Thursday, 18 June 2015

Karim Rekik - PSV Eindhoven loan review

The final of this season's loan reviews and this time the focus is on Karim Rekik. A classy, composed centre-back with a strong frame and a decent turn of pace, he's already a full Dutch international after becoming something of a veteran of the loan system. Since making his debut as a precociously talented seventeen year old back in 2011 he's tasted life at numerous clubs - mixed spells at Blackburn and Portsmouth in the Championship were succeeded by an ultimately more satisfying move to PSV during the 13/14 season. He quickly established himself in Eindhoven alongside former Chelsea youth product Jeffrey Bruma at centre-back, and it proved a productive partnership, too. He was invited back to the Phillips Stadion for a second spell this year and he wasted no time picking up where he left off, capping off a good season with an Eredivise winners medal, bagging himself some YouTube notoriety in process... 

I spoke to Martijn Hilhorst, editor of Total Dutch Football and Opta contributor, and Will Burns of World Football Weekly (owner and editor of Total Dutch Football too) about Rekik's development.

The immediately obvious one - how has Rekik done this season? Has the loan been a success?

Martijn - Well, it’s known that PSV was crowned champions this season, mostly due to the attacking force (scoring 92 goals), but the ‘Eindhovenaren’ also improved defensively, because PSV conceded just 31 goals this season, 14 less than the season before that. So, it’s a combination of certain things, but it’s clear that Rekik – and his fellow defensive colleagues – did a superb job this season.

Will - Indeed it has - for both PSV and the player. Over the last two years, Rekik has been vital part of Philip Cocu's eleven. While still only 20 years old, his leadership and maturity at the back has been impressive. 

At such a young age, you would expect a defender, in such a fast paced league as the Eredivisie, to boot the ball as fast and far as he can when under pressure. Rekik is the complete opposite, he holds great composure and with a fantastic 89% success rate in passing (according to Opta) it shows that he is a safe hand at the back. PSV have just clinched their 22nd Eredivisie title with Rekik playing in 29 of the 34 games in the season - so the defender has earned his winners medal.

Has he improved as a player in his second spell at the club? How does he compare to any other stand out players in the Eredivisie?

Martijn - Rekik developed significantly over the past season, which isn’t that rare, because of his age. But it’s safe to say that he ‘grown up’ over the past season. Concentrating for the full ninety minutes, no stupid yellow cards and finally being conscious about his strengths and flaws.

Will - His central partnership with Jeffrey Bruma (a former Chelsea youth) has gone from strength to strength and along with full-back Santaigo Arias and Jetro Willems, they are part of arguably the best defence in the Eredivisie after just conceding 31 goals in 35 games in a championship winning season. Over the past campaign, Rekik has seen his personal development increase. Standing at 6ft 1 inches tall, the strength and power he possesses makes aerial duels an ease to win and his reading of the game has come on. He is second in the league in blocks, averaging one block per game showing that his defensive awareness is one of the best in the division.

What's the perception of his potential as a player within Holland/PSV? Do they think he'll have a chance at City?

Will - He is seen as a player that can eventually lead the back for the Holland national side. The perception is that he would not improve to be this player at Manchester City. With Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala ahead of the young Dutchman then it is not hard to see why Rekik's progression may halt at City.

Martijn - The Netherlands have had problems with their defence for several years now. Louis van Gaal captured this magnificently in 2014 and therefore chose for a 5-men strong defence. The expectations of him succeeding at City is marginal, mostly due to the competition and knowing that such a rich club as Manchester City won’t have the patience for younger players to gain experience. Third reason is that wisdom comes with age and mistakes will be made along the way, which isn’t acceptable at such a big international club.

His obvious flaws/strengths? Does he remind you of anyone stylistically?

Will - One thing I pick up on when I watch him, can be his decision making. One thing springs out is that he sometimes has an inclination to pass back to the goalkeeper and although, he is retaining possession for his team, this can expose the keeper especially if he were to play in a stronger league.

