Just weeks ago, on 26th May, two visitors strode through the gates of Chelsea’s Cobham training ground to meet Michael Emenalo, Roman Abramovich’s trusted advisor. In the meantime, one of the two visitors picked up the phone to speak to Jose Mourinho, who was about to be reappointed Chelsea manager. It was a short but positive call. The Blues have seen in Dutch midfielder Marco van Ginkel a serious candidate to replace Frank Lampard. At Cobham, Van Ginkel and his agent discussed the move, from Arnhem to London.
Van Ginkel had an outstanding 2012/13 season: with eight goals, eight assists and a number of sublime performances in the heart of Vitesse’s midfield, he played a key role in the Arnhem side’s eventual fourth place finish, and was awarded the Eredivisie Talent of the Year accolade. Moreover, last November, Van Ginkel earned his first call-up to the Holland national team, making his debut in a friendly against Germany.
The promising midfielder has shone with Holland at the European Under-21 Championship in Israel this summer. Van Ginkel was not a regular in the Jong Oranje side before the beginning of the tournament due to fierce competition in the Tulips’ midfield, with emerging talents such as Feyenoord’s Jordy Clasie, AZ Alkmaar’s Adam Maher and PSV Eindhoven’s Kevin Strootman. However, in the first game of the tournament coach Cor Pot chose the Vitesse starlet ahead of Clasie as the centre-right midfielder in his 4-3-3. Van Ginkel assisted Leroy Fer’s winning goal against Germany with a searching cross and then did the same against Russia four days later as he provided the assist for Luuk de Jong’s goal, Holland’s second of the game.
In Arnhem, Van Ginkel is labelled “the silent leader” for his cold-blooded composure on the pitch, blended with a superb ability to read the game and dictate play. A normal boy in his private life, despite pop star looks which have brought comparisons with teen idol Justin Bieber, Van Ginkel is a modern midfielder full of dynamism, with pinpoint passing and able to tackle well.
“Box-to-box midfielder is how I like to describe myself”, explained the Amersfoot-born player. “Vitesse gave me a lot and I am sure I still have a lot to learn playing with them. For every young player it is extremely important to get minutes on the pitch and I can in Arnhem. Of course, if a big club stands at your door, it’s a different story. Look at my former team-mate Alexander Buttner. When Manchester United came last year, how could he refuse their offer?”
Van Ginkel is the son of a former football, Alex van Ginkel, who played for Utrecht. He joined Vitesse’s academy at ten and made his debut in the Eredivisie on 9th April 2010 in Waalwijk, against RKC. Four months later, Georgian businessman Merab Jordania bought the club. “It was like landing on another planet”, Van Ginkel recalled. “Before Jordania came we had cold water showers. In two years, we had turned into title contenders.”
The midfielder’s rise within the last three seasons has gone hand in hand with Vitesse’s improvements. After a disappointing experience in the 2010/11 season under Spaniard Albert Ferrer, who failed miserably in his plan to turn Vitesse into a “little Barcelona”, the Geel-Zwart secured European football for two years in a row; in 2012 under John van den Brom (it was the first time in ten years), one year later under Fred Rutten. Van Ginkel scored three goals in his first two European games, in the Europa League second qualifying round against Lokomotiv Plovdiv. Three months later the talented midfielder hit the target again on an international stage, helping Holland Under-21s to qualify for the European Championship in Israel with a brace in the first leg of the playoff against Slovakia Under-21s.
Despite Van Ginkel being on the radar of Ajax as a possible replacement for Siem de Jong, the interest of Chelsea has knocked the Amsterdam side out of the race. “We just can’t compete with them”, bemoaned the Dutch giants’ director of football Marc Overmars. “Van Ginkel was one of our first targets and we were ready to put some money on the table for him. But financially speaking, there is no comparison between us and Chelsea, or any other Premier League club.”
Van Ginkel’s likely transfer to Stamford Bridge should not be surprising. Merab Jordania and Roman Abramovich are good friends, and in recent years Chelsea and Vitesse have worked well together. From 2010 until 2013, no less than seven players were loaned from the Blues to the Arnhem side: Matej Delac, Slobodan Rajkovic, Nemanja Matic, Ulises Davila, Patrick van Aanholt, Tomas Kalas and Gael Kakuta. Maybe the time has come for a player to move in the opposite direction.
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