PSV qualified to the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time since the 2006/07 season. The years in between have been steeped in change and adaptation as PSV qualify in much better shape as a club than when they last qualified. PSV's success on the pitch papered over boardroom squabbles that created tension that would eventually force the club to new lows. The volatility in the boardroom, constant change on the technical bench and depleting finances forced PSV into a precarious position.
If you talk characters at PSV, one would be forced to start with the infamous Vlado Lemic. A superagent by trade with extensive and constantly growing contacts across the globe which PSV profited from. He had been brokering small deals from 1999 but after the transfer and subsequent success of Majeta Kezman in 2000, the PSV board began to take note of him. His connections in South America allowed him access to a wide range of talents who would use PSV as a stepping stone to finer things.
He also enjoyed a good relationship with Technical Manager Stan Valckx as he became PSV's in-house broker and de facto recruitment adviser. Lemic enjoyed covert power as nearly half of the squad were clients of his while he still had the freedom to make larger strides in the football industry, like Royston Drenthe's move from Feyenoord to Real Madrid for instance.However, this honeymoon period came to a halt when Jan Reker was hired as CEO in 2007 which would activate an internal power struggle that would leave mountains of collateral damage. Reker was the embodiment of the board's problems with Lemic as the two would engage in a competition of power plays which would ultimately derail the club's fortunes.
Heurelho Gomes, a client and powerful ally of Lemic would launch a scathing attack on Reker in an interview with Voetbal International. Gomes would leave for Tottenham in the summer while PSV sought to clear out Lemic' clients and sever ties with the agent. Reker would only last until 2010 due to choosing not to extend his contract due to 'personal reasons' as PSV would look for a change in direction.
PSV would hire Marcel Brands who had been working as a Director Of Football at AZ Alkmaar since 2005 and had an amazing reputation of earning millions at RKC Waalwijk and AZ Alkmaar as the teams performed above expectations while 'jumping through hoops' in the transfer market as a Dutch media outlet put it. Brands was tasked with tweaking a faulty transfer strategy, restoring faith in an underperforming academy while extending PSV's already far-reaching scouting network and finding some stability on the technical bench.
This would also represent consecutive years that PSV had been without Champions League football, only to the detriment of their balance sheet as their revenue had plummeted from 85 million euros to 50 million euros as the club were forced to lease the land under the Phillips Stadion and De Herdgang training base to the Eindhoven municipal council. They also attempted to increase revenue from sponsorship deals by adding extra sponsors and being able to negotiate a larger deal with Phillips according to information obtained from the Swiss Ramble website.
Brands had to begin waving his magic wand in the transfer market as PSV had only managed to obtain a feeble 3 million euros for Ibrahim Afellay for his move to Barcelona in January 2011. PSV had lost a star midfielder and at that time a novelty as Afellay was one of a few embarrasingly meagre number of players to come through the PSV academy. Brands signed Kevin Strootman and Dries Mertens from Utrecht and Georginio Wijnaldum from Feyenoord, for a combined fee of 18 million euros. This transfer window would also see the deadline-day signing of young fullback Jetro Willems from Sparta Rotterdam.
That season PSV would finish in third 7 points behind Ajax, who would go on to monopolize the Eredivisie from that season on, and one point behind Feyenoord as manager Fred Rutten would be sacked by March. Former player Phillip Cocu would take over in an interim role with his only experience in assisting Bert Van Marwijk during the 2010 World Cup campaign and coaching the Jong PSV side.
While re-working their academy setup, PSV discovered the competitive side of developing youth as Dutch clubs did not just sell star players in the first team but also precocious talents in the academy. According to the Eindhoven Dagblad's Rik Elfrink, Brands had outlined the three talents he rated highly in the academy asAndreas Pereira, Riechedly Bazoer and Zakkaria Bakkali. Pereira left for Manchester United in 2011, Bazoer would leave for bitter rivals Ajax in late 2012 and Bakkali's situation would get very complex, very fast further in the future.
PSV would continue to work the Dutch market allowing a high earner like Andreas Isaksson to depart for Turkey and replacing him with Polish shot stopper Przemysław Tytoń from Roda JC while assist machine Luciano Narsingh joined from Heerenveen and Mark Van Bommel returned for one last hurrah. These players would all work under new manager Dick Advocaat as Marcel Brands was already coming under increased scrutiny from fans and media alike for spending millions in the transfer market but failing to translate that into any type of stability or success on the pitch.
PSV would finish second behind bitter rivals Ajax. The PSV CEO Tiny Sanders ruled that Brands was an 'invaluable' part of PSV's setup and ruled that he would like the technical director to stay for six years at least. PSV supporters had a right to be worried and frustrated as PSV had failed to win the Eredivisie with another new manager and spent millions in the transfer window without the revenue brought from Champions League football. Regardless, Brands begun making shrewd additions behind the scenes as he hired Art Langeler as the Head of the Youth academy in an effort to create a flow of players from the academy to the first team and transition PSV from a buying club to a 'training' club.
