Dutch football has history when it comes to producing highly talented youth players. We all know about the Ajax academy but how does Feyenoord's compare? As it turns out, pretty well.
In a nation full of great youth academies there is a reason that Feyenoord FC comes out trumps. With Ajax Academy being the innovator in the development of youth for so long, Netherlands is now full of sides that produce world class talent on a regular basis. This has created some healthy competition between the Eredivisie’s top clubs and Ajax has gone so far as to bring Johan Cruyff on board to bring their academy back to the pinnacle of the country, if not the sport.
Feyenoord Academy or Varkenoord as it is called more often is the result of a partnership between Rotterdam clubs Feyenoord and Excelsior. Yes, Varkenoord sounds more like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings than a football academy; however this merger is a very recent project with the two club’s youth academies uniting last summer and has instantly brought success. The academy maintained Feyenoord’s name and structure, but integrated Excelsior’s youth players and staff into the program. In 2010 Varkenoord was named the Eredivisie’s top academy, winning the Rinus Michels Award ahead of Ajax and rivals Sparta Rotterdam. The academy has recently been nominated for the award again, but the establishment has been producing world class talent for years now.
If you look at some of the high profile names who have come through Feyenoord Football Club you can see a who’s who of European stars to rival any of football’s biggest sides. Salomon Kalou (Chelsea), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), and Royston Drenthe (Real Madrid/Hercules) have graced De Kuip’s faithful with their skills and the next generation of players look even better.
Looking at Netherland’s U-17 squad which is unbeaten in ten matches including their qualification games for the U-17 World Cup in Mexico, you will see a number of players that have been developed at Varkenoord already starring for their country. Current Arsenal prospect Kyle Ebecilio was signed from Feyenoord by the Gunners in the summer of 2010 and is considered a top prospect for the London club. The powerful central midfielder controls the center of the field with great passes and physical play. On Thursday it was Ebecilio’s goal that saw Netherland’s U-17 squad beat the holders England to the final of the European Under-17 Championship. The Netherlands side that eliminated the past champions had five current Feyenoord prospects on the pitch in addition to Kyle Ebecilio and Nathan Ake who are former players but have been transferred abroad.
Inevitably, many of Feyenoord’s youngsters, like Ebecilio, get snatched up by top European clubs looking for the next wonder-kid. This is something that Eredivisie teams got used to long ago with a seemingly endless string of talent being exported from the Netherlands every year. Feyenoord have lost three very bright prospects in the last few years; Kyle Ebecilio to Arsenal and both Nathan Ake and Jeffrey Bruma to Chelsea. But new players are popping up on the radars of scouts all the time and just in the past few months, sixteen year old Rotterdam starlet Karim Rekik has been courted by mega-rich club Manchester City in prospective deal that has Feyenoord’s management enraged.
Rekik is a 16-year old centerback is considered maybe the Netherland’s brightest prospect. His partnership in the center of defense with Feyenoord academy teammate Terence Kongolo has seen the Netherland’s U-17 side maintain six consecutive clean sheets and only concede 4 goals in 15 games this season. Unfortunately Rekik was not under contract to Feyenoord and this leaves the door open for clubs like Manchester City to swoop in and grab one of the top defensive prospects in the world at the moment. Feyenoord Rotterdam’s manager, Eric Gudde made a valid point when talking about losing yet another player to the wiles of English football and the almighty £.
"This is unfortunate for Feyenoord and the supporters but in most cases these moves do not work out, especially for the boy himself. When they go abroad they are just 16 and it all seems great but if you look at the statistics the majority end in huge disappointment for the player. He can get a big foreign club but he never gets in the first-team and is then released and returns, several years later to the Netherlands.
Even players who leave Holland when they've built a career here and even played for Oranje sometimes have it difficult abroad. Babel, Rigter, Drenthe, Maduro, De Ridder, Musampa, Stam - we all know the examples. It's hard and it's not just about being a good player. These lads are so young, though and the stats are clear - most of these adventures fail. Most of these kids are badly developed and then they're out on loan and then they come back here, and actually have lost progress.
The fact that Holland develops better than England should be a reason for the English clubs to leave them here too. I can imagine deals between Dutch and English clubs on a development level, but signing 15-year-old is simply stupid. For all involved."
The deal isn’t completed yet because Feyenoord are planning to have the Dutch FA to probe the case but it won’t be the first or the last time that a Dutch side loses a young star to the bigger European clubs and leagues. Another player to watch is 18 year old striker Luc Castaignos who is finishing the Eredivisie season with Feyenoord before moving to Internazionale after completing a deal earlier this season. The youngster is the Netherland’s all-time top goalscorer at the U-17 level and has been likened to Thierry Henry. He has an outstanding goalscoring record with the national team with 22 goals in 31 appearances with the Netherlands’ U-17/19 teams and it seems Inter Milan have a promising young prodigy on their hands for next season.
The sheer volume of top talent that is currently coming out of Varkenoord rivals the very best youth academies in the world. It is a shame that these clubs cannot keep their top players but it is clear that this focus on young, home-grown talent will be very positive for the Dutch national team in the future. You can already see the amazing effects of a successful youth system in the current Dutch squad, it was not mere chance that they made it to the Finals of the 2010 World Cup, youth development made that possible.