The view from the Netherlands

The unfashionable Van Wolfswinkel

December 13, 2011
By Ernst Bouwes
(Archive)

Although Robin van Persie is the current top goalscorer in the Premier League, another Dutch striker has recently grabbed the headlines ahead of a potential struggle between Manchester United and Chelsea for his signature. That man is Ricky van Wolfswinkel.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel
GettyImagesRicky van Wolfswinkel is looking forward to life at Norwich

According to England's tabloids, both United and Chelsea are scouting Van Wolfswinkel of Sporting Lisbon. In September, he was crowned as Portuguese Player of the Month and by the end of October he had scored 11 goals in the first 12 games for his new club. You might think such a prolific goal poacher with international allure must have his home nation in awe, especially with the European Championship coming up. Alas, no. Van Wolfswinkel is the latest in a series of Dutch strikers whose prowess in a foreign league is met with blank faces back home.

In August 2010, Van Wolfswinkel exploded on to the continental scene with a hat-trick against Celtic in the final qualifying round of the Europa League. That December he scored twice against then-Italian league leaders Napoli, and also netted two at the Amsterdam ArenA to beat Ajax with his club FC Utrecht. Scouts take notice when a striker scores in such high-profile matches. However, during the second half of the season, FC Utrecht stumbled down the table with Van Wolfswinkel often almost invisible on the pitch, and at times even on the bench.

He scored only four league goals after Christmas. While the sale of Dries Mertens and Kevin Strootman to PSV caused an outrage with FC Utrecht fans, the departure of Van Wolfswinkel was barely noticed. Sporting Lisbon signed him until 2016, inserting a release clause of €22 million into his contract. As an aside, it is worth noting the player is half-owned by 'Quality Football Ireland Ltd', which could provide a story some time in the future, and especially if he should head to England.

Van Wolfswinkel has so far won one cap with the Netherlands national team, when Bert van Marwijk selected a second string for a friendly against Ukraine only a month after the World Cup final. Since then, the striker has not been considered and his hopes of making it to Euro 2012 look neglible at best. Even in November, with Robin van Persie leaving the squad before the game against Germany and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar playing with a broken nose, Van Marwijk did not think of calling Van Wolfswinkel to help him out. And nor did any pundit ask why he wasn't considered.

Van Wolfswinkel is the quintessential lurker in the box, who can hide for 89 minutes, only to poke home the winner. He has no remorse in letting his team do the hard work. His style is not appreciated in the Eredivisie, in which a Dutch striker has to be either elegant (Marco Van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp), tough (Dick Nanninga) or be a foreigner. Of the last 15 Eredivisie top scorers, only Bergkamp, Van Nistelrooy, Van Hooijdonk, Dirk Kuyt and Huntelaar came from Dutch parentage.

In the 1970s, Ruud Geels stirred the emotions more as the image of a baldness cure in commercials or as the subject of bullying during the 1974 World Cup by some of his colleagues in the dining room, than as a five-time top scorer of the Eredivisie. His total of 123 goals in 132 matches at Ajax belongs to the forgotten second half of the 70s, despite being so prolific, and no-one has ever suggested that Geels was the missing link in the final defeat to West Germany in Munich. He was not even on the bench.

Roy Makaay
GettyImagesRoy Makaay made 43 appearances for Netherlands

Roy Makaay is another famous example. After 42 goals in 100 games, Vitesse sold him to CD Tenerife for €6 million in 1998. Ajax had millions to spend in those days after they were floated on the stock market, but they chose a player like Georgi Kinkladze, who went on to score no goals for €8 million. Makaay made his name as top scorer in the Champions League, the Bundesliga and the Primera Division, but could hardly keep his place in the Dutch squad.

None of the national coaches of that time saw more in Makaay then someone who could come off the bench to help out in difficult times. He hardly participated in the Dutch possession game and was eyed suspiciously by preferring goal-bound action over combination play. Makaay never fitted in. After his success at Bayern Munich he came to Feyenoord, scored a decent amount of goals, but was mainly remembered as the exponent of the Old Guard, who chased away coach Gert-Jan Verbeek when they had to train too hard.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink did not even reach the Eredivisie, nor did he come back to finish his career in the Netherlands. A Dutch pundit once commented on a Hasselbaink goal that he was lucky his goalscoring shot went through the legs of a defender. That this was a smart trick by the Premier League top scorer never entered the pundit's mind as he considered him a limited player.

In recent times, Guus Hiddink was famously unimpressed with the young Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who'd gone through the youth academy at PSV - letting him leave for Heerenveen. There are few other examples of failed PSV strikers, nor are there of successful ones. In Eindhoven, any foreign striker is better than anything that comes from their own Herdgang, it seems. The level of expectancy is just so high, a youngster does not stand a chance.

A Dutch striker also has to be a playmaker, a hard worker and preferably boast a good heading technique. If he is just toiling around the box, hiding between defenders and waiting until the ball comes his way to score, then he is considered a parasite, living on other players' work rate. There is no place for him in the Eredivisie. That international scouts can have completely different opinions does not change the nation's perspective. Ricky van Wolfswinkel can score all he wants in Portugal, or even in the Premier League, but don't expect Dutch kids to wear his name on an Oranje shirt anytime soon.