This is my 13th season at Ajax. I started when I was seven. I was slowly prepared to play in Ajax 1 but the change is big. As Ajax youth player, you can hardly do any wrong. You win most games and you are Ajax, you know? But the supporters can be harsh re: the Ajax first team. Winning 1-0 at home is not good enough. At least three goals, is what they want. And I know, I used to be on the stands when Ajax played, hahahaha. I was one of them….”
Rekik has trained with big names, like Kompany, Toure, Balotelli… Isn’t that a big step back, playing for PSV? “Well, at PSV I train under Phillip Cocu. Quite a legend too, I think. But sure, the practices at Man City were unreal. These guys you mention, Tevez, Silva, Aguero… It’s top top notch. And I had Mancini as coach. He was quite a good forward but he knew exactly how to defend as well. He taught me about Italian defending, hahaha. We played pretty intense defenive games. He would let us defend with a string between us. And if the ball was played to the left, the whole defensive 6 (4 defenders + 2 midfielders) were supposed to move as one. Keeping distance but not too much and not too little… Really tough. And these type of sessions we don’t do in Holland. But… in Holland I get to play and in Manchester it was mostly practice.”
Kyle Ebecilio has a Feyenoord background like Rekik and Boetius but moved to Arsenal when he was 16 years old. “I don’t really regret that step. It was amazing. I played with Alex Song, Van Persie, Fabregas, Sanga…. Every day a master class. The pace was so high, unbelievable. I realised this was to be my year. I felt it was time for me to become an Arsenal 1 player. But in the talent team they kept on playing me as a winger, or a wide player. And I’m not. I am midfielder, a real midfielder. That didn’t feel good. There was some interest, PSV, Anderlecht, Twente… I spoke with the clubs but the talk with Alfred Schreuder of Twente was just amazing. He knew everything about me and told me what he wanted to do with me. I was sold from the get go.”
Is the level in Holland much lower than abroad? Ebecilio: “Well yes. It is….it is slower. Not lower. I believe it seems a bit less good because clubs go for youth now. You see many youthful squads and they can be a tad naive still .”
Karim Rekik: “I think the pace is a bit slower but I also believe our current generation talents is really good. We can easily tag along because of our development. Also, in Holland the coaches expect you to take responsibility and show leadership. I think it helps your confidence if you are made important and it probably looks like we are playing with more experience then we actually have, hahaha.”
Tonny Vilhena, the Feyenoord midfielder (18 years young) chips in: “I think we play a little bit too naive compared to the more seasoned players. I played against Van Bommel last year. The trainer told me I could make him crazy by constantly running away from him. Make him work. His legs being a bit older than mine. But he is so smart. He would constantly move in such a way that I would bump into him and he would get a free kick. He would pace the game down, play the referee and get me out of my balance. And I remember thinking “man that guy is so smart….” You can learn from opponents in the field as well. But the number of Van Bommel’s in the Dutch eredivisie is decreasing of course….”
Vilhena can look back on a Superb Year. “I am not complaining. I am still only 18 years old and I do feel like a regular for Feyenoord now. That gives me some rest in my head. I have played 50 Eredivisie games already, I was at the EC with the Young Oranje and played Spain in Israel and I have made my debut for the big Oranje. I am quite happy.”
Kyle Ebecilio feels like his peak is yet to come. “I got a lot of confidence from the coaches but I didn’t start too well. Too much loose balls, too much little mistakes. I need to simply sacrifice myself for the team and work like a beast. That is my game. I seem to be important for Twente now, but I am also aware that this is because of Wout Brama’s injury. Wout is returning now, so who knows what the coaches will do.”
Vilhena remembers the moment well, when Ebecilio told his mates he’d move to Arsenal. “We lost Karim and Kyle. Karim went to Man City. Kyle to Arsenal and Nathan went later to Chelsea. JP and myself had the opportunity too but we both decided to break here. Somehow it feels better for me to play a number of years in Feyenoord 1. I am a Feyenoord lad and they put all their energy in my development. I am happy here, so I decided this. Karim and Kyle did their thing and that worked out well. There is not one way to reach the top.”
How do you deal with the expectations at the highest level? Rekik: “The expectations were always there, also at Feyenoord and Man City. But not comparable to playing in a first team. We had a bad series before Xmas and the fans really suffered. I believe it is your task, your responsibility as a player to deal with that. The external pressure was enormous. After our loss against Feyenoord our bus was attacked. I needed to get out and talk to them. I wanted to know what they thought and what they needed to get off their chest… I think my bond with the supporters got stronger there….”
And do you dream of the World Cup? Rekik: “If I have to be honest, I would be disappointed if I wouldn’t be part of it. I think I can handle it.I was invited earlier by Mr Van Gaal and had to say no due to injury. I think he will keep on checking me out and I believe I can deliver. So I will focus on that.” Vilhena: “Of course. If you have played for Oranje once, you do know you are close and you want to be part of it. But, I am young still. And there are many great Dutch midfielders, so….”. Ebecilio: “I want to be part of it, but I have quite some competition on my spot. I think I better focus on the Olympics….”. Denswil: “Van Gaal once said he wanted to select me but didn’t because Young Oranje needed me for a key game. That gives me confidence. That was a strong signal. I know need to show Van Gaal that he needs to pick me, but I’m not the only candidate, I know.”
Jean Paul Boetius