Say the name Mike van der Hoorn to most outside the Netherlands and they’ll probably look at you blankly – if they have heard of him it’s likely to be because of a comical own goal the Utrecht defender scored in a 6-0 defeat against AZ this season. To be fair, it was inexplicably bad and was picked up by media around the globe, but while they were laughing most people missed the bigger story.
The Dutch U21 international is talented, seriously talented and it is even more laughable that a momentary lapse made far more headlines than what was a fine breakthrough season for van der Hoorn. Before 2012/13 the centre-back had made only seven league starts, his debut coming, ironically, in a 5-1 win over AZ on the final weekend of the 2010/11 season. Ricky van Wolfswinkel (2) and Dries Mertens (3) scored the goals for Utrecht that day and there is no doubt the club has another potential gem on their hands in van der Hoorn.
The best, concise description of him I’ve seen came from the former Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk, who referred to van der Hoorn as a “real defender”. Tall (1.90m), strong, reasonably quick, and dominant in the air, van Marwijk also likened van der Hoorn to the PSG defender, Alex. For me, the most impressive thing about the 20-year-old, particularly when you consider his age, is his positional sense and awareness of danger. He is also a threat at set-pieces, averaging a goal every eight games in the Eredivisie.
All qualities that led to a provisional call-up from van Marwijk’s successor, Louis van Gaal, for the World Cup qualifiers in March against Estonia and Romania – although van der Hoorn didn’t make the final cut it was a clear indication of how highly he is regarded within the Dutch national set-up. This was emphasised again by his call-up to the U21 squad for this summer’s UEFA European Championship in Israel, despite fierce competition for the central-defensive roles, with the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Jeffrey Bruma failing to make the cut.
Having named van der Hoorn their player of the year, Utrecht supporters, you’d think, will be hoping he doesn’t see too much game time in Israel, with scouts from the continent’s top clubs sure to be watching. It is clubs closer to home that will be more difficult to fend off in the short-term though, with the likes of Ajax and PSV being strongly linked with van der Hoorn. An Eredivisie title challenger could well be the most sensible next step for him, although for all his ability and potential there is still a rawness about the defender that might become more exposed in a more pressurised environment. Staying at a developing Utrecht with European football to look forward to next season, might not be the worst idea.
If though, the lure of the Amsterdam Arena or the Philips Stadion proves too great this summer, Utrecht can be sure of a good fee, having had the good sense to tie down one of their prize assets to a contract that expires in the summer of 2016. Wherever he ends up though, I suspect Mike van der Hoorn will become known for a lot more than a You-Tube, blooper video.