A decade ago there was genuine fear the art of wing play was becoming a lost one.
No place was it more felt than in the Netherlands who, down the years, had produced a glittering array of touchline huggers. The role was becoming an endangered one but thankfully, it’s made a steady comeback. Through education and clubs becoming more proactive, there is no longer that worry.
Although today’s wide-men often cut inside and operate as inside forwards – rather than getting chalk on their boots and delivering cross after cross – they still belong to the same lineage as their predecessors, including Arjen Robben, who remains the gold standard for those who have emerged this decade – most notably, Steven Bergwijn.
The 21-year-old Amsterdammer broke into Dutch champions PSV’s first-team in 2014, following the departure of Memphis Depay, and during these last two seasons, he’s seen his stock rise. A regular threat – in terms of goalscoring and creativity – with boundless potential, Bergwijn has caught the eye, with many observers feeling a potential departure from Eindhoven this summer.
Already his name has been associated with a number of clubs across Europe with strong interest, particularly, coming from the Premier League which begs the question; where should he move next?
Bergwijn, born and raised in Amsterdam, joined PSV’s academy from Ajax in 2011 aged 13, following a disagreement with one of their youth trainers. Under the auspices of Phillip Cocu, he’d make his senior debut in a KNVB Beker (or Dutch Cup) tie away to Almere City.
A nine-minute cameo, in October 2014, it was the prelude to a further 11 minutes against Heracles Almelo in that season’s penultimate league match. The following campaign (2015/16) saw Bergwijn enjoy more playing time, albeit not a first-team regular, that would come during the next – in which he scored his first league goals – and he’s not looked back since.
After establishing himself as one of the first names on PSV’s team sheet this season, Bergwijn was rewarded with an international call-up. His debut came in Oranje’s sensational 3-0 win over rivals Germany before picking up further caps against Belgium and France.
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Style of play
Bergwijn meshes the classic and contemporary. A throwback, blessed with guile and electric pace, he’s someone who enjoys dribbling past his opponents, making him a defender’s nightmare. Already this season, Bergwijn is successfully averaging 3.1 take-ons per 90 minutes. This ability strengthens PSV’s attack, enabling him to get into positions where he can cause havoc. No player has created more goals (10) than him in this season’s Dutch championship.
In terms of creativity, he’s making 2.4 chances per 90 minutes. His return of nine goals, already surpassing last year’s tally (eight) with 14 games remaining, places him just outside in the golden boot race which is led by teammate, Luuk de Jong (18).
Even though all eyes are on him, there is a wise head on Bergwijn’s young shoulders. He’s deadly serious about his craft and tirelessly works on self-improvement. For example, his crossing (0.3 per game) could be considered a weakness but it can become the opposite with a minor technical tweak. Instead of drilling low and hard into the box he should instinctively opt for a high cross.
It goes without saying that only Bergwijn will prevent himself from becoming the well-rounded, dynamic forward many envisage. A move away from the Netherlands is inevitable; for those who care about Oranje, the hope is he chooses wisely, many of his contemporaries in recent years have chosen ill-advisedly and paid the price by fading into obscurity.
His next club?
England seems to be his next destination. Already, two high-profile clubs have been strongly touted and neither, on paper at least, can be seen as bad choices. Tottenham Hotspur, with a youngish core under Mauricio Pochettino, are long-term admirers whilst Manchester United – resurgent since Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s appointment – are the latest interested party.
Both, historically two of English football’s most wing-centric sides, would be a perfect new home for the Dutchman but it will ultimately come down to circumstances and reassurances. At the moment, Anthony Martial, who just penned a new deal, and Jesse Lingard have United’s flanks covered and that’s not even factoring in whoever takes permanent charge in the summer. That being said, given their versatility, there could easily be room for Bergwijn to slot in should either of them move into a central berth.
Solskjær, who learned at the feet of Sir Alex Ferguson, has made wing-play central to United’s play once again, devastating teams on the counter-attack with their pace and power. Bergwijn would undoubtedly thrive under the Norwegian if he was to be given the job full-time.
Pochettino, a candidate for the Old Trafford gig, is the same. Spurs, at their best, don’t utilise old-fashioned wingers but that’s not to say the flanks aren’t important to him. Heung-min Son, Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela, whenever they are played out there, often operate as inverted wingers, which suits Bergwijn perfectly.
So far, it’s these clubs keeping close tabs but that could, of course, change in the upcoming weeks. One thing is for certain, though, you are going to be hearing Bergwijn’s name a lot.