A lot of great things in the world are born out of necessity. In the golden 1970s, Feyenoord was one of the more wealthy clubs in the world. A massive stadium, one of the most intriguing coaches ever ( Ernst Happel) and a sensational team with the likes of Israel, Kindvall, Van Hanegem and Wim Jansen. And a nice and shiney European Cup.
But the money went and not only in Rotterdam…. The Dutch football culture has been eroded and only Ajax has been able to keep the Dutch flame alive with their tremendous youth academy over the last decades.
Feyenoord may have won the UEFA Cup in 2002, but that was quite an anomaly and done with players brought in by Bert van Marwijk from other clubs, such as NEC’s Kees van Wonderen, Go Ahead Eagles’ Bosvelt, NAC’s Pierre van Hooijdonk and Japanese wunderkind Shinji Ono. The only local talent in that team was Robin van Persie and he made it hard for Van Marwijk to commit him to the club.
But the dramatic financial results of the last ten years has forced Feyenoord to do the only thing possible: focus on their own talent development.
The biggest asset Feyenoord has (and has had) in this field was lured back into the club: Wim Jansen. The old fox got his son-in-law Stanley Brard, former Feyenoord defender (and notoriously left winger when Johan Cruyff was with the club) to lead the Feyenoord academy and the rest is history. Players like Leroy Fer, Jonathan de Guzman, Georginho Wijnaldum, Jerson Cabral, Jordy Clasie, Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Luc Castaignos came through and in some way or format have created value for the Stadium club.
And the Feyenoord fans have shown their appreciation. By filling up the stadium in every home game. While the scouts of big clubs from England, Italy, Germany and Italy find ways to buy tickets to De Kuip as well.
With Ronald Koeman at the helm for yet another season and youngsters Boetius and Vilhena recently signed new long-term contracts as well. The next targets for technical director Martin van Geel are Stefan de Vrij ( desired by Chelsea) and Graziano Pelle (desired by most women in Holland).
Stanley Brard is being chased by international clubs as well. Not so much to make a jump to these clubs but to explain how he does it. Martins Indi is a typical example of a player who benefited most from Brard’s approach.
Until his 17th, the strong defender was never seen as a great talent. But Brard recognised – with his team of youth coaches – that the tall Martins Indi has the basic requirements for a defender: mental strength, focus, heading skills and speed. By working with him on an individual basis, Martins Indi’s vision and technical skills improved sensationally,
That Martins Indi is now symbol for the new Feyenoord. Talented, hard working and definitely a lad who is ready to move even higher up. The Feyenoord fans adore him and the interaction between him (and the other players) and the Legion is tremendous. Louis van Gaal has discovered the youngster and with two goals to his name in Oranje, most international top teams have his name on the list as well.
Feyenoord expects to be able to sell some of their best players every season, and sees this as a way to make the club financially healthy. And Stanley Brard is convinced that if Feyenoord can limit those transfers to two per summer, the academy should be able to keep up. Brard also gets lots of offers from foreign clubs for consultancy, as they would love to adopt the development philosophy. One of the key elements for Feyenoord, being awarded as the best youth academy of the nation for three years in a row, is the use of ex players, such as Roy Makaay, Gaston Taument, Joop Hiele, Wim Jansen and Michel Valke.
“We can expect financial injections into the club based on our education. Clubs want to buy our know-how and we will export youth coaches to China or Columbia, to set up youth academies there.”
Roy Makaay is working hard on delivering strikers. The former phantom supported super striker John Guidetti last season and is now thrilled to support new phenomenon Graziano Pelle. One player he has a weak spot for is Anass Achahbar, the 18 year old stocky center striker of the Feyenoord C-youth.
“Anass told me Feyenoord shouldn’t sign Pelle,” laughs Makaay. “He said: you have me! But Achahbar, strong on the ball and handy in the use of his body, is too young to carry all that pressure on his shoulders. He will have to wait.”
The young talent gets his minutes in Feyenoord 1 and scored a thrilling goal late in the Sparta Prague European cup game. With a typical backheel. “These goals, you basically score instinctive.”
Achahbar burns with ambition. His age is nothing to him. “My benchmark is very high. I want to reach the absolute top. I have always wanted to play, every day. I am not happy with my current role. I want to play as much as possible. I want to hear my name chanted, I want to be important for the club.”
Feyenoord copped some criticism from the likes of Willem van Hanegem when a number of “could-be” players were signed from mid-tier clubs. Vormer, Goossen, Singh, Immers, Janmaat, Verhoek… With the risk that talented youth players would – again – be put on hold, development-wise.
But talent will always emerge and it’s Ronald Koeman who has chosen to play youngster Boetius and Vilhena over more established names like Verhoek and Vormer, while Janmaat and Immers have proven real assets to the team.
The player who dominates the spotlight in Rotterdam now, is – again – the center striker. This time, it’s Graziano Pelle. On loan from Parma. The lanky, elegant Italian was scouted years ago by Louis van Gaal for AZ, when Van Gaal saw the striker excel for Young Italy. But Pelle was never a success for AZ and hardly found the net in 3 years with the Alkmaar club.
Also in his homeland, Pelle never made it as a prolific striker.
Ronald Koeman took a gamble on the fan favorite. “I worked briefly with him at AZ and despite his lack of goal scoring, you could see he was very skilful. If I needed to chance a last minute deal with a striker on loan, I preferred him as I know his personality and he knows me and he knows Dutch football. I knew that with the right team around him, and wingers to service him, he would score 10 to 15 goals in the season.”
Pelle already scored 10 in the Eredivisie.
Koeman thinks it’s too early to talk title, but it’s clear that with Twente, PSV and Ajax not in best form, Feyenoord could wriggle itself between the contenders.