Ask a manager about the value of camaraderie and you could be there for a while. Ronald Koeman is no different, his situation unique to most, is common within the Netherlands, and even then it’s different. No better demonstration this season and explicitly in Feyenoord’s recent game against FC Twente. It would end goalless, but the headline was already written, one that embodies the clubs resurgence heavily characterised by a youthful feel.
When it comes to youth football the Rotterdammers are at the forefront, their academy Varkenoord – reinvigorated by club icon Wim Jansen first as manager then as technical advisor – been voted three years running as best in the Netherlands. It’s this coupled with talents given a chance at first team level – averaging seven graduates starting per game – that has eroded fears of losing them before a professional contract can be presented (see Karim Rekik and Nathan Aké). Those waiting to break through can look to the Twente game.
Koeman, who arrived in the summer of 2011 with reputation as a champion of youth development, started with four of the clubs brightest recent graduates: The Four Musketeers. It was their first ever appearance together; Jordy Clasie the most experienced, and Feyenoord’s metronome, flanked by wingers Jean-Paul Boëtius and Anass Achahbar and mercurial talent Tonny Vilhena alongside in midfield.
If they stick together, along with defenders Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij, for large parts of the foreseeable future there’s every chance Feyenoord could create their very own version of Real Madrid’s fabled ‘Quinta del Buitre’. At the core will be Vilhena like Emilio Butragueño, the standout and at such a young age displaying strong leadership.
A precocious talent, Vilhena has shown in every game, his scary potential. Blessed with all the natural attributes needed to play box-to-box, his fleet of foot and pace succulently compliments his physical stature and sharp brain, allowing him to play between the lines, and riding the sternest of challenges. In a way you can see he encapsulates the modern midfielder: dangerous on the flanks, elegant playmaking and industrious through the middle, as well as a good eye for goal.
Boëtius recently compared him to Steven Gerrard, in terms of the type of player he is. “Defensively and offensively he is strong,” Boëtius told Eredivisie Live. More recently some have commented they see shades of Edgar Davids
The ‘all for one, one for all’ mentality seeps through. Boëtius and Vilhena rose through the ranks together - along with Rekik who’s now at Manchester City - so there’s a shared experience, its evident watching their telepathic understanding. The former, opened the scoring in Feyenoord’s latest game against AZ, and could have ended with a brace in the last minute, but instead passed to the midfielder to score his fourth of the season. A week earlier Vilhena entered the history books when he became the youngest Feyenoorder to score twice in a league game breaking Henk Duut’s record which stood for 31 years.
His first in the game against Willem II, playing as a ‘Number 10’ – example of his versatility – was the pick of the two. Graziano Pellè, spearheading Feyenoord this season, played a sumptuous ‘Laudrup scoop’ into Vilhena, who swivelled and turned, before unleashing an unstoppable volley. “The collaboration between the two was perfect,” Koeman commented, as well as praising his immediate assimilation to top flight football, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Dutch U21 manager Cor Pot.
Vilhena was called up for their warm up game for this summer’s European Championships – talks of him being a wild card pick for the tournament – naturally would score on debut against Croatia.
Days later club legend Willem van Hanegem confidently tipped the 18-year-old to one day play for one of Europe’s elite sides, such is his promise, it’s not an outlandish statement. Though he remains grounded, Vilhena admits to reading and listening to everything said about him, but doesn’t allow it to distract even something positive from a club great. When it comes to idols, as many of his contemporaries would cite a reference, Vilhena grew up not having one. The closest was Patrick Kluivert, who as a five-year-old remembered watching during Euro 2000, the aspiration is to be the first Vilhena.
This attitude has endeared him to Koeman, who knows from experience what it is like to be dubbed a prodigy. It was only recently Vilhena became a mainstay; he made his debut in late January 2012 away to VVV, his briefest of cameos showed glimpses, confirming everything heard about him.
A key component in the Dutch U17s successful defence of their European title last summer Vilhena was making a wave outside the bright lights of the Eredivisie; widely unknown, his exploits at youth level started to spread, supporters would hear stories of this wonderkid and testimonies from his coaches certain that he will one day sit atop of the world.
As exciting as it may have sounded, a cautionary approach was taken, no one getting ahead of themselves – you know how fans are like, searching for their next hero, better if local. Vilhena was born in Maassluis a twenty minute drive away from Rotterdam. He’s not the first and certainly not the last, to be dubbed the ‘next big thing’ after coming off Feyenoord’s never-ending conveyor-belt of talent.
Yet, there’s something different about Vilhena. A guaranteed future star – one that could be among the very best – but only if he treads on the right path, at Feyenoord they will give him every opportunity.
This article is written by our Dutch football expert Mohamed Moallim. You can follow him on twitter at @jouracule. Comments below please.
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- shittyunited said: Emilio Trindade de Vilhena? Wright? I always bought him in FIFA 13 and Football Manager 13. Great Talent!
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