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Holland

“Power Striker” Bony Pulls Up Dutch Trees and Attracts Chelsea and Liverpool




Midway through December, in 2010, Dutch side Vitesse had a decision to make. Two striking options lay before the side, both Ivorians: Wilfried Bony and Lacina Traore. Which player would be the better choice to feed the ambitions of the club’s new owner, Merab Jordania, a Georgian businessman whose main aim is to make Vitesse champions of Holland by 2015. Both strikers were enjoying an impressive season, with Traore looking full of potential at Romanian side Cluj, competing in the Champions League, while Bony was also shining, in his case at Czech giants Sparta Prague, with the Europa League the forward’s stage. Traore and Bony mixed great physical strength with the ability to play for the team and had a good nose for goal. In the end, it was the price that made Vitesse’s decision. Traore was worth at least €6M, a direct result of his Champions League performances. And so the Arnhem-based side snapped up Wilfried Guemiand Bony.

Time has proven that the Dutch club would have benefited no matter who they chose. Two years later, Bony is currently the top scorer in the Eredivisie, while Traore is one of the most potent strikers at wealthy ambitious Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala. Bony looks set to follow Traore to a more money-laden league soon however, and he has repeatedly declared himself ready to leave Holland for a big club or a big league. Vitesse could open the door in January, but only if the deal is right. “This could certainly not be a loan with an option to buy”, said Vitesse technical director Ted van Leeuwen, “as Aston Villa wanted last summer.”

Missing out on a move to English Premier League side Aston Villa left Bony disappointed, “however his behaviour has always been very professional”, remarked coach Fred Rutten. “He has always given his best on the pitch.”

In the current season, the “angry” Bony has scored like never before, hitting 19 goals in 19 games for the Arnhem club. With 40 goals scored in 60 games in total in a Vitesse shirt, Bony has become the side’s most prolific striker of the last 15 years, overtaking established goal-getters like Niklos Machlas, Pierre van Hoojidonk, Danko Lazovic and Roy Maakay.

“I like to define Bony as a power striker”, said Van Leeuwen, “and despite the Eredivisie not being the right league for power strikers, Bony has shown he has more than just strength and pace. He plays for the team, knows how to move between the lines and can control his shots. Many African players can’t. Their approach is often too powerful and if they cannot rifle the shot into the top corner, then you’ll probably find the ball in the car park outside the stadium. Bony however has an excellent shooting technique.”

The Ivorian sensation was born and raised in Bingerville, where he learned to play football in the streets. “When I was 13, I stopped playing barefoot”, he recalled, “but in the beginning, it wasn’t easy. With shoes on you have less grip on the ball.” After two years spent at the Maracana Bingerville football school, the young Bony moved to Abidjan, to a larger academy run by former Marseille, Monaco and Inter defender Cyril Domoraud. “Everybody knows the famous ASEC Mimosas football academy [which developed stars such as Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, Didier Zakora, ed.], but in the Ivory Coast there is so much talent that it cannot be contained in just one football school.”

Bony landed in Europe in the middle of 2007 and, after an unsuccessful two-month trial with English giants Liverpool, inked a deal to join Sparta Prague. “I was a man on a mission: make my breakthrough at the top level and earn enough money to go back home at 35 and live with my family. I knew I had to face a lot of problems. In Prague the winter seemed endless and I could not understand a single word people said. However, I have always been a good learner and a tough worker.”

In the Czech capital, Bony found the back of the net 22 times in 59 games, winning the Gambrinus Liga in 2010 and then switching to Holland in January 2011; it only took him 27 minutes to score his first goal for Vitesse. The Ivorian hit new heights last November, with a brace at the Amsterdam ArenA against Ajax, something which handed the Arnhem club the status of serious title contenders; Vitesse’s ambitions are not dependent on Bony though and if the striker leaves in January, the Dutch side still expect nothing less than a Europa League spot this season.

Vitesse’s main problem is that Bony wants to leave – and even more than he did during the summer. Recently the Dutch government refused to allow his family to visit him from the Ivory Coast. “I’ve tried twice to get my brother over and both times he has been refused a visa”, bemoaned Bony. “They are not even allowed in for a few days and no reason is given. I want to leave the Netherlands as soon as I can. The Premier League will be my first choice.”

In addition to Aston Villa, Liverpool have been linked with Bony, something which would be a full circle journey in Europe for the man passed over in 2007, while even Chelsea are mooted as admirers. Could Bony really be a replacement for the misfiring Fernando Torres? Scouting supremo and personal advisor to Roman Abramovich, Pete de Visser does not think so – at least not yet. “It is too early”, he explained. “First Bony needs to be tested at a mid-table Premier League club before joining Chelsea. We all remember the Brazilian Afonso Alves, who scored a lot of goals in the Eredivisie, but failed to play a decent game for Middlesbrough. For example, I think the Ivorian striker should learn to play faster. One thing however is certain: he knows how to score.”

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AlecCWriters

Alec Cordolcini

Published: Sunday, 2nd Dec 2012