By Stefan Coerts
The year of 2011 had not been a good one for Eredivisie giants PSV until June 28. The club's desolate period began with the departure of Ibrahim Afellay to Barcelona in January before they were eliminated from the KNVB Beker by Twente later that month. Their Europa League adventure then came to an end against Benfica, while a loss against Feyenoord ended their dream of winning the league title. To compound their misery, the club's last remaining star, Balazs Dzsudzsak, left Eindhoven for Anzhi Makhachkala last month.
Meanwhile, biggest rivals Ajax went on to celebrate their first Eredivisie triumph since 2004 before flexing their muscle on the transfer market to pour even more salt into PSV's wounds. The Amsterdam titans signed arguably the league's best player, Theo Janssen from Twente, and also secured the services of Belgian youngster Mats Rits, winger Derk Boerrigter and South African prospect Thulani Serero to bolster their squad ahead of the 2011-12 campaign.
Nevertheless, last Tuesday the PSV faithful finally found some reasons to be cheerful again. Not only did the municipality of Eindhoven confirm the purchase of the ground under the Philips Stadium and the Herdgang (the club's training ground) for a fee of €48.4 million, but the club's sporting director Marcel Brands also revealed that the 21-time Dutch champions had reached an agreement with Utrecht for the transfers of Dries Mertens and Kevin Strootman.
|ALL-TIME LEAGUE STATISTICS
With the 24-year-old Mertens, PSV have located an adequate replacement for Dzsudzsak some three weeks after the departure of the Hungarian international. Although the Eindhoven powerhouse initially appeared to have set their sights on Heerenveen winger Oussama Assaidi, they never submitted a concrete offer for the Morocco international, and swooped for Mertens instead, much to the player's delight.
"It's simply amazing to have the chance to play for PSV. They always play for the league title and this transfer is like a dream come true. It took a while to complete the move, but I'm pleased that it's now a done deal," he commented.
The Belgium international was deemed not strong enough physically to play professional football by Anderlecht and Gent in his younger years, but Mertens has proved his critics wrong with some fine performances at Utrecht in the past two seasons. With 16 goals in 65 league appearances and numerous assists, Mertens is one of the most efficient wingers in the division and there's little doubt he will become a key player at his new club.
|"It's simply amazing to have the chance to play for PSV. They always fight for the league title and this transfer is like a dream come true."
- Dries Mertens
The transfer of Strootman came as something of a surprise for many, as Stijn Schaars appeared to be a more likely option for PSV to strengthen their midfield. However, the Netherlands international snubbed their offer and inked a deal with Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon instead. PSV then turned their attention to the 21-year-old Strootman and, retrospectively, have every reason to be pleased with the way things have progressed.
Schaars has been unable to impress since winning the Eredivisie title with AZ in 2009, and it remains to be seen whether he will ever return to top form again. Strootman, meanwhile, is one of the rising stars of the footballing world and has a bright future ahead of him. The holding midfielder plied his trade at Sparta in Holland's second tier only six months ago, but has developed into a full Dutch international since his move to Utrecht in January. He had also attracted the interest of clubs such as Roma, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Fulham, but only wanted a move to PSV.
"I have very high expectations of my transfer to PSV and I'm eager to play for silverware here. I am very proud to have signed for this club and can't wait to prove my worth," the ambitious Strootman said.
With the purchase of Strootman and Mertens plus the arrival of Georginio Wijnaldum from Feyenoord, who completed his transfer to PSV on Monday, the Eindhoven side are ready to seriously challenge Ajax for the Eredivisie title again after three seasons without silverware. Head coach Fred Rutten is hopeful that he will also be able to welcome a new striker to his squad this summer, but even if they fail to add an attacking reinforcement in the next two months, they should still be capable of providing a stern challenge to Ajax in 2011-12.
Follow Stefan Coerts on