There's a sense from some City fans that perhaps PSV aren't always tested enough physically for Rekik to develop the necessary traits to be a premier league defender. Would you say that's fair?

Martijn - You will always have such opinions, don’t get me wrong, I agree with those who say the Eredivisie isn’t physically challenging comparing to the Premier League. But, which competition is? I personally watch several (European) competitions and not one of them comes close to the importance of physical superiority as needed in the PL. But, I wouldn’t be worried about Rekik’s physicality, because he has grown into a strong – and relatively - fast central defender.

Will - Of course, the Premier League is a much stronger league although possibly not as strong as lot think, as the European competitions have proved over the past few seasons. However, my prediction would be if Rekik went on loan and got real game time at say Aston Villa, Everton or a team like that - he would possibly in better shape to challenge Kompany, Demichelis and co the season(s) after.

Do you personally think he has a chance at City? Would you use him if you were Pellegrini next season - I.e do city need a player like him? Or another loan move?

Will - Like mentioned above, another loan move would help his game in my opinion and help Rekik adjust to a total different style of football. In Holland, all twenty teams primarily play the ball on the floor, in the Premier League possibly only about ten teams can be known for this, so a loan move over here would give Rekik vital experience dealing with the long ball game and defending set-pieces. With his height, he should not take much adapting.

Martijn - He won’t be a first squad member next season, that’s for sure. It would be perfect for him to gain experience in a more challenging environment, maybe the Bundesliga or a Premier League-club such as Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United etc..

Do you think city will utilise the loan link up with PSV again? Or do you know of any players from city's academy you'd like for a year?

Martijn - We’ve had several City-players on loan in the last couple of seasons in the Eredivisie. What to think about John Guidetti or this year with Albert Rusnák, Divine Naah and Sinan Bytyqi. Unfortunately, latter picked up a serious injury almost immediately, but both Naah and Rusnak contributed greatly to our competition. Rusnák had an expiring contract with City and was bought by FC Groningen in January, after being the best Cambuur-player in the first half of the season where he played on loan. So yeah, both City as well of several Dutch clubs are happy with the current circumstances.

Will - The impression that Cocu and Marcel Brands (sporting director at PSV) has gave post-season is that they wish to purchase Rekik outright from Manchester City. With the money they have received from the Memphis Depay to Manchester United deal - this may happen. Although City will see Rekik as a home-grown player for their squad and may be reluctant to let him go permanently.

Where can you imagine him being in four or five years time?

Martijn - It’s really hard to say. For Rekik it’s evident that he will gain a lot of experience as a first squad member. So, he should be really picky when it comes to choosing his next (loan) move. It all depends on a good, steady career and then he will most likely be a good Premier League-defender, maybe not the level required at the top clubs, but time will tell.

Will - A mainstay in the back four (or three) of the Dutch national side and playing for a top four side in one of the big leagues across Europe

It's an interesting one with Rekik. I never fully know what to make of him - I've seen the odd game here and there and for some reason, despite all of his obvious potential, I've personally never been wholly convinced. He's physically strong, he doesn't seem quite as fast as he did when he was seventeen, but he's still no slouch, and he clearly is technically solid and very composed, yet I wonder if he's quite cut out for the level that City want to attain. He often seems perhaps a little passive and not the tough, bullish warrior that maybe he would need to be to compensate for not being the purest of athletes. Would he really be an improvement on Nastasic? The Serbian was deemed surplus to requirements at City and his game is similar in many ways. Perhaps there's the scenario that in Holland, as Martijn and Will alluded to, he's not quite tested enough with the real nitty gritty defending that many are often found out by over here. Would he even get ahead of Denayer now? Denayer undoubtedly benefited by experiencing this for Celtic - even though the SPL is technically inferior, it's definitely a considerably more physical testing ground for a young defender. You grow up there and you do it quick, or you're eaten by 6'3 Duncan Ferguson type, or nipped at by an equally irritating Paul Dickov clone. It's tough, basically.

