Back of the road with Oranje: Koeman’s king pair Depay-Wijnaldum

Back of the road with Oranje: Koeman’s king pair Depay-Wijnaldum
Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay in 2019

NOS Football

  • Jesse Wieten

    Dutch national team editor

  • Jesse Wieten

    Dutch national team editor

National coach Ronald Koeman likes to think in pairs, in players who add value when combined. Tonight’s EK qualifier match with France (8:45 p.m., live at NOS) could mean the return of his former king’s pair, the combination Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay.

Without the suspended Denzel Dumfries, without the injured Steven Bergwijn and Frenkie de Jong and without the sick Cody Gakpo and Matthijs de Ligt, Koeman begins his second term as national coach on Friday night. With vice-world champion France as opponent at the Stade de France and, in that regard, lousy past results as a frame of reference.

The Netherlands did not win any of the last nine away duels with France. The Orange’s last victory over France on French soil predates World War II. Thanks in part to a hat trick by Beb Bakhuys, the Orange won 6-1 in January 1936.

Birth in Paris

Not a good outlook, but Koeman showed himself positive Thursday night. Fearing a beating (4-0) like Dick Advocaat incurs with Oranje in Paris at the end of August 2017, Koeman does not. “Even with the players we have left I am confident of a result,” he said.

Netherlands-France through the years: Platini, Sneijder and Mbappé

Fortunately for Koeman, he can fall back on a certainty from his first period. Back to a familiar recipe. Against France, the Wijnaldum-Depay tandem can be reinstated. This golden combination, with Depay in the striker and Wijnaldum shortly behind, saw the light of day in the previous edition of France-Netherlands (2-1).

On Sept. 9, 2018, a goal from the tandem failed to materialize in Paris, but not long after, the duo was unstoppable. Where Depay went, Wijnaldum came and vice versa. The two were involved in as many as 30 of 43 Orange goals in Koeman’s first term, a 70 percent share.

Depay notched 11 goals and 11 assists, while Wijnaldum scored 10 times and gave two assists. Three of these goals Wijnaldum scored at Depay’s behest and vice versa was the case once. The last international against France in November 2018 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands won 2-0 through goals by Wijnaldum and Depay.

Repeat of then possible?

The special bond both have with Koeman was visible in a twinkle on the pitch. Koeman considers Wijnaldum and Depay capable of repeating that clutch strength. “Yes, well,” the national coach said Monday. “That also depends on form and on the baggage of games played.”

Watch Koeman’s words about Depay and Wijnaldum and interviews with the two players below:

On March 29, 2022, Wijnaldum played his last international against Germany (1-1). Due to lack of playing time with his then employer Paris Saint-Germain, he ran out of form and was even passed over for the Dutch national team by Louis van Gaal.

Depay disagreed with the latter. “I would call him up if I were national coach,” Depay said firmly. “I think he has shown a lot here and belongs here. Wijnaldum’s name belongs in the selection. I have no doubts that it will come again.”

The day of his mate’s return to Orange came later than Depay might have thought at the time. A tibia fracture put a line through a possible World Cup for Wijnaldum and it wasn’t until February of this year that the midfielder made his return at AS Roma.

‘Of extra value for this Oranje’

Meanwhile, Wijnaldum’s tally at Roma stands at ten official duels. In five of the last six games he was in the starting line-up. Koeman had seen enough for a return to Orange for the now 32-year-old Wijnaldum.

The sun also started shining for the 29-year-old Depay in early 2023. After a difficult period at FC Barcelona, Depay showed signs of fitness and class at Atlético Madrid. In the last three duels he was given over an hour of playing time by coach Diego Simeone and against Sevilla he scored twice.

If Koeman revives the King’s pair born in Paris in September 2018 on Friday, they will know they are surrounded by other attackers and midfielders no matter what. Of the team from then, only goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen and defenders Virgil van Dijk and Daley Blind are now in the selection.

For a variety of reasons, De Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Kenny Tete, Davy Pröpper, Quincy Promes, Ryan Babel and the then substitutes Ruud Vormer, Daryl Janmaat and Luuk de Jong are missing. Regardless, Koeman believes he can build on Wijnaldum and Depay: “Both are players who can be of extra value to this Dutch national team.”

Kayleigh Williams