The Erik Pieters guide to smashing your career

Posted by Michael Yokhin

It will probably be wise to bookmark this article, as you might want to re-read it when things get tough at work and the temporary feeling is that your career is stuck. Remembering the misfortunes of Erik Pieters will put your troubles in perspective. His season was nothing short of unbelievable, despite its brevity.

Just look at the facts. Until now, Pieters was on the field for only 84 minutes for PSV Eindhoven. In those rare moments, he managed to be responsible for two home defeats that are proving to be extremely costly in the title race, which is virtually over for Dick Advocaat’s team. He also injured himself in the most bizarre way possible. While not even completing a single game, Pieters made more negative headlines during the season than all of his team-mates combined. That is some record.

Don’t make a mistake - we are talking about a very talented player, whose future looked bright not a long time ago. Pieters was an integral part of the Dutch U-21 national team that swept all before them on the way to the title when hosting the European Championship in 2007. A year later, the promising left-back left his home club Utrecht for PSV, making a huge step up. Another year passed, and he was already a certain starter for the perennial title challengers, making progress on monthly basis.

When Giovanni van Bronckhorst called it a day at the end of 2010 World Cup, it was little surprise that national coach Bert van Marwijk singled Pieters as his successor. The new boy slotted in seamlessly, and his place at Euro 2012 was never in doubt. As Holland were considered one of the favourites to lift the trophy, you can imagine Pieters was dreaming of glorious times ahead of him. He deserved them, but then disaster struck.

It all started in October 2011, when the left-back injured his foot when playing against Utrecht, of all teams. It took Pieters four months to recover, but after coming back he broke the same foot again in April. Van Marwijk waited patiently, and even included him in the preliminary roster for the Euros, but it was not to be. Jetro Willems, an 18-year-old wunderkind who replaced him ably at PSV, took his slot in Ukraine in the summer.

Eventually, the injury took much longer time to heal than expected. Pieters missed all the remainder of 2012, and was only fit to return in January. After the winter break in Eredivisie, he was finally ready to start again, and the timing was seemingly perfect. PSV were leading the table after 18 weeks of play, having scored 60 goals in the process, and hosted lowly tiny Zwolle at the restart. What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot, actually.

Pieters’ comeback quickly turned into a nightmare. He was having a dreadful evening, his teammates weren’t brilliant either, and sensationally Zwolle scored twice early in the second half to take a 3-1 lead. That was the moment when Erik totally lost the plot. After 67 minutes, he committed a late foul from behind on Fred Benson, and was rightfully sent off. The frustration was huge, and Pieters kicked the wall on his way to the dressing room. Then there was the sound of broken glass, evidently heard even live on TV. That was Pieters taking his rage out on a window that was shattered to pieces.

While that kind of behaviour was incredible, the punishment was probably too severe. Pieters’ blood was everywhere. He damaged numerous tendons in his arm, and had to be urgently hospitalized. After surgery was performed, the club announced on its website that the timetable of Erik’s recovery is unclear. The 24-year-old has literally smashed his own season.

In the meantime, without him, PSV succumbed to Zwolle, and thus lost their place at the top of the table, never to return there. Until that point, Advocaat’s team were the favourites to regain the title. Since then, they were always the underdog.

In a special press conference called by PSV, the international defender apologized from the bottom of his heart: “I have let myself down. It gradually dawned on me how badly I had behaved. I can still hardly believe it. My behaviour was not only out of character but totally unacceptable. I wish to apologise sincerely and unreservedly to PSV, the fans, my friends, my family, actually to everybody.”

The federation suspended him for four games, but that was quite unnecessary anyway. It took the wound three long months to heal. Finally, a week ago, Pieters was ready for his second comeback. This time it was ahead of a crucial game against Ajax, the last chance to return to the top of the table. Before the game, PSV trailed the champions, but had a much superior goal difference. That meant that a win enabled them to leapfrog the opponents, while a defeat spelled the end of PSV’s title challenge. The whole season was at stake.

It turned out a tremendous pulsating game, as always in Holland. Ajax took the lead twice, Jeremain Lens equalised twice, and it was all to play for with 17 minutes remaining. That was the time when Advocaat decided to send Pieters to the battle, replacing tiring Willems. The idea was to add some experience to the rearguard, as PSV had to send men forward in search of the all-important winner.

Just four minutes later, the veteran coach couldn’t believe his eyes. A long aimless ball was sent by Ajax to the PSV half of the pitch. There was no danger whatsoever, as Pieters comfortably controlled it. However, goalkeeper Boy Waterman decided to come out of his box to protect him. For some reason, the defender left the ball to the keeper, while the keeper definitely couldn’t reach it and waited for Pieters to take action.

Derk Boerrigter sensed opportunity. He raced forward, shook off the clumsy Pieters, and calmly slotted the ball into the empty net. That was the priceless winner. The poor left-back was left speechless for a fracture of a second, then shouted at the unlucky Waterman, who blamed him back. That conversation was obviously irrelevant. The mistake was already made. There was no window to break this time, but PSV were crashed again by the man making his return.

So, there you have it. 84 minutes of play, two fateful defeats, one red card, one broken glass, a few cut tendons and a lot of tears, blood and frustration. That’s the summary of Erik Pieters’ season, and if it doesn’t sound bad enough, then you should take into account that his chances of playing for Holland under Louis van Gaal are extremely low, as Daley Blind and Bruno Martins Indi made the places on the left flank their own.

One can hope that Pieters will be strong enough mentally to recover from those blows. He is young enough to turn the page over, even though being linked to Stoke City won’t do him any good these days. But even if he makes it and becomes the best left-back in Holland once again, his contribution this season will remain in history as the worst possible scenario imaginable. Compared to this, even Jonathan Woodgate’s debut at Real Madrid looks a huge success. After all, los Blancos won that game.

ESPN Conversations