Q&A with Eredivisie expert Peter McVitie

Dean Mouhtaropoulos

In advance of a rather large feature on the Chelsea-Vitesse partnership that we will roll out later this week, we wanted to provide a sort of "Eredivisie primer" for Chelsea supporters (like myself, until just a few months ago) that have been curious about the Eredivisie, but haven't yet had the opportunity to start learning about the Dutch league.

While conducting my research for the article on the partnership with Vitesse, I sought out Peter McVitie for comment.  In addition to being the most plugged-in English-language Eredivisie expert that I've come across, he has spoken directly with many of our loanees currently at Vitesse (in addition to Marco van Ginkel), and recently had an exclusive interview with Lucas Piazon.  McVitie generously answered every question I posed to him, and he granted me permission to publish our exchange.

Jake Cohen: I firmly believe that Roman Abramovich and Merab Jordania (and likely Alexander Chigirinski) had already laid out the framework for a partnership before Jordania purchased Vitesse.  I think it unlikely that Jordania would have purchased Vitesse had such a framework not existed.  Put another way, I don't think Jordania would have purchased Vitesse if Abramovich did not want to form a partnership.

Aside from the relaxed KNVB and UWV WERKbedrijf work permit regulations that make it easy for non-European footballers to play in the Eredivisie, I am wondering why you think Chelsea chose to partner with an Eredivisie side.  That is, what is it about the style of play in the Eredivisie that best prepares a young player to eventually make significant contributions in the Premier League? Also, since Abramovich and Chigirinsky are involved, money is seemingly not an object and they could have purchased and then partnered with just about any club in any European league.  With regards to player development, why is the Eredivisie better than, say, Serie A, the Bundesliga, the Belgian league, etc.?

Peter McVitie: Your belief that Jordania merely acted on the orders of Roman Abramovich is not without foundation. Ever since Jordania bought the club in 2010, there has been widespread belief across the Netherlands that the Georgian is merely acting on the orders of the Chelsea owner, acting as a puppet, if you will. This, though, is only a theory. There is no way, at the moment, for anyone to know if this is the truth.As for the reasons as to why Chelsea would choose a club in the Netherlands to form a partnership, they are plentiful.

For one, the league rightly has a reputation for being a fantastic "training" league. The production of young players in the Eredivisie is quite astounding at times. The Eredivisie has produced some wonderful players over the last few decades and continues to do so. There’s a growing demand, in England, for more technically skilled players and the Netherlands has a tendency to produce players in all positions who are technically gifted. Even centre-backs and goalkeepers tend to have excellent technical abilities in the Netherlands as they prefer to build from the back and keep the ball on the ground, regardless of the pressure they are under.

English football is moving towards a new style of playing more possession-based football, the Netherlands has been playing it for decades and they produce the type of player England is beginning to admire. Young players are also more inclined to get an opportunity to play first-team football in the Netherlands, too. In my opinion, there’s a general distrust of young players in the UK, we are of the opinion that if they are foreign they must be better and I think that consensus in top-level football is only now beginning to change. However, it will of course be some time, if ever, before there’s a significant increase in the number of young homegrown players in the first-teams of Premier League clubs. Southampton, for example, have changed their strategy under Nicola Cortese from a club with a youth academy which fed the first-team remarkably well to one which has resorted to purchasing expensive high-profile foreign players. While the early signs suggest this will be a successful idea, in the long-term it could prove to be a damaging tact.

In the Netherlands, though, even the top teams have a tendency to produce their own players. Ajax’s youth system, De Toekomst, is world famous. But while Ajax’s system is revered internationally, it’s actually Feyenoord’s Varkenoord system which has been voted the best in the country in each of the last three years. Both teams are enjoying the success of their youth systems. In fact, homegrown talents have guided Ajax to three consecutive Eredivisie titles under Frank de Boer. Even in the rough period in which they currently find themselves, the young players coming through like Denswil, Veltman, Van Rhijn, Blind, De Sa and Klaassen, as well as those brought through their fantastic scouting network like Lucas Andersen, Viktor Fischer and Danny Hoesen offer reasons to be optimistic about the future. Feyenoord, on the other hand, are recovering from a very dark period financially and it is their homegrown players who are making it possible. Jean-Paul Boetius, Tonny Trindade de Vilhena, Stefan de Vrij, Jordy Clasie and Bruno Martins Indi are all players produced by Feyenoord and are absolutely crucial to the team. The Rotterdammers finished tenth in 2010-11, which is a travesty for such a giant, but they pulled their way back up the table with the help of their young players and are now a formidable force once again. Importantly, Ajax coach Frank de Boer and Feyenoord boss Ronald Koeman are a perfect fit for their respective clubs. Both teams went through a period in which they purchased a lot of expensive players, but it brought little to no success on the pitch and only damaged them financially. These two coaches have brought the clubs back to their roots and instilled belief in the players they are producing and now they are reaping the rewards of it.

