Talent Scout: Kevin Strootman
The Netherlands wrapped up their Euro 2012 qualifiers with a 3-2 defeat to Sweden on Tuesday. It was their first loss in Group F, for a Dutch side who were first to reach June's tournament show piece.
But amid score-lines such as the 11-0 romp over San Marino and the 5-3 victory against Hungary, coach Bert van Maarwijk knows he needs to find something extra from his side, ranked number one in the world, to avenge their second place finish in the World Cup. In midfielder Kevin Strootman, he may just have found it.
The 21-year-old is part of another blossoming generation of Dutch talent, but crucially for van Maarwijk, he brings qualities his side don't already have, but need, in the battle to edge Spain's global dominance.
A six foot one inch box-to-box central midfielder, Strootman is a former attack minded prospect, now honing his defensive skills, hoping to break up the static and aggressive midfield shield of Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel. The duo are effective, but against Spain's brainy schemers, they were forced to turn to brawn - and still lost.
Strootman is technically a much better match for the likes of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, but because he's also at home with the physical side of the game, has abilities than can be adapted to all situations. Add to a solid understanding of when to use his good upper body strength to best effect to a cultured and clever style whilst in possession, and you have a player who's superb in keeping his side ticking over.
Furthermore, unlike the more sluggish de Jong and van Bommel, he opts to shift the ball quickly and effectively, picking often the easiest but good options in good time, and keeping the pace flowing. But it's not only simple stuff that Strootman does well, his magic wand of a left foot is a dangerous weapon from a deeper role, giving him more time to pick defensive locks, and space to show off his accurate long range shooting ability.
A summer move to PSV, after a short stint with Utrecht and 72 appearances for Eredivisie yo-yo outfit Sparta Rotterdam has helped take his game on to a new level. There's been no dramatic changes, but Strootman has tidied up elements, such as timing of runs forward, and generally improved on his consistency.
He's 21, and lacks the notable experience and international nouse of Van Bommel and De Jong, but with talent and time on his side, don't bet against Kevin Strootman playing a key in role in another Netherlands challenge this summer.
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