Tim Simon on the gems from Holland coming to a club near you...
From Van Nistelrooy and Van Persie to Helder and Afonso Alves, the Eredivisie has long been a hotbed for the exportation of young footballers. For so long Dutch club football was at the pinnacle of the game, with Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven leading the way as former European Cup winners.
In recent years, however, their inability to keep up with the financial muscle of rival European leagues has forced Eredivisie outfits into selling their most talented youngsters just before they hit their peak.
This summer saw Ajax pair Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld join Tottenham and Atletico Madrid respectively, while PSV Eindhoven duo Dries Mertens and Kevin Strootman hot-footed it to Napoli and Roma in Serie A. It isn't the end, of course - the European sharks are forever circling - so without further ado, here's five Eredivisie starlets who probably won't be sticking around in Holland for much longer...
- Age: 19
- Club: Ajax
- Position: Left winger
Following in the footsteps of Danish compatriot Eriksen, Fischer joined Ajax from FC Midtjylland in 2012 and quickly decided that a stretch in Amsterdam to hone his talents was preferable to thrusting himself in the direction of a substitute’s bench elsewhere in Europe. The Dane is an inverted left winger with a fine goalscoring record at youth level - indeed, he was the joint-top goalscorer at the 2010/11 NextGen Series with seven goals as Ajax won the competition on penalties. Liverpool fans might remember him: he bagged a hat-trick against their kids in the semi-finals.
Fischer is perfectly suited to Ajax’s famous 4-3-3 formation, in which he is given licence to roam and find pockets of space. This season he has proved a more effective creator after a slow start in front of goal - the young Dane has made 16 key passes, half of them after cutting inside before threading neat balls through the defence.
Would suit: Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United.
- Age: 17
- Club: PSV Eindhoven
- Position: Winger
Bakkali hit the headlines against NEC Nijmegen earlier this season - as the youngest player ever to notch an Eredivisie hat-trick. But despite those being his only goals for the campaign, the 17-year-old has proven himself as a real talent to watch. The firecracker winger is comfortable on either flank or up front. Two-footed and pacey, the precocious teenager has already won his first cap for Belgium, has outstanding close control and loves a shot from distance. Only two of his attempts on goal this season have missed the target.
However, Bakkali’s standout attribute is his dribbling. He regularly induces challenges before quickly sweeping the ball away from oncoming defenders - and here's the proof: he's already won 24 of his attempted take-ons this year with a 71% success rate.
Would suit: Manchester United, Manchester City.
- Age: 21
- Club: FC Twente
- Position: Striker
A product of the Feyenoord academy, Castaignos made his big move to Inter Milan at the age of 19, but it proved far too early for him to make his mark in Serie A. In his teenage years, Castaignos was expected to become a superstar but this move to the San Siro only stifled his development. Now at FC Twente without the weight of expectation on his shoulders, the Dutch U21 international has the freedom to express himself once again.
Castaignos likes to shoot on sight, and has already attempted 49 efforts on goal in his 12 appearances this term. Standing at 6ft 2in, the striker is a dominant presence at the sharp end of Twente’s attack, but he's also surprisingly quick for a big man, making opposition centre-halves extra wary. Strong with his back to goal too, the 21-year-old is also expert at bringing others into play. He's made 10 key passes this season with two of them resulting in goals.
Would suit: Arsenal, Tottenham.
- Age: 19
- Club: PSV Eindhoven
- Position: Left winger
PSV manager Philip Cocu certainly isn't short of youthful wide options right now. On the opposite flank to Bakkali is Dutchman Memphis Depay, a raw talent with an eye for goal from range but equally capable of using his pace to get to the byline and provide for team-mates. The unpredictable 19-year-old is typical of a modern inverted wide man, and has quickly established himself as a nightmare for full-backs since breaking through in 2011.
Depay's free-kick style has been likened to that of Cristiano Ronaldo, and it is clearly a technique he practices regularly. The winger has been integral to Cocu’s side this season, creating a staggering 31 chances and attempting 46 shots on goal in just 12 appearances. Capable of the spectacular, he's certainly a star of the future - just ask Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, who recognised the youngster's abilities at international level with a first senior Dutch cap in October.
Would suit: Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund.
- Age: 22
- Position: Central midfielder
- Club: Feyenoord
Feyenoord’s crowning jewel, Clasie was once likened to Barcelona star Xavi for his ability to control a match. The 22-year-old has been in the Feyenoord first team for just over three years now and, like fellow Dutch midfield youngster Adam Maher, has made a huge name for himself in Holland. He's already got six caps for his country, for starters. The midfield linchpin has all the experience and ability to make any move to the continent a success.
In terms of playing style, Clasie is a conductor. He makes this Feyenoord side tick and rarely gives the ball away - but doesn't just pass sideways. The diminutive metronome is capable of spraying lengthy passes, keeping the game simple, or executing the killer balls that really matter. Of his 538 completed passes this season, 66.4% have gone forwards and, unsurprisingly, he already has four assists to his name. His passing isn't all he has, though - Clasie is capable of getting stuck in too, winning a hugely impressive 74% of his 36 attempted tackles this campaign.
Would suit: Fiorentina, Liverpool.