PSV are in the process of doing something similar. It has been five years since they last won the Eredvisie and this season they have handed the reins to Phillip Cocu who has made youth a huge part of his plans. While PSV are certainly title contenders this season, this is very much a long term project. Memphis Depay (19), Zakaria Bakkali (17), Adam Maher (20), Jeffrey Bruma (21), Georginio Wijnaldum (22), Jürgen Locadia (19), Jetro Willems (19), Florian Jozefzoon (22), Santiago Arias (21), Joshua Brenet (19), Jorrit Hendrix (18), Luciano Narsingh (23) and Jeroen Zoet (22) all have very bright futures and will all play a big part in PSV over the course of this season and those which follow. PSV have realised the errors of their ways in recent seasons and are looking to build a strong team in the future and youth plays a critical part in it. Even their coach is young. Like De Boer, he is committed to the club, understands the principals and recognises what makes it great and wants to win with this team and with the young players at his disposal. Can you imagine a team in England or Scotland putting together such a young team? These aren’t fringe players, most of these players are absolutely crucial to PSV. Wijnaldum is the captain! In one game, at 22, he was the oldest player in their starting XI, they beat NEC 5-0 that day. Although they are somewhat inconsistent at this moment in time, they are most definitely title contenders this year and these players are absolutely sublime. The Ajax team which beat Man City 3-2 in the Champions League was made almost entirely of De Toekomst produced players.

In the Eredivisie, these talented coaches are given the time and the power to make these changes and to instil such belief into the players they have. They cannot afford to buy big-named expensive players anymore, so they must produce their own. Luckily, they have a knack for doing so. This is why the Eredivisie is such an attractive league for clubs and scouts and in some ways it is only logical that a team like Chelsea should look to develop young players in this league. They will benefit from the training styles in Netherlands while benefitting immensely from the first-team football they receive. I’d imagine they chose Vitesse because it gives them the opportunity to buy a relatively cheap mid-table team to build up and take advantage of while trying to turn them into a top team to further benefit Chelsea and their players. A club like Vitesse ticks all the boxes, a smaller club in a league known for producing good young players and playing attractive football which they can take over and capitalise on. I don’t think you get all of those aspects at any other league.

JC:  I know there has been some grumbling from other Eredivisie clubs about the Chelsea-Vitesse partnership, and the KNVB has been discussing potential revisions with regards to loan regulations.  How realistic is it that the KNVB sets a limit of three loans per club (i.e. is it just sour grapes, or is increased restrictions on loans a possibility)?

PM: Not likely, to be honest. The issue isn’t widespread enough at the moment to warrant any such action to be taken.

JC: What is the general feeling within the Eredivisie fanbase about the Chelsea-Vitesse partnership. That is, what do PSV, Ajax, and NAC Breda supporters think about the partnership?

PM: Well, the philosophy across the nation is that clubs should generally produce their own players, particularly among Ajax fans. In all honesty, there’s no way, from a Dutch perspective, that this partnership can be seen as respectable or in any way admirable. Perhaps Vitesse’s youth academy (shared with AGOVV) isn’t as proficient as that of Ajax or Feyenoord, but it has produced players like Marco van Ginkel, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Alex Buttner, Davy Propper and Piet Velthuizen – it has served them well in recent years. When you form a partnership with a team like Chelsea and you are taking players on loan and playing them at the expense of your own young players, of course you benefit in the short term, but in the long term you may not, it has the potential to prove damaging. Fans of most clubs in the Netherlands are against this idea, as are most pundits and commentators in the game. There is pride in seeing young players playing attractive football for the club which produced them, not seeing the Chelsea Reserves challenging in the Eredivisie.

JC: Am I right in assuming that the Vitesse fanbase welcomes Chelsea loanees with open arms (Rajkovic captained the squad, Piazon has quickly endeared himself to the Vitesse fanbase, and van Aanholt has been a mainstay for over two years)?

PM: While the general idea doesn’t sit well with some of their fans, of course they are happy to see guys like Van Aanholt, and Kakuta are brilliant for Vitesse. Tomas Kalas was last season, too. Piazon is an absolute delight and his influence so far has been incredible! They are doing very well at the moment. They challenged for the title last season until the final weeks of the campaign and they are amongst the top teams at the moment in the league (but so is most of the league – top nine separated by three points). The Chelsea loanees are a big part of it and they are playing very well, so of course the fans overall will be happy, but I think there should be a bit of apprehension when the long-term is considered, because no one really knows the real long-term goals or possibilities with such a partnership.

JC: Given that Jordania and Chigirinsky seemingly have plenty of money, why did the club sell Wilfried Bony to Swansea?  Did the player force the move or was his contract expiring?  It seems like he is just the type of player Vitesse would want to hang on to given it's stated goals of competing in the Champions League and winning the Eredivisie title.

PM: Essentially, as soon as Bony joined he made it clear that it was only a stepping stone. All through his final, impeccable season at Vitesse (31 in 30, my goodness), he made it clear that he wouldn’t be there beyond the campaign. In fact, he tried to force a move to Russia in February just days before their transfer window closed – he announced it just minutes after the 5-3 win over Heracles in which he scored a hat-trick and missed a penalty (Van Ginkel scored the other two – they were magnificent that day! I interviewed Van Ginkel a few weeks after that, he spoke very highly of Bony and insisted he deserved a move to a big club). So, while he was a complete professional on the park, gave absolutely everything in every game and was a joy to watch (I still miss him), he wasn’t really committed to Vitesse. Jordania might have a lot of money, but when Swansea offer to break the record transfer fee the club has ever received for a player who is desperate to leave, there’s no way he will subsidise keeping the player. More so, with Van Ginkel on the way out and a new coach coming in, there was no way to say definitively that they would get as much out of Bony again this season – it really made sense to sell him. Great business, in my opinion.

Again, many thanks to Peter McVitie for generously donating his time and providing some much-needed insight into the Eredivisie.  You can read his work all over the place, and he is a regular contributor to the always-excellent BeNeFoot and is active on Twitter. Stay tuned for our comprehensive feature on the Chelsea-Vitesse partnership, which will likely be coming out later this week.

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