Langeler had been a coach at amateur level before he joined the PEC Zwolle backroom staff in 2008, only to be promoted to the role of Head of the Academy and first team coach two years later. Langeler had made his name in his ability to recruit cast-offs who had trickled out of European's football's tough youth system and playing a brand of pass and move football that captivated fans with a tremendous cup-run as he steered the team into the Eredivisie.That season would also see PSV hire a new coach, this time it would be club legend Phillip Cocu who would be the club's youngest head coach since Thijs Libregts.
The summer also saw significant change in the playing staff as the standout players of the previous years were sold and replaced with much younger models. Soon Cocu faced the most difficult time of his managerial career to date as his team went seven games without a win in between October and December which culminated in a 6-2 thrashing to Vitesse. Nevertheless, Tiny Sanders and Marcel Brands continued to back Cocu as they felt he was an invaluable part of the long term vision of the club and they looked to add an experienced mind to the technical bench instead. In February, the Boeren announced the appointment of Guus Hiddink to assist the coaching staff with tactical ideas and training techniques.
Another test of the club's resolve arose when precocious talent Zakkaria Bakkali who was on the shortlist of Europe's finest was stalling on signing a new contract with his current deal running out the next year. Brands had known that PSV didn't have the luxury of keeping their best players so he formed a system of tying players down to new contracts in order to be in a dominant position in negotiations and be able to command a higher revenue from sales. By the end of the season, Bakkali would effectively be dropped from the first team and not included for the next season with Langeler saying his time at PSV was over because of his representatives rather than the player himself. PSV would finish the season in fourth place after injuries to Wijnaldum and Willems in the later stage of the season would prove costly.
Wijnaldum whose contract was running out in 2015 signed an extension till 2018 amidst interest from top European sides while Depay followed suit as both returned from the World Cup bursting with confidence.
The transfer window would highlight a unique characteristic that Brands holds as Technical director. PSV had lost main striker Tim Matavz to Augsburg and needed a replacement, so the club went with Luuk De Jong who returned to the Eredivisie after uninspiring spells with Borussia Monchengladbach and Newcastle United. Stijn Schaars and Oscar Hiljemark would be out for the opening stages of the Eredivisie season leaving PSV short in midfield so Brands signed Andres Guardado who needed a change of scenery after disappointing stints at Valencia and Bayer Leverkusen. In the midst of modern day football's obsession with statistics and 'moneyball' techniques, Brands invests in old-fashioned character and talent with the belief that his investment will come good. Karim Rekik and Nicolas Ismait-Mirin would also join on loan from Manchester City and Monaco, respectively.
The league was won in emphatic style as PSV finished 17 points ahead of second placed Ajax as youth product Memphis Depay finished with 22 goals and De Jong with 19 in one of the youngest teams ever to win the Eredivisie. At that time, the paper's were being printed for Memphis' blockbuster move to Manchester United as captain Georginio Wijnaldum would sign for Newcastle United.
Davy Propper was brought in to replace Wijnaldum in midfield. PSV had a rough diamond in Steven Bergwijn to replace Depay in the long-term but they noticed he was too young to be thrust into the limelight of a permanent first team place so Belgian talent Maxime Lestienne was brought in on loan from Al-Arabi after a poor loan spell at Genoa. Simon Poulsen and Hector Moreno who Brands knew well from his time at AZ Alkmaar were brought in to fill the shoes of an injured Willems and Rekik, who had chosen to move to Marseille. Gaston Pereiro, the gifted Uruguayan forward was also brought in as a future star who could add something into the current team while Andres Guardado and Ismait-Mirin made their loans permanent.
Their assets are tied down as Jorrit Hendrix, Jeffrey Bruma, Joshua Brenet, Jeroen Zoet and Phillip Cocu have all signed new contracts while the club has secured the future of youngsters such as Bergwijn, Suently Alberto, Kenneth Paal and Jordy De Wijs. PSV have harnessed their penchant for unearthing talent into a longer term and more sustainable project as the club are currently heavily invested in an obsession of scouting and recruiting talent for their academy.
As for the financial side of things, PSV are in a year of growth as they are in the first year of a new kit deal with Umbro, player sales in the last quarter were lucrative and General Manager Toon Gerbrands is currently tending to offers on a new shirt sponsorship deal as their deal with Phillips (who still own the naming rights to the stadium) will come to an end. PSV recently announced that they are placed in Category 3 of the KNVB financial scheme which is reserved for the healthiest Dutch clubs as after years of financial hardship, PSV are back among the titans of European football and are ready to maintain their place.
A new contract is reportedly in the works for Brands who has been responsible for the club during the harsher times and should deserve to be responsible for the much happier times ahead. PSV used the chaos of failure as the catalyst for change and are now on a buoyant path to better times as the rest of Europe should sit up and take notice. Brands' has fostered an atmosphere that is in line with the club's motto, Eendracht Maakt Maacht which translates into 'unity is strength' and PSV are definitely unified.