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From signing Ronaldo to developing Depay - inside PSV's youth academy revolution

6:00 pm AEST 2/7/19
Memphis Depay PSV Man Utd Lyon
The Eindhoven side were once known for their smart transfer business, but have turned their attention to developing future stars themselves

PSV are a club traditionally renowned for their superb scouting network and shrewd transfer policy.

The signings of Brazilian superstars Romario in 1988 and Ronaldo six years later were arguably the perfect example of their ability to not only spot the best talent across the globe, but to also bring them on board.

Yet with the changing of the footballing landscape following the Bosman ruling and the explosion of television revenues outside of Netherlands, the Eredivisie became a far less appealing destination from the mid-nineties onwards.

Players such as Neymar and Vinicius Jr. could easily have ended up in Eindhoven not too long ago, but Barcelona and Real Madrid were quick to ensure PSV did not even dare to dream about snapping up Brazil’s finest of this decade.

The 1988 European champions may have celebrated signing Mexican icon Hirving Lozano in 2017, but the pacey attacker is not at the same level as the aforementioned phenomenons just yet.

The realisation that PSV are no longer able to secure the Romarios and Ronaldