Injury deprives van der Wiel of deserved Dutch recall

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty ImagesGregory van der Wiel played a key role in PSG's win over Marseille at the weekend, but a nagging knock will prevent him from earning another Dutch cap.

While the plaudits for Paris Saint-Germain’s impressive start to life under Laurent Blanc will deservedly go to Le President himself and his cherished three-man midfield, there are a few heroes in the defending champions’ side who are going unsung at present.

One of those PSG stars not necessarily getting the credit he deserves for some excellent performances so far this season is Dutch right back Gregory van der Wiel. The 25-year-old moved to the French capital at the end of the 2012 summer transfer window for six million euros, but endured a frustrating first season in France.

Despite reportedly coming close to leaving the Ligue 1 champions this summer, the Netherlands international chose to stay and establish himself in Blanc’s first-team plans. Now he is becoming an increasingly important member of the starting XI.

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Van der Wiel’s impressive progress at the Parc des Princes this term looked set to be rewarded with a thoroughly deserved recall to the Dutch national side after more than a year’s absence. Oranje coach Louis van Gaal selected the former Ajax man for the remaining World Cup 2014 qualifiers against Hungary and Turkey, with the team already qualified for next year’s tournament in Brazil.

Unfortunately for van der Wiel, a scan after PSG's 2-1 win over bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille in Le Classique revealed a problem with the chronic tendinitis he has in his right knee. The injury has forced him to pull out of the squad, meaning that the wait to add to his last international cap, against Portugal during The Netherlands' ill-fated 2012 European Championship campaign, continues.

Van Gaal’s rationale behind calling van der Wiel up again was simple and demonstrates exactly how far he has come under Blanc at PSG so far this season.

"Van der Wiel has played five matches in a row for the first time since I became the head coach last year," Van Gaal explained during his press conference to announce the Hungary and Turkey squad in Zeist.

"He plays at a high level in the Champions League, so it is logical that I picked him."

The Netherlands have already secured their place at next summer’s World Cup, but the talented right back has not played a part in their qualifying campaign. Van der Wiel struggled last term to overhaul former first-choice right back and one-time captain Christophe Jallet, even starting this season behind the Frenchman.

Spending so much time out of the first team took its toll on the Dutchman, wrecking his hopes of regaining his place with the national team as van Gaal sifted through the wreckage of Euro 2012.

It also pushed him close to the exit this summer when it looked as if Blanc was also not keen on a player who fell foul of Carlo Ancelotti, and Inter Milan were reported to be the most interested suitors.

“This summer he was very close to signing for Inter,” confirmed agent Mino Raiola to France Football recently.

“But we decided to stay in Paris and the club didn’t want to let him leave. When Gregory leaves PSG he will do so as a winner and not a loser.”

Despite starting the campaign on the bench, van der Wiel’s chance to impress came against FC Nantes in week 3 after a string of suspect showings from Jallet. Following an energetic performance, the Dutchman has become Blanc’s first-choice right back and has made six league starts so far.

As well as providing more balance in defence with his ability to get up and down the right flank more regularly than Jallet, assists have also become a part of his game too. Van der Wiel played roles in the build-up to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s strike at home to Guingamp in Ligue 1, the Swede’s opener against Benfica in the Champions League and Maxwell’s equaliser at Marseille on Sunday.

Last season, he had 17 starts in 22 domestic appearances, scoring in a 4-0 win at Toulouse, but rarely contributed going forward otherwise. In fact, he provided one solitary assist all season, that for Blaise Matuidi’s goal in a 1-0 win at Troyes.

Now, under Blanc, he is thriving and looking more like the player who earned rave reviews while at Ajax. For Raiola, that comes as no surprise.

“I’ve always been honest and I was honest when I said that van der Wiel is one of the best full backs in the world,” the Italian-born naturalised Dutchman told France Football.

“Some people said I was crazy; where are they now? With Gregory it was always just a question of time. Credit goes to Laurent Blanc, because today van der Wiel is a regular in PSG’s starting XI.”

Van der Wiel is not the only client of Raiola’s benefiting from Blanc’s new formation that requires attack-minded full-backs to contribute more going forward. Maxwell is now prospering for Brazil at the ripe age of 32 thanks to excellent early season form and recognition of his consistent performances since joining PSG in 2012.

Although van der Wiel’s recent recall was nothing short of deserved, perhaps it will strengthen his desire to maintain his current rich vein of form instead of becoming complacent. It has taken the Dutchman this long to fight his way to the top of the pile in the French capital -- now it is up to him to show that he is worthy of staying there.

If van der Wiel’s current high standards remain, he will be a shoe-in for a place on the plane to Brazil with van Gaal’s Netherlands side next year.


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