From Memphis Depay to the infamous Winston Bogarde, some notable former Eredivisie players surprisingly struggled in England
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Over the years there has been a magnificent abundance of Dutch players who have graced the Premier League after previously playing in the Eredivisie. Their influence is woven into the rich tapestry of different talents that have dazzled in England.
From goal-machines such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy (PSV), Dennis Bergkamp (Ajax) and Robin van Persie (Feyenoord), brilliant wingers like Arjen Robben (Groningen) and Marc Overmars (Willem II and Ajax) to defensive walls such as Virgil van Dijk (Groningen) and Jaap Stam (Willem II and PSV) and supreme goalkeepers like Edwin van der Saar (Ajax), it is a star-studded list.
However when there is good, there is bad. And, irrespective of whether they had good careers before or after their time in the Premier League, there are some Dutch players who fell well below the high levels anticipated of them.
Here are seven of our most notable examples:
It’s easy to forget, what with the superb performances for Lyon, the integral attacking role for his country and the heavy recent interest from Barcelona, that it wasn’t long ago when Memphis Depay was leaving Manchester United after a nightmare period at the Theatre of Dreams.
When he arrived at Old Trafford for £25 million at the age of 21, Depay was one of the hottest young properties in Europe with a big reputation. He had just had a clinical season with PSV Eindhoven, topping the league goal scoring charts on the way to the Eredivisie title. When he was signed by Louis van Gaal, many believed Depay would thrive under the experienced Dutch coach in the same way he had at the 2014 World Cup. Yet after just one and a half seasons he was gone, with just two Premier League goals and a whole lot of frustrating inconsistency. As he continues to emerge as one of Europe’s most dangerous all-round forwards with a combined 117 goals and assists in four years, Manchester United fans will rightly wonder what might have been.
It’s unfortunate for Maarten Stekelenburg that he arrived in England not long after van der Saar had finished his decade-long lesson in goalkeeping brilliance. Like van der Saar, the 6ft 6in Stekelenburg had come through at Ajax and was their number one for many years, likewise for the national team. And after a brief sojourn in Italy with Roma, he followed his great predecessor to Fulham.
The similarities end there. Over the next seven years he never came close to establishing himself as one of the league’s best keepers, with Fulham quickly loaning him out twice after just one campaign, Southampton not wanting to make his loan permanent and Everton being more than happy to have him as a number 2 for a prolonged period, a role surely unbefitting of a player of Stekelenburg’s stature. With retirement now looming, he is back at Ajax, with a new opportunity after the ban of number 1 Andre Onana. His contribution to Ajax can never be doubted – the same can’t be said for what he did away from Amsterdam.
Write a list of the best strikers from the Netherlands and Patrick Kluivert would be right near the top. He won the Champions League with Ajax at just 19, scoring over 50 times for them. After a brief stint at AC Milan, he became one of the world’s most prolific forwards with Barcelona, finding the net 122 times in 257 appearances. During that time he also became his country’s all-time leading goal scorer.
Therefore you can understand the excitement when he made the shock decision to move to Newcastle United in 2004. In theory Kluivert was still in his prime at the age of 28 and on paper gave Newcastle one of the league’s most drool-worthy strike forces in partnership with Alan Shearer. Yet almost from the start things started to go downhill. The man he came to play for, Sir Bobby Robson, left almost as soon as Kluivert had arrived. The Dutchman then went on to score just six league goals and struggled to get a regular run in the team, later blaming an obsession with starting Shearer as the reason for why he failed to become a big hit on Tyneside. He departed to Valencia after just one season.
Pierre van Hooijdonk
To be fair to Pierre van Hooijdonk, he wasn’t a complete failure at Nottingham Forest – he almost single-handedly led them to promotion in 1998. Yet in terms of his contribution to the Premier League, it is a no brainer. For starters, he literally refused to play for them in the 1998/99 season until November, going on strike due to high-profile players leaving the club and then being refused a move to Newcastle (yes, them again).
He eventually played 21 matches that season, registering just six goals. This is nothing when you consider his overall goal record is an astonishing 335 in 551 games, including at least a goal every other game for seven clubs between 1991 and 2005. Van Hooijdonk eventually left for Vitesse Arnhem at the end of the season to continue a fine career that included a Uefa Cup triumph with Feyenoord in 2002. Meanwhile, Forest were relegated – and have not been back in the Premier League since.
If we’re looking at the comparison between expectation and the reality of what a player was able to deliver, then Ryan Babel’s time at Liverpool makes the cut. In a similar context to what was later seen with Depay, when the winger arrived at Anfield in July 2007 he was viewed as the next big thing from the Netherlands. With his flair, pace and ability to do damage off either flank, not to mention his serious potential at just 19, the move was an exciting one.
Yet four seasons and 91 appearances later, there were just 12 league goals and five assists to his name and then he was gone, sold to Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga. There were flashes of brilliance, which English fans were reminded when he recently returned for a productive year with Fulham. Nonetheless, the inconsistencies and sporadic brilliance witnessed at Liverpool have characterised his whole career, perhaps explaining why he has been sold or loaned 11 times and appeared for nine different clubs. There are many foreign imports fondly remembered by The Kop – Babel is unfortunately not one of them.
There have been more than a few questionable signings in the post-Gareth Bale era at Tottenham Hotspur and Vincent Jansen is perhaps the worst. He joined the club in 2016 at the age of 22 as the Eredivisie top goal scorer and Dutch football’s Talent of the Year with AZ Alkmaar. With his sharp movement and natural finishing, he seemed the ideal support and foil for Harry Kane.
Alas it was clear Jansen wasn’t up to the task. He made just seven league starts in 27 appearances that season, with just two goals, one being a penalty, in a free flowing team challenging for the title. He was quickly deemed surplus to requirements, joining Fenerbahçe on loan. Meanwhile, any hopes of another chance vanished with veteran Fernando Llorente being brought in. Jansen has been playing for Mexican side Monterrey on a permanent deal since 2019 but has not appeared again for the Netherlands since October 2017. One would hope he can have a second wind in a big European league but for Spurs fans it is a signing to quickly put away and forget about.
We end with the mother of all flops, perhaps in all Premier League history. The amusement people have when Winston Bogarde’s name is mentioned comes from four years of inactivity at Chelsea. Many perhaps don’t realise that when the centre-back came to Stamford Bridge in 2000 he was a Champions League, Eredivisie and La Liga winner, and this was meant to be the last big move of what had been a successful career at the top of the game.
Yet by the time he left England in 2004, Bogarde hadn’t kicked a ball in two years. The most appearances he made was 11 in his first season, with just four starts. The man who signed him, Gianluca Vialli, was sacked just after he came to the club, with his replacement Claudio Ranieri never really being a fan. Bogarde would make two more match-day squads in the subsequent three-and-a-half years and spent most of his time playing in the reserves, unable to find a loan due to Chelsea (then financially struggling) not willing to pay all of his hefty wages. He promptly retired at the end of his contract, a sad end to what had, until his time in the Premier League, been a high-flying career.