That just isn't the Eredivise at all - that's not to say it doesn't have its values, it does clearly, but it's worth considering that the game is mostly played on the ground in front of him and it could be a pretty rude awakening if he had to experience a trip to the Britannia. There isn't many things in football quite like a long diagonal launched towards the back post and Peter Crouch... he could learn to cope with this howeverm and as it currently stands it's impossible to say. It really could go either way - he's an intelligent footballer and he's grown at PSV, undoubtedly. He's done what could only be reasonably be expected of him, but it's definitely now the time for City to make a decisive decision regarding his future. I would expect they will keep him with the first team during the pre-season tour to take a closer look at his development but he'd have to show a lot to be afforded a concerted opporunity next year and that may just be out of his reach. He's grown accustomed to first team football, despite his relative youth, and it's unlikely that he would accept being a reserve at City for long, scrapping for the odd opportunity here and there in the Carling Cup, and I get that. Yet we need to give him games in that kind of environment to see if he could be a viable option for us while learning that necessary side of his game. Catch 22.

There's rumours he may sign permanently for PSV, and if he is to end up there next year it shouldn't be via a loan. A third temporary spell back there achieve would achieve little, we'd be in the same situation as we currently are but just a year down the line with little more learned. If he doesn't leave City, then logically all signs point towards seeing how he fairs out on loan in a league with a more intense approach - somewhere there's a little more fire and fight. It'd be more beneficial than going back on loan to PSV, or even being sat on City's bench. Hypothetically, if he came back twelve months from now having dealt with a newer, more demanding environment then great - we have a player. If he falls a little short then so be it, the Premier League's a tough place and many with bigger names and bigger reputations than his have struggled over on these shores. Either way, Rekik's a good footballer and he'll most likely spend most of his career around the upper echelons of the footballing tiers. Time will tell whether that's with Manchester City or elsewhere.

Previous Loan Reviews - Marcos Lopes || Seko Fofana || Jordy Hiwula || Guidetti & Denayer

Monday, 1 June 2015

Denayer & Guidetti - Celtic loan reviews

We sent two players out on loan to Celtic this year - young Belgian centre-back, Jason Denayer and his EDS team-mate John Guidetti. Both highly rated, talented players, but both at potentially differing cross roads in their City careers - It was interesting to see how they’d fair north of the border at Hampden Park with one looking to resurrect a stuttering career and the other looking to launch one. Denayer was coming off the back of a season where he starred as captain for Vieira’s u21 team. A technically proficient centre-back, skilful and composed and with a confidence that defies his years, Denayer had stood out at every age group. This was to be his first season as a professional however, and the Scottish league, though some would argue lacking in technical quality, is a physically demanding environment. A real muck and nettles league, where teams throw everything but the kitchen sink at Celtic – its dogged stuff, but exactly the kind of thing a growing defender needs to experience. Denayer being no exception.

Guidetti of course had already seen a fair bit of first-team football in his fledgling career. Only aged 22 at the start of the season, he’d become something of a veteran of the loan system already. Short term moves at IF Brommapojkarna, Burnley and Stoke were all topped by a spell a couple of years ago at Feyenoord where he scored 20 in 23 cementing his reputation as of one Europe’s most exciting young forwards. Sadly for him, a bizarre virus struck him down towards the end of that year causing him to lose all feeling in his right leg and miss the end of Feyenoord’s season. In the eyes of many it ultimately cost the Eredivise team the title. He’s since struggled to regain true fitness or form and the earlier mentioned loan to Stoke last season under Mark Hughes, a former manager of Guidetti’s at City, was a frustrating experience for the Swede. He spent more or less all of his time on the bench, and unsurprisingly he wasn't too happy about it. On paper this move seemed pretty interesting for both players, for very different reasons.

I spoke to two Celtic fans about their time with the Bhoys. First up was Steve Jackson, an admin from the Celtic fansite and James Forrest from followed...

The immediately obvious one - how have Guidetti and Denayer faired this season? Have the loans been a success?

