by Daniel Snowden
Jetro Willems is the youngest player to have ever participated in a European Championships, making his tournament debut for the Netherlands against Denmark at left back aged just 18 years and 71 days. Yesterday’s match against Germany was just his 4th cap for his country and there has been a lot of buzz around the youngster, but is he good enough, or is he only there because of a lack of other options due to injury/retirements?
Before we move to how he got on, a bit of background: Williams has only actually got 20 appearances to his name at PSV in the Eerste Divisie and 6 in the UEFA Cup (I refuse to use the new name), with just 16 more coming during his time at Sparta Rotterdam. He is the fourth youngest Dutch player ever and was part of the Holland team that won the UEFA European Under 17 Championship in 2011.He is not exactly what you would call a seasoned pro, and his chance has come about more due to the misfortune of other rather than his own stellar performances last season. Nonetheless, he is expected to have a bright future.
I think it would be fair to say that Willems did not enjoy the greatest first half of his career last night, with the German players targeting his side of the pitch, searching out space between him and the center half. The Dutch were playing with a very flat back four, with the full backs pushing up to be in line with the two central defensive midfielders in possession and dropping back to the center half line when possession was lost. However, both Willems and the right back did not really venture much further up the pitch, leaving the Dutch with just four attackers, failing to stretch the play. This was a really pity as Willems possess extreme, Theo Walcott type pace, which would have put the German defence under a fair amount of pressure if he was allowed to get that far up the pitch.
As well as pace, Willems is also fairly strong and was not bullied off the ball and even managed to get himself booked in the 91st minute by standing up to the marauding right winger. However, this also highlighted that he is a bit raw and naive, as Holland really needed the ball and this foul gave the Germans another opportunity to waste some time as they were 2-1 up.
Willems’ passing is nothing to write home about based on this game, although again I think this was more of a tactical point than a limitation. All night he made short, square passes, offering little penetration, yet I can’t recall a single pass going astray during the whole match.
Still, his first half was not a joy to behold, with Holland conceding two goals to the excellent Gomez, who seems to have put his Champions League Final performance behind him. On the first goal Willems could not really do do much, maybe putting a bit more pressure on the ball but overall he stayed with the rest of his defence.
However, on the second goal he missed the initial header, which is no great surprise considering he looks like he goes to work singing “hi-ho”. He then chased back and as the centre half had gone out to cover at left back when he got sucked up the pitch for the header, he found himself in the middle of the pitch, where upon Gomez streams pass to score a great goal.
Indeed, his first half was poor enough for Mark Lawenson on the BBC to call for him to be subbed, although I think that was a little unfair as the whole Dutch side were not at the races.
The second half saw an improvement, perhaps aided by the Dutch taking the game to the Germans, taking some of the pressure off their defence. This allowed Willems to get forward a bit more and although his short passing remained solid, his crosses and balls into the box were a little wayward. Still, he showed that he can get forward and his pace allowed him to get back to prevent any major issues, something the manager may need to consider given that Holland have to win their next match and hope Germany do them a favour to progress to the next stage.
So, overall he looked raw and uncomfortable, but given he has exclusively played in Holland it is likely he has never come up against a team with the quality that Germany has before. Given this, and his youth I think he has the potential to develop a lot more, and he reminds me a little of a young Ashley Cole, although lets all hope he turns out to be a less obnoxious human being. It would be no surprise if Man Utd came in for him and allow for a gradual switch over between Evra and Willems. In addition, Newcastle are apparently searching out the Dutch leagues in a quest for more quality bargains and they too could make a move. However, he has only been at PSV a short time and they may want a stack of cash to let him go so quickly.