FEATURE: The greats of PSV’s forward line

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At PSV’s Philips Stadion, two prominent statues guard the main entrance. In glorious bronze, the contributions made by two Eindhoven greats is preserved forever. Coen Dillen and Willy van der Kuijlen were that influential.

The former played in excess of 400 games for PSV and, in scoring 288 goals, became a standard-bearer for a future procession of lethal strikers. The latter, known affectionately as Mr. PSV due to eighteen years of loyal service, scored an untouchable 311 goals for the club whilst eclipsing many of Dillen’s records. The rich lineage of prolific PSV goalscorers started with two legends; with Dillen in the 40s and 50s, and van der Kuijlen in the 60s and 70s. Now, as PSV search for the next great forward capable of earning a Stadion statue, it’s fitting that we explore a city and it’s enduring love of goals.

The succession of legendary PSV forwards extended from Dillen and van der Kuijlen and encompassed some of the games greatest-ever players. It’s a legacy of goalscorers which includes Romário, one of the few known men to score 1,000 career goals and to be branded a “genius” by Johan Cruyff. The vaunted Brazilian spent five years in Eindhoven, winning the affection of fans who were thrilled by his mercurial brilliance around the penalty-area. When Romário moved to Barcelona in 1993, many worried about PSV.

However, management created a new striking tandem: Ronaldo and Luc Nilis. In time, Ronaldo would play for the likes of Real Madrid and Internazionale, and win two World Cups with Brazil. However, from 1994-96, he was a raw phenom who illuminated the Eredivisie with a wide array of silky skills and incredible goals. He was lauded in Eindhoven. Nilis stayed around for six years, demonstrating himself as a complete player capable of scoring all manner of goals. In later years, he was paired with another PSV prodigy, Ruud van Nistelrooy, who wooed Lighttown with a similar variety of skill and predatory instinct. I grew-up watching Mateja Kežman. He is a player all-too-frequently derided for a difficult spell in England with Chelsea. I’ve watched a lot of football, however, and I’m still yet to see any goalscorer as good as Kežman in the early Millennium. He was untouchable in front of goal, earning the moniker Doelpuntenmachine from the adoring PSV masses. It was a privilege to watch.

The seven players mentioned combined to score 1085 goals for PSV Eindhoven. Just four of the players, namely Romário, Ronaldo, van Nistelrooy and Kežman, earned the club £55 million in transfer fees. It’s those goals, and that income, which has kept PSV relevant throughout the decades; allowed it to become a club capable of renewing itself as with more modern eras. The goals also brought trophies: PSV has twenty-one Eredivisie titles, one European Cup, and a UEFA Cup triumph. In Eindhoven, great weight is given to the currency of goals.

However, PSV is enduring its longest drought in twenty years. The club is without an Eredivisie championship since 2008; without full-time Champions League football since a similar mark. A solitary KNVB Beker and Johan Cruyff Shield is all they have won in five years. During this stretch, PSV have been noticeably devoid of that one predatory striker which once so signified their style. Sure, they have never struggled to score goals, with impressive totals in all those seasons. However, in the past half-decade, PSV have been more reliant on wide players and midfielders to score their goals; players like Jefferson FarfánBalázs Dzsudzsák, and Dries Mertens finishing as top-scorers. What is the problem, I hear you ask, so long as PSV win?

The defence is surely more of problem, you may argue? Nevertheless, there is a fine difference between a goal-scorer and a scorer-of-goals. In order to win an Eredivisie championship, a poacher is required to rescue three points at difficult away games, to feed off scraps and earn a victory even without playing well, to breed confidence into fans and teammates alike that they always have hope. Every elite team needs a Kežman, a van Nistelrooy, a Nilis.

Do PSV currently have one? It’s difficult to assess. In 19-year old Jürgen Locadia, they have a player with potential to become such a predator. The Emmen-born forward has already demonstrated his clinical ability in the penalty area, entering PSV folklore with a 22-minute hat-trick in his Eredivisie debut last season. As reward, he was given a five-year professional contract and, with an increased role in First Team affairs, scored a further hat-trick in the KNVB Beker semi-final, in addition to netting in the final. He currently has a record of 12 goals in 26 PSV appearances, which is a tremendous return. Locadia is sensational in front of goal. He is also young. These ingredients unfortunately make him a convenient late-game substitute for Phillip Cocu at present, with the forward being used either when PSV desperately need a goal or when they’re comfortably ahead. Accordingly, until Locadia begins to play ever week, it’s difficult to furnish him with the teams main goal-scoring burden.

The player he is attempting to oust in the PSV forward line is the enigmatic Tim Matavž. When the 24-year old Slovenian arrived from Groningen on Deadline Day 2011, there was tremendous expectation; many feeling that Matavž was at the right club to really develop his game and become a force in front of goal. In a purely statistical sense, Matavž has done just that, reaching the 20-goal plateau in his first two PSV seasons, and thus far holding a record of 42 goals from 86 appearances. However, many are still skeptical as to whether Matavž is the arch-poacher who can really drive PSV to an Eredivisie crown. It’s difficult to watch Matavž at times; he seems to score wonderful, unexpected goals, yet struggle with the ‘easier’ chances. Despite his first leg goal against Milan, I’m still not entirely certain that Matavž is the man who is going to score when PSV need it the most. The fact that Cocu regularly replaces the Slovenian with Locadia late in close games substantiates this point. Matavž will likely score twenty goals per season, but the debate persists as to whether he can add his name to the list of great PSV strikers.

It’s vitally-important that PSV find a reliable source of goals this season. If they have serious Title aspirations, somebody will have to step-up and provide regular punctuation to their often-exquisite approach play. In such a demanding football city, the difference between ‘good’ and ‘great’ is eminently clear. Matavž has a long way to go before he is cast in bronze beside Dillen and van der Kuijlen. Locadia might just get there before him.


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