Look Out For Jeffrey Gouweleeuw, The Dutch Pique

The name may currently be unfamiliar to most but the stylish composure of this young Dutchman may soon be reminding a watching continent of a certain Barcelona centre-back.
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The name may currently be unfamiliar to most but the stylish composure of this young Dutchman may soon be reminding a watching continent of a certain Barcelona centre-back.

When I look forward to UEFA Euro 2012 the Netherlands are a side that inevitably spring to mind.

The clinical finishing of van Persie, the creative ability of Sneijder, the hard-work and craft of Kuyt, the wing-wizardry of Robben, not to mention the likes of van der Vaart, Huntelaar, Afellay, van der Wiel, de Jong, and Stekelenburg.

Other exciting talents who've more recently broken into the squad include Luuk de Jong of FC Twente and PSV pair Kevin Strootman and Georginio Wijnaldum.

The Dutch should be a joy to watch and must be considered genuine contenders to win the tournament - but one area where they're currently without the strength in depth of other leading nations is central defence.

A regular pairing is 31 year old Joris Mathijsen, signed by Malaga from Hamburger SV for €2.5m in June '11, and 28 year old Everton defender John Heitinga, signed for €6.8m from Atletico Madrid in August '09.

Other options for Bert van Marwijk include Valencia's Hedwiges Maduro, Peter Wisgerhof of FC Twente, Feyenoord's Ron Vlaar and even Dirk Marcellis of AZ, although none of them have featured with any recent regularity at international level.

It means the door is very much ajar for young defensive talent like 19 year old Feyenoord defender Stefan de Vrij - and we've already seen Chelsea's Jeffrey Bruma given several chances to impress since his senior Dutch debut against Ukraine in August 2010.

Currently on a one-year loan at Hamburger SV in the German Bundesliga, 20 year old Bruma started two UEFA Euro 2012 qualifiers in a row during October 2011, against Moldova and Sweden.

It's remarkable progress for someone who was playing Championship football on-loan at Leicester City last season and you might argue he is being fast-tracked in light of current circumstances.

With Dutch Head Coach Bert van Marwijk watching on from the stands, he put in an outstanding man-of-the-match performance

These things are hard to predict, but I'd have to imagine a similar path awaits Heerenveen's Jeffrey Gouweleeuw, who is, for me, the pick of the bunch.

He's actually four months older than Bruma but only broke into Heerenveen's first-team last season, making his debut in a 3-2 home defeat against Excelsior on the 2nd April 2011.

This season he's been a key component of the side, forging a superb partnership with summer signing Ramon Zomer and keeping the more experienced Arnold Kruiswijk out of the team.

Head Coach Ron Jans has had little choice but to keep a settled side due to Heerenveen's impressive form - they're currently unbeaten in 13 league matches (a club record), a run which dates back to the 20th August.

Gouweleeuw made a big contribution to maintaining that run by scoring an injury time equaliser at Vitesse in October, but he far surpassed that against league leaders AZ on 4th December.

With Dutch Head Coach Bert van Marwijk watching on from the stands, he put in an outstanding man-of-the-match performance in a 5-1 home win, even managing two assists.

The first was a perfectly weighted 30-yard ball from the back to pick out Filip Duricic, the second saw him show great wing-play, beating a defender before pulling the ball back for Ramon Zomer to finish after chasing a loose ball from a corner.

He's just over 6-ft tall (1.83m), really comfortable on the ball with good vision and plenty of passing ability, there's also an improving positional sense and good pace.

English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers are the latest club said to be sending scouts to the Abe Lenstra Stadion.

The way he likes to bring the ball out from the back has led to comparisons with Brazilian defender Lucio, but in a recent interview Gouweleeuw compared himself to the Barcelona and Spain defender Gerard Pique, so self-confidence clearly isn't a problem!

He also highlighted the fact that he's yet to be booked yet this season, saying it's something he's proud of and proves you can be a good defender without being tough in the tackle and committing needless fouls.

The man who gave Gouweleeuw his chance in the Heerenveen first-team - Ron Jans - has been impressed enough to label him 'the star of tomorrow' and it would seem word is getting around.

English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers are the latest club said to be sending scouts to the Abe Lenstra Stadion, as they look for a potential replacement for Gary Cahill, should the England international move on in January.

With Gouweleeuw's contract with Heerenveen due to expire in the summer of 2012, provided he can keep up current form I can only imagine the list of potential suitors growing much longer.

The player himself has sought to play down talk of a full international call-up, claiming he's only interested in becoming established at Under-21 level right now and is happy to continue watching all the senior Dutch games on TV for the time being.

It's probably correct for his development that Gouweleeuw isn't getting carried away, but at the risk of doing that myself, I wouldn't bet against him lighting up our screens himself next summer.

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