Sense and sensibility: How Feyenoord climbed back to the top

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Feyenoord have been sleeping giants in the Netherlands for nearly two decades, with their last league title coming in 1999. But steady growth has led them to top of the Eredivisie and a shot at a long-awaited title. Rahul Warrier explains how….

The summer signings of two Premier League rejects and a prolific scorer, albeit in Denmark, can hardly be termed as inspiring – especially for a side that finished 3rd in the Eredivisie in the 2015/16 season. But that’s how Feyenoord spent their summer.

This was a side that was said to be on course to provide stiffer competition to their rivals Ajax and PSV Eindhoven last season. They were however hamstrung by a nine-game winless streak stretching from December to February, a run which included seven consecutive losses to push them down to 7th in the league.

It was a huge failure for a club of its magnitude. However, it was masked by an eleven-match unbeaten streak to end the season. Thankfully for Feyenoord, it propelled them back to 3rd place.

But if the Het Legioen were concerned their club would undergo another season of highs and lows this year, they didn’t have to be. Feyenoord are currently top, five points ahead of Ajax in second.

While they don’t have a talented young striker like Ajax do in Kasper Dolberg, they have their own Dane, Nicolai Jørgensen. He’s the top-scorer in the Eredivisie. Could Feyenoord do the unthinkable and clinch their first Eredivisie title since 1999?

Winning the KNVB Cup (Dutch Cup) last season for the first time since 2007/8 has seemingly ignited the thirst for silverware in Rotterdam. A title triumph would finally break the Ajax-PSV duopoly. The duo have won almost every league title since Feyenoord’s last triumph in 1999, barring two seasons in 2009 and 2010 when AZ and Twente were champions.

Can Feyenoord overcome their big rivals?

Feyenoord’s summer transfer window went under the radar as their domestic rivals made more headlines than the Rotterdam-based club. Ajax made waves with the big-money signings of Hakim Ziyech, Davinson Sanchez and Mateo Cassierra, for example. But then, they had to compensate for the losses of Arkadiusz Milik, Viktor Fischer and Jasper Cillessen to name three.

But this didn’t mean Ajax would undergo a transitional season: the emergence of Dolberg, the loan signing of Bertrand Traore and the emergence of youths to replace the squad players that left meant that Ajax were as strong as ever. Defending champions PSV had a quieter window, though their signing of midfielder Bart Ramselaar from Utrecht demonstrated their desire to continue their domestic domination.

SEE ALSO: Generation Next – Justin Kluivert: Like father like son for Ajax’s latest teen wonderkid

Success in the transfer market

Feyenoord had a quieter summer though, with just three additions to the first team. But crucially, these were smart buys. Coupled with Feyenoord being equally quiet on the departure front, it provided additional impetus for the season ahead.

Brad Jones, formerly of Liverpool fame, was signed from NEC Nijmegen on a free transfer. Good business given the Achilles injury to incumbent keeper Kenneth Vermeer that ruled him out of the season.

The Australian has impressed; part of the best defence in the league that has conceded just 12 goals in 23 games. Playing all but one league game, and every Europa League game, Jones has arguably suffered just one nightmare against Manchester United (a 4-0 loss). Their fans will remember Jones from the United vs. Liverpool game a couple of years ago. Jones has provided the required experience at the back, proving an adequate replacement for Vermeer.

Their second signing was a winger by the name of Steven Berghuis, loaned in from Watford. Berghuis had moved to England from AZ in 2015 but struggled for game time. It is safe to say game time has been relatively easier to find at Feyenoord.

In 1288 minutes of action Berghuis has five goals and two assists in the league. He has had to share his spot with Jens Toornstra, who has been the superior performer of the two. But Berghuis has certainly been a smart addition to the squad, helping him to re-ignite his career after stalling at Watford.

A bargain buy up front

Nicolai Jørgensen, though, has been the show-stealer this season. Formerly of Bayer Leverkusen, his career took off after a move to FC Copenhagen. He spent four seasons in his homeland and scored 43 goals in 99 appearances. But the question was, could he replicate his goal-scoring success in a superior league? That question has been answered emphatically by the Dane this season.

He sits on top of the Eredivisie goal-scoring charts with 15 goals. Not only that, but he also has eight assists. Averaging 3.4 shots per game and a 75.4% pass success percentage, his all-round game appears to be strong.

The £2.98 million Feyenoord paid Copenhagen for his services may well be one of the best value signings in Europe this season. His signature may be one of the more coveted ones in Europe in the coming summer if his scoring spree continues to take Feyenoord towards triumph.

The youth academy has helped to provide the first team with a number of key players. They include Rick Karsdorp, Tonny Vilhena and Terence Kongolo, all of whom have played a major part in this season’s title tilt. Sven van Beek is another youth graduate, but he’s been out injured all season.

This Feyenoord team is a mixture of youth and experience. Eric Botteghin and Jan-Arie van der Heijden in defence, Karim el Ahmadi and the evergreen Dirk Kuyt in midfield, Eljero Elia on the wings. This is a side with 13 different goalscorers in the league. It’s no wonder they’re doing so well. They’re not too dependent on the youngsters or the experienced heads, or a single player for goals.

SEE ALSO: The #JF70 2017: Top 10 best Eredivisie young talents to watch in 2017

Can Feyenoord keep their stars?

With great success comes a great price, though. PSV experienced it in 2015. Then they lost Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum, key facets of their title-winning side, to the Premier League. Feyenoord may well enjoy the fruits of their labour this season, but that will in all likeliness come at the cost of another squad rebuild.

The likes of Jørgensen, Karsdorp, Vilhena and Kongolo will all be linked with moves further afield to make the step-up. But Feyenoord were successful in the transfer market this year with minimal financial outlay. It’s surely certain that they will put the money they receive from any sales to good use. They will once again look to bolster the squad with bargain buys and talent from the lower reaches of the Eredivisie.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst has fashioned an outfit that are flying towards the title. With even goal-line technology on their side (van der Heijden’s goal was controversially given in last weekend’s clash vs. PSV, which Feyenoord won).

With every passing week, the title drought inches towards the end. De club van het volk are back on the rise. All it takes is savvy business.

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Featured image credit: Rodrigo Senna via Flickr.

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