Steve - I'll give my thoughts on both of them separately.


A very mature defender for one so young, some feel he lacks a bit of height to make it at the top level but i don't agree and as long as he was partnered with someone who could dominate in the air then this wouldn't be a problem. On his debut (in which he scored) he looked as if he had a tendency to dive in to challenges and get on the wrong side of attackers but this disappeared very quickly. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to defend standing up. He will often force attackers out wide where he can dispossess them rather than dive in straight away. He only received one yellow card in 29 league games which backs this up.

Clearly the Elephant in the room when discussing Celtic defenders is that they are untested in many domestic games but two things stand out about Denayer in this respect, his concentration is very good, in fact his more lauded partner Van Dijk is probably more prone to switching off and overdoing things, the other is that arguably his best performance for us came in the San Siro against Inter Milan after the aforementioned Van Dijk received a red card, Denayer really stepped up to the plate and marshalled the defence brilliantly, great to see from a young player in his first full season. He also provides a goal threat. 6 this season. Always a bonus for a CB.


To cut to the chase he has absolutely no chance of making it at City. He has some qualities, he can be an explosive if wasteful finisher and has a great first touch. He takes a great free kick and has a cockiness about him that fans like to see. He is however slow. I don't mean lacking in pace I mean he is visibly slow. At first we put this down to him having missed a lot of football over the last season or two but it didn't improve as the season went on. A lot of fans accused him of being lazy but i tend to think he tried to get to places as fast as he could. He had a great early spell with us in the Autumn but even then free kicks and penalties enhanced his goal tally.

Any obvious flaws/strengths? Do either remind you of anyone stylistically?

Denayer - A young Kompany, obvious maybe but it seems as good a comparison as any.

Guidetti - A slower Nicklas Bendtner.

There's a sense that Delias style really suits city loanees. Fast technical attacking football. Do you think city will utilise the loan link up with Celtic again? Perhaps even as a long shot... But would even Deila himself be on city's radar one day?

Steve - I think it has worked out well for both teams. From City's point of view Denayer is now a Belgian international which increases his value even if he doesn't establish himself at the club. There are all sorts of links between City/Celtic/Stormgodset - i'm still not entirely sure how i feel about it all but we can't be too precious if the chance to sign quality players comes along. Hopefully Deila does end up on City's radar as the only way that will happen is if Celtic enjoy some European success.

There's some talks amongst City fans that perhaps Denayer one day could move into midfield given his technical ability - what do you think to this?

Steve - He reads the game very well and his ability, along with Van Dijk, to step forward into midfield with the ball was a huge part of our success this season. I could definitely see him moving into midfield at some point, if not permanently then certainly as an option in some games.  In fact it was something i was calling for this season before the re-emergence of Nir Bitton in our midfield.

Do you personally think either has a chance at City? Would you use them if you were Pellegrini next season or another loan move for one or both of them?

Steve - I think Denayer has a great chance of making it, Whether he is ready for the City first team i don't know, City would maybe want him to gain more experience at a higher level first, hopefully with us if we make the CL group stages or possibly with another EPL or Championship team. He is definitely too good to just hang around making up the numbers. There is a player in there somewhere with Guidetti, and he could go on to have a decent career but i would be astonished if it were to be at a club with ambitions to win one of the big leagues or do anything in the Champion's League.

Are you happy for the potential loan link up to be used again? Do you know of any players from city's academy you'd like for a year?

Steve - I would be happy enough to use it again. Last summer we changed managers so loan deals were a way of getting players in quickly with little risk. Now that Deila has settled in I would probably rather we thought more long term but if a player of Denayer's quality became available again we would be daft not to look at it. I heard a rumour last autumn that Jack Byrne was being discussed for the 2015/2016 season, this could well have been someone putting 2+2 together though as Celtic seem to be linked with every Irish player at some point.

How do they compare to other standout players in the league?

