Luuk de Jong 23 StrikerBorussia Mönchengladbach
Dutch strikers - now there’s a pedigree worth mulling over for a moment or two.
If we stick only to relatively recent history we’ve had geniuses like Van Basten and Bergkamp, the more traditional ‘goal-machines’ like Van Nistelrooy and Makaay, those who fall somewhere between the two like a Kluivert or Van Persie, and balance dictates I also tell you we’ve had Pierre van Hooijdonk and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink (“give me a J…”).
But what of the current crop? Well, we know all about Huntelaar, RVP and exactly what Dirk Kuyt brings to the table, but there’s also the likes of Bas Dost, Jeremain Lens, Ola John and Luciano Narsingh all under the age of 25 and all in and around Louis van Gaal’s recent squads. Add to that list the name who has been fighting at the head of that queue, Luuk de Jong, scorer of over 30 goals in all competitions last season and now in Germany with the answer to a football quiz question asked far too many times - Borussia Mönchengladbach.
So, is he a genius, goal-machine, falling between the two, or Pierre van Hooijdonk? None of the above actually, he’s just a very good young striker.
Luuk de Jong is not only none of the above, he is also proving that he is very much his own man. Brilliant last season, this summer saw him linked with Dortmund, Lazio, Spurs, Hamburg, Liverpool and in particular Newcastle who desperately wanted him but at their price, not Twente’s. The player only had eyes for Germany however and Gladbach showed interest and received permission to talk to the striker first. Happy with their offer and keen to get things done quickly, De Jong then effectively forced the move through with his public criticism of the way Twente were conducting themselves in the negotiation, their over valuation of his transfer fee, and then calling out club chairman Joop Munsterman for going back on his word. Eventually a deal worth a reported €15m was struck, €5m short of Twente’s valuation and only agreed allegedly once the player himself had waived a cut worth over €2m structured in his original contract with the Dutch club.
His new team were in the process of a small rebuilding job this summer following a terrific fourth place finish, the wonderful Marco Reus along with midfielder Roman Neustädter and defender Dante all leaving the club for perceived bigger and better things. De Jong was the marquee signing in a summer of change but immediately spoke of his honour at representing the team and ticked several supporter’s boxes with his gushing praise for their history and prospects for the future.
Since then the road has become quite a bit rockier. We can say without fear of reprisal that the Bundesliga is quite a step up from the Eredivisie and De Jong has suffered accordingly. There will always be a need for patience and time to adjust, and there are certainly no panic buttons being pressed yet, but there does seem to be a huge difference in the way Gladbach want to play, and the way they can play to his strengths.
One of the things he initially spoke of swaying him to move to Germany was the chance of playing in the Champions League. Gladbach failed to beat Dynamo Kiev in the qualifying rounds, thanks in part to a young team sprinkled with new players struggling to gel, and the chance was gone. The Bundesliga campaign began and he looked a man full of effort but lacking craft, understandings with his team mates in short supply.
At the time of writing De Jong has 2 Bundesliga goals to his name in 7 appearances, 1 more in the Europa League, and sits injured having had surgery on a knee following a bad twist sustained against Marseille. Now this may not seem too bad on paper form wise, but it should also be noted that never afraid to talk to the press as we’ve learned, he has been moved to comment that he feels his overall game is poor, he doesn’t regret the move, the team aren’t creating enough and don’t possess the variety needed to win games, and that they aren’t playing his strengths in the same way Twente did. None of this has come in the manner of an agitated player bristling those around him, but one day this honesty may well not ender him to his team mates.
The injury was a real shame as he was just beginning to show signs of fitting in with those around him. De Jong is somewhat of a throwback in this scary modern world of striker-less systems and false 9s, 10s and any other number you want to throw into the mix. He is what we would class as a ‘pure’ striker, as happy curling one in from 25 yards as tapping one in on the line. He is capable of the YouTube – the overhead kick, the volley, anything you can set to awful techno music basically – but he also loves the poaching, a rare commodity in the evolution of the striker today. He is also fabulous in the air, something he has urged his team mates to exploit in a plea to get more crosses into the box.
Internationally De Jong has become a fixture in Dutch thinking when fit and contributed not a minute to their terrible Euro2012 campaign despite being in the squad. This lack of action enhanced his reputation as it did for all not involved, and with 7 caps to date and 1 goal, you feel his run is coming once time catches up with the more familiar names ahead of him. He will need to learn to adapt to the differing demands and systems of international football, but the experience of moving to Germany will naturally bleed into that and we think that in his case the future’s bright, the future’s Oranje (apologies).
All of this together makes for a very good player with time on his side to grow and as stated, no one is panicking yet and nor should they. A striker needs time to settle into a new league, particularly a young player not yet a 100 games into his career, but he will get the pace right and build the understandings he needs. He may not reach the ‘genius’ or ‘goal-machine’ levels of some of his compatriots but he may well become good enough to fall between the two, and we would suggest that’s not a bad place for any striker to be in the longer term.
“After rattling in 25 Eredvisie goals in his last season with Twente one might have expected de Jong, a striker as deft in the air as he is on the deck, to grab himself some Premier League riches. The way in which he dug in to get his move to Gladbach showed he is a player motivated by sheer ambition and despite a slow start in Germany (incorporating an unfortunate goal in the Champions League play-off v Dynamo Kiev), it looks as if he's gradually making himself at home in an attack-minded environment.”– Andy Brassell (UEFA, The Independent, BBC)
C- The C is for last season, the minus for this, no criticism yet but must continue to get to grip with his new circumstances
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