It could be argued that Ronald Koeman needed Feyenoord as much as Feyenoord needed Koeman. On one side a manager with a famous playing career but failures outside of the relative comfort of the Eredivisie at Valencia and Benfica, the other a famous club that was at it’s lowest ebb, not just on the pitch after a 10-0 defeat to PSV Eindhoven but on the bank balance too.
Yet it could be argued someone else needed Koeman, too. A small midfielder from the lauded Varkenoord academy, Jordy Clasie, had just returned from his loan spell at Feyenoord’s much smaller city neighbour, Excelsior. With Georginio Wijnaldum and Leroy Fer gone, this was Clasie’s chance to make it at Feyenoord.
From returning to De Kuip, Koeman made him a central figure. The three years under Koeman restored pride to the club; from tenth the season before, they finished second, and a John Guidetti hattrick inspired them to their first derby win over Ajax for six years.
But Clasie grew in stature too. Under Koeman’s tutelage, he became a midfielder capable, despite only being 5’7, of dominating a game through his tenacity and passing range, earning him the tag of ‘the Dutch Xavi’. When Koeman gave his final goodbye to the Feyenoord fans, Clasie cried into his shirt, and told a reporter afterwards that the former Barcelona man had taught him how ‘to be a leader’.
The reunion with Koeman is complete. From De Kuip to St Mary’s, Koeman took charge of an English club for the first time in his managerial career, and calmed stormy waters. From being tipped for relegation after the sale of several key players, the Dutchman not only calmed his players but the fans too, and led the Saints to their best ever finish in the Premier League era.
One of those players was Morgan Schneiderlin, and this is why the £8.5m purchase of Clasie is particularly important. Schneiderlin in his final year at St Mary’s led Southampton from the back, dictating the tempo and provided the Saints backline with a formidable shield, duly helped by Kenyan powerhouse Victor Wanyama.
But now Schneiderlin has finally got his wish of playing in the Champions League with his move to Manchester United for £25m bringing his seven-year journey at Southampton to an end. As one of the leaders of the team last season, Koeman looked instantly for not just a midfielder to replace the French international, but a leader too.
He looked straight to the player who went from a youngster to a man deemed strong enough by Koeman’s predecessor, Fred Rutten, to be able to lead the team. Clasie’s final year at Feyenoord was one of true pride, as he lead the team into the De Kuip cauldron, chest held high, as captain of the club he spent 15 years of his life at.
Now the Dutch international may struggle to wrestle the armband off Southampton’s own captain, Jose Fonte, but that doesn’t stop Clasie from becoming a leader. His tenacity and tough tackling should make him a fan favourite, and for any doubts over his heights, he will be facing the likes of David Silva and Eden Hazard. He also has the towering Wanyama next to him, too.
His passing range will give the team an added dimension going forward. Whilst Schneiderlin often made long raking passes at the base of the Saints midfield, Clasie made incisive through balls his trademark at the base of the Feyenoord midfield. The likes of Jay Rodriguez and Sadio Mané will be hoping for more of the same.
Although not blessed with the searing pace that the aforementioned pair are, Graziano Pellè will be happy to see Clasie too. When fellow Eredivisie import Dušan Tadi? was struggling for fitness last season, Saints struggled to put the ball in the back of net, with Pellè often unfairly the brunt of criticism. Clasie should give the Italian another a source of ammunition.
Schneiderlin was a huge part of Southampton ever since he arrived as a skinny 18 year old fresh off the plane from his first club Strasbourg, but left a man capable of dominating even the finest midfields in the country, and it is natural that it should be a concern that Saints will lose that edge.
But Clasie has not only experience of dominating midfields, even in the war-like battlefields of the Amsterdam ArenA and De Kuip when the derby against Ajax comes around, but has international experience with the Netherlands too. Le Héros has gone, long live De Held.
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