Steve - Denayer is probably as good as any defender in the League, Van Dijk maybe has a wee bit more class but is a few years older and far more experienced. Take away Guidetti's free kicks and he would struggle to get a start for Aberdeen or Dundee Utd at this stage although there is potential there to be a lot better.

What happened to Guidetti? Incredible start but he appeared to burn out...

Steve - Probably flattered to deceive at the start, there is a line of thought that he thought he had made it and took his foot off the gas thinking he just had to turn up and the goals would follow. Personally I think the free kicks at the start disguised his flaws. There was also a feeling that he was "not as good as he thinks he is" and that he was saying a lot of things the fans wanted to hear but not really meaning it.

Where do you imagine them being in four or five years time?

Steve - Denayer at a top club, if he can't break into City's first team he may have to take a step back but he has everything needed to make it. Guidetti will be at a mid table Bundesliga club, on the bench at Sunderland or if he knuckles down and works at his game he could reach the heady heights of a Sporting Lisbon or similar.

James Forrest, author and blogger for ‘On Fields of Green’, forwarded me this splendidly worded collection of thoughts on our two loanees...

James Forrest - I am often wary of loan signings, because we’ve had so many who’ve blown hot and cold. My initial reactions to the two were very different; one I was pleased as punch about and towards the other I felt indifferent. 

Funny how things turn out, right? 

The one I was excited about was John Guidetti, of course, a player I’d been hearing about for a couple of years. He had gone to Feyenoord and scored a truckload of goals, and he was clearly a talented footballer, capable of magic all told, and Swedish with it, so he needed no-one to tell him what was expected of a striker here. A certain other Swede had already set the bar pretty high on that score. 

And you know what? For a while there it looked to me as if he might be the first player in the Hoops in many a year who actually had the goods to rise to that level. In his early days here he was scoring, literally, for fun. On top of that, he showed a tremendous ability to strike a dead ball, one Celtic Park hasn’t seen since Nakamura was firing them in from acute angles and impossible distances. 
This guy looked as if he had everything … but it wasn’t to have a happy ending. 

I think the very worst thing a talented footballer can be is a “confidence player.” We famously had one of those in the Hoops for a goodly time until very recently, Georgios Samaras, who I thought had all the skill in the world but was always hampered by a tendency to go off the boil and stay in a rut because, frankly, after a while his confidence just went. Guidetti was like Samaras at times. Without the work ethic. After missing a few chances in a game, he tended to drift out of it completely. He never hid – another hallmark of big Samaras – but there were whole sections of the game where he may as well not have been there. Sections of the season, if I’m being honest. 
I think most Celtic fans were also highly unimpressed by his attitude towards contract talks. All told, we’d agreed a fee with City around December when he looked like a player we’d wanted to keep. Those talks went nowhere, and instead we were treated to a drip feed of stories about how other clubs wanted him and how he was talking to them. True or false, real or imaginary, the contract Celtic put on the table remains unsigned and at least one club who's people claimed to have been in advanced negotiations with the player were spooked by pay demands which he simply isn’t worth. If he had been he’d have been in the Man City first team in the beginning. 

In short, John Guidetti isn’t one Celtic fans are going to miss terribly. In flashes he showed brilliance – real brilliance, no joking; his goal against Milan, for example, was sensational – but it wasn’t there enough and there were issues which left a bad taste in the mouth. 

Which brings me to the other Man City loan player, and there my initial lack of enthusiasm soon went away because his attitude was excellent and his performances were stellar and I would have badly liked to keep him at Celtic Park for another year at least, on a loan deal or not. Because Jason Denayer does have all the qualities necessary to be a top, top player. 

Yes, I admit that I was less than enthused by the idea of bringing in a young, untested, central defender on loan, especially as he came with the kind of reputation that sounded too good to be true. People have been comparing Jason to Vincent Kompany for the last few years and that kind of comparison hasn’t been good for a lot of kids, talented or not. 

