Despite the delight experienced by the PSV Eindhoven hierarchy and fans at the club’s first Eredivisie title in seven seasons, there must be a sense of trepidation at how that success has drawn the attention of Europe’s bigger fish as they scour the world not just for playing talent, but for managerial talent too.
With PSV more or less resigned already to losing the likes of Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum in the summer, manager Phillip Cocu is about to find out first hand just how impressive a job Frank De Boer did in keeping Ajax top of the pile for four consecutive seasons. No matter how strong and prolific the youth policies of the Amsterdam club, losing quality players year on year eventually took its toll this season.
That said, Cocu and technical director Marcel Brand will take comfort from the sizable transfer fees the two Dutch stars will generate and should feel emboldened by the success of the club’s own focus on youth as they look to maintain their position.
And it was the decision by the club to focus on developing its own stars and trust in the guidance of former player Cocu two seasons ago that set the scene for PSV’s success this term. The Eindhoven side has an average age of just 23 and for much of the season fielded only one player over the age of 24, in 28-year old Mexican midfield anchor Andres Guadardo.
Capped 101 times by the Netherlands, and a veteran of both PSV and Barcelona, 44-year old Cocu was viewed as the total footballer – once remarking that he had played in every position bar right back and goal. He’s worked under Dutch greats like Hiddink, Van Gaal and Advocaat and has clearly brought that experience to bear at the Philips Stadion.
His side is an aggressive, attacking blend of pace and power, as comfortable attacking down the wings as they are building through the middle, as adept at playing possession football as they are devastating on the break.
Eighty-seven goals in 32 league games, some 22 more than closest rivals Ajax, are a testament to their attacking quality. However, their approach is markedly different to that of the dethroned champions. Cocu’s men play a much more direct style – with the manager preferring not to play 30 passes where 3 will do.
Defensively, PSV are a hard nut to crack – boasting 13 clean sheets and conceding only 29 goals in their 32 league games to date. On loan Manchester City centre half Karim Rekik (20) has developed a strong partnership with Jeffrey Bruma (23) – while the athleticism and attacking quality of Dutch international fullback Jetro Willems has been a major factor in the side’s attacking success.
In fact, the 21-year old is the league’s joint top assist provider with 12. Like his international team mates Depay and Wijnaldum, he’s not lacking for admirers.
In midfield, the loan signing of Mexican Guadardo from Valencia proved a master stroke – offering composure and experience in a critical part of the field. His positional sense and meanness in possession providing a perfect platform for the aforementioned Wiijnaldum and the increasingly impressive Adam Maher to get forward, support the attack and offer a serious goal threat. The two youngsters have bagged 20 league goals between them.
Up front, Depay may have taken the plaudits, but in many ways, it’s the return to form of Luuk De Jong, once a bright young thing of Dutch football, that has caught the eye. After wowing at FC Twente (notching 25 league goals in 2011/12), De Jong struggled badly in the Bundesliga with Borussia Monchengladbach and on loan with Newcastle in the Premier League.
But a return to Dutch football under the tutelage of Cocu has seen the target man reborn – scoring 19 times in the league and providing an impressive nine assists, fiveP more than Depay.
As they face into the summer, PSV will hope that they have enough talent across the squad to survive the sale of one or two stars. But for all the playing quality the club possesses, perhaps it is the man who masterminded their title success that the Red and Whites can least afford to lose.
With top class managerial talent thin on the ground, doubtless sooner or later, their resolve and ability to hold on to Cocu will be tested.