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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Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?
The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.
As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.
The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.
There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.
But what about Bojan Krkic?
The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.
Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.
However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.
Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.
So where did it all go wrong for him?
He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.
The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.
However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.
Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.
Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.
Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.
There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.
If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray
The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.
Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.
Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.
Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.
Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.
If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.