But I’ll tell you what … he could go far, and fast, because he does have the tools. Put bluntly, Jason Denayer is a class footballer. He was the one unqualified success of Celtic’s five loan signings and City are right to want to keep hold of him. Some will knock him because he was playing in Scotland, but not only did he perform effortlessly in the SPL, but he also did it on the European stage, where he and Virgil Van Dijk formed a quick, and easy, partnership which I wish could have lasted longer. 

For one thing, he has that most central requirement of a good defender; positional sense. He has good feet. He reads the game very well and he can pass a ball. I think everyone at Celtic Park was hugely impressed, and I know we made a big effort to keep him beyond the duration of the loan.

Jason also has the right attitude towards the game; he's not flashy, not big headed and he doesn't think he's better than he is. He has a healthy self-regard and self-belief, but that's not arrogance. He bonded very well with the Celtic supporters, who would have adopted him as a real hero already if he was a permanent member of the first team. 

Over the piece, the signing of John Guidetti didn’t make the impact myself and others had expected, and hoped for, but Jason Denayer played so well that my misgivings over him didn’t last long. They were certainly not justified at all. He will be very hard to replace.

It’s hard not to get the impression that Guidetti’s time at City has slowly come to a dissatisfying end. His contracts up, there seems to be very little indication that the club will offer him a new deal, and even if by some twist of fate they did, he most likely wouldn’t sign it. I fully well expect he’ll be on the release list when its announced soon. It’s a shame – he clearly has talent, and he’s showed on occasion that he has it in abundance too. He's a clinical finisher, when confident, and there is a potentially powerful traditional number 9 in there waiting to give someone, somewhere a handful. With a little more fortune he could have taken a pretty quick and direct trajectory to the top. He’s a goal scorer and they’re worth their weight in gold, but the illness that struck him down during his spell at Feyenoord has clearly proved so degenerative to his development. If not for its timing he might have even had a crack at the first team the following pre-season. There’s time for him to build a name for himself in the game still, but at 23 he has a long way to go to reach City’s level. Ambrose, Iheanacho and others breaking through would only arguably make his life harder too. He'll move on and it'll be for the best...

Denayer on the other hand won't. He has absolutely everything to be a potential world star – it’s as simple as that. Technically excellent, confident, composed, versatile and a natural born leader with a maturity and intelligence that is simply astounding for one still only 19. He could arguably play anywhere and excel due to the fact that he appears to be a quick learner, studiously reading the game and honing his craft. I spoke in my last piece about how our academy should at least produce squad players and maybe produce the odd star. Like Lopes, Denayer will at least meet the former criteria, and potentially the latter. He's a must for the squad at very least. If we let him go he'll only end up at Bayern or somewhere like that within a handful of years. Guardiola would surely love him too... and what more could City have expected or asked him to do during this loan move?

He’s done everything possible, and then some. It’s been a truly incredible season for Denayer. He won the Scottish Young Player of the Year, a phenomenal achievement for any player, never mind one playing his first professional season. While on loan. He made the league’s team of the year too after forming a formidable partnership with Van Dijk, often out-shining his much lauded partner. One game at the San Siro against Milan stood out in particular - he almost single-handedly held the fort that day after his partner was dismissed early on. Valiant and brave. A real leader's performance. He made his full international debut for Belgium, Marc Wilmotts describing his potential as ‘world-class’ after choosing to bring him on for his full debut with Belgium down to ten men, instead of moving experienced internationals like Toby Alderweireld or Jan Vertonghen into the middle. Like Lopes, he’s one of the poster boys for the current academy set up and you do wonder if he hasn’t done enough to earn a chance, then who ever will? Given the struggles of our centre-backs this year, and with Demichelis not getting any younger (plus Boyata heading the other way to Celtic) there is a spot for another defender in the ranks. It'd be criminal if Jason doesn't fill it. In fact at the rate he's developing I wouldn't be surprised if he found himself in the starting eleven permanently within a year if he was given that chance. He's that good.

previous loan reviews -

Marcos Lopes || Seko Fofana || Jordy Hiwula


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