“Shouldn’t we keep it small”
Follows PSV on behalf of NOS Sport
Follows PSV on behalf of NOS Sport
“Ronald Koeman must start building Oranje around Xavi Simons.” That was some three months ago at the table at Studio Soccer Rafael van der Vaart’s message to Ronald Koeman. For his part, the national coach recently responded at the same table, “To hang that card around someone’s neck right now, I thought was going a little too far.”
Although the 20-year-old PSV player, who plays tonight’s cup final against Ajax with the Eindhoven side (kickoff 6 p.m.), has only made three appearances for the Dutch national team, the discussion about his potential, which is not new, is fueled by his impressive performances in his first premier league season.
“Nowadays there is a tendency for trainers to be cautious about special players,” Van der Vaart observes. “Frenkie de Jong was our last real exceptional talent, but that’s been a while now.”
Koeman: ‘Simons plays uninhibited, you just don’t see that at Ajax’
“Koeman must ensure that in a few years he will be the decisive man at a major tournament, and that process is already starting now. I know how it often goes. If it doesn’t come out for a period, we are quick to say, ‘His time will come.’ No, you have to start building on him, and then be able to start building around him,” argues the 109-time international.
Gavi and Pedri
“I may give the boy a lot of pressure, but he hunts, doesn’t play hide-and-seek and works his ass off. In addition, he is technically refined and understands the game. In all facets he is a great player. We should not want to keep that small in the Netherlands.”
“With Spain, Gavi and Pedri also play when they are not completely fit, also at big tournaments. They are 18 and 20, and then everyone says they are already much better, but I still want to see that. I think Simons, just like Pedri and Gavi, can join the Barcelona midfield in no time.”
Xavi Simons, in terms of statistics, is still most like Gavi and Pedri when it comes to dribbles, although Simons dribbles even more often in the premier league (116) than the two Barcelona talents combined (102) in La Liga. On top of that, those dribbles succeed with Simons more than half the time.
Dribbles and goals
“In Oranje, Frenkie de Jong is now expected to bring the ball forward from behind, deliver the cross and preferably also kick it in himself,” Van der Vaart said mockingly. “Simons could take some pressure off his shoulders with him if he can be creative up front between the lines.”
Simons’ strengths, besides his dribbling, are that he shoots a lot and creates many chances. Of all the peers (or younger players) with at least 10 goals/assists in all national leagues this season, Simons stands head and shoulders above the rest: 15 goals and 9 times he allowed a teammate to score.
With 15 goals and 8 assists in the premier league, 20-year-old Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich) is the only one who comes close. He provided 11 goals and 9 assists in the Bundesliga. Mainly as a midfielder, but occasionally from the left flank.
If we add all ages to that list, Simons’ output comes close to some, somewhat older, super talents. Think of Bukayo Saka (13 goals, 11 assists), Randal Kolo Muani (13 goals, 10 assists) and Kylian Mbappé (22 goals, 4 assists).
The Dutch league is no Premier League or Bundesliga in terms of level, but Simons’ numbers show that this season – with relatively fewer good players around him – he can match his peers abroad.
The next step
The question is how Simons will continue his so far torrid development into the future. One thing seems clear to Van der Vaart. “He has to stay at PSV and play a lot. Every other club is not going to build an eleven around him, as it is now in Eindhoven. In an extra season he can show it one more time, because he has to make a lot of flying hours now especially in this phase of his development.”
The former midfielder believes that it will not have a positive effect on his development if he ends up sitting on the bench abroad a lot. “He has to show next season above all that he can carry the team. At PSV he gets the chance to learn that. If he does that, then Simons will be ready for a big club abroad and he won’t just end up on the bench.”
“I think he might not always have made the best choices in the past, because he might have been impatient,” Van der Vaart continued. “I do think he learned a lot at Barcelona and PSG, but you shouldn’t dwell on that for too long. Now he takes PSV by the hand right away in his first season. That has been a perfect choice.”
“He is catching up tremendously if you look at what Gavi and Pedri, for example, have already achieved at their age. Simons can go very, very far in my eyes,” said the former player of Ajax, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, among others.