Kevin Strootman 22 MidfielderPSV Eindhoven
Kevin Strootman feels like a bit of a contradiction.
In a good way.
He is the very epitome of the modern midfielder yet also somewhat of a throwback. He can be brutal in the tackle, tenacious when closing down, yet so elegant on the ball it seems at odds with all of that rough stuff and water-carrying nonsense. Watching him it can feel like you’re witnessing some sort of divine lovechild created by God’s hand from the seed of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. And this is a good thing. A very good thing.
A central midfielder’s role is continually evolving in today’s football. Where once the ‘dream’ system was a mobile ball-winner, someone more creative, and that should do it for 99% of situations (the other 1% relied on the old faithful – bypass the midfield with a hoof), now within the movable feast of the tactical battle a midfielder has to be all things to all men, and Strootman manages this better than most.
On paper at least, he’s the deeper lying midfielder of a system most often for club or country. This is a role he does well, shielding the back-four when required and afraid of no one and no challenge, a fact somewhat backed up by his nine yellow and one red card in 43 appearances last season. In the fashion of the thoroughly modern midfielder however, where once this was the domain of the Claude Makelele - sideways passes, tough tackles, covering overlaps, niggling to those who anger easiest and leaving the rest up to more talented players - Strootman takes the idea of being the starting point of a team’s attack very literally.
When given the slightest encouragement to attack he is just as capable of carrying the ball over long distances and driving his team forward (witness a particularly dynamic performance against NEC last year for proof) as he is picking a pass over any distance you want (see his gorgeous through ball for Luciano Narsingh’s goal in September’s international against Turkey for details) or making up the ground needed to apply a finish as and when required (see his wonderfully deft goal against Finland or PSV’s opener against FC Groningen last season if you still won’t take us at our word). He does the simple things brilliantly, he does the difficult things in exactly the same fashion.
Internationally he is now forcing his way into the starting midfield, reputation enhanced by the fact he played not a minute of Holland’s disastrous Euro2012 where his main competition flattered to deceive and stuttered to an embarrassing standstill. This is a new and forced dawn for the national team, no longer ceding to names or reputation having been widely tipped to make the European Championships final and not even making it out of their group. Strootman is at the fore of their thinking, praised for his vision, passing and energy by those in charge and adaptable enough to easily cope with the international level’s changing demands.
He is also displaying huge maturity both on the pitch and in his attitude off it at a relatively tender footballing age - an attribute not always attached to Dutch midfielders and something that should stand him in good stead for future tournaments. The current crop of young talent emerging from the Netherlands is a frightening proposition, if last year’s 100 was the year that Germany showed their hand then 2012 is most definitely Holland’s turn. If players like Strootman can learn the togetherness and team ethic that previous squads have lacked, who knows what they could achieve.
Domestically, he has already taken a relatively big move to PSV in his stride. Moving from FC Utrecht for an estimated €7.5m at the age of 20, he took the tag of exciting prospect and ran with it, never showing any real sign of feeling burdened by a transfer fee or other people’s knowing assertions. Importantly you feel when watching him play he’s learning all the time. There has never really been much of a plateau or an obvious limit to his ability to speak of, just enough constant and pleasing progress to make the purist purr (try saying that after a few light ales).
He now shares a midfield berth at PSV with the bastion of class and decency that is Mark Van Bommel but before you panic about him picking up nasty habits, he is very much his own man and has eclipsed his more experienced (and often suspended) team mate so far this term. MVB’s defensive duty and aging legs have freed up Strootman’s attacking instincts even more and his manager Dick Advocaat, a man who has seen most things and is not prone to exaggeration, has been glowing in his praise. The progress is continual, the potential way beyond doubt, this is a midfielder who you will be hearing about for some time to come.
Predictably such talent comes with speculation surrounding all the usual suspects and as Manchester United look to solve the perennial ‘how do we replace Paul Scholes?’ question with an answer other than ‘Paul Scholes’, Strootman’s name has been repeatedly mentioned in all the newspapers you trust and most of those you don’t. Strootman has gone on record to speak about United’s interest with the usual “I’m flattered” response dictated to them by an agent, but he also stated he had no wish to leave until the summer unless the club decide it’s time for him to go in January.
United will more than likely wait, they’re usually quiet in the winter window but if the reports that chief scout Martin Ferguson has watched the midfielder in person twelve times already are true, expect a visit from Sir Alex himself to rubber stamp their first place in the queue and possibly an agreement struck before the season’s end.
If Strootman does come to the Premier League or even Germany, Spain or Italy where he’s wanted just as much as by those at Old Trafford, expect him to take it all in his stride. Champions League football is made for classy midfielders who can protect their own back four while also unlocking things the other end - he has all the tools to excel in this competition as well in time. He needs the step up in class from the Eredivisie now and he will get it, the best part of that is that we get to sit back and enjoy the show.
“Another Dutchman whose reputation was enhanced by not being involved in the Polkraine car crash, on the quiet, he's become the complete midfielder. Box-to-box, an eye for a shot, strong when needed - he's got the world at his feet.” – John Dobson (European Football Correspondent)
“Love him, love him, love him, mature beyond his years, on the right side of aggressive with a wonderful eye for a pass, I honestly think you have to talk in terms of him becoming one of the best midfielders in Europe for future progress.....did I mention that I loved him?”– David Hartrick(IBWM)
C+ Just keep on keeping on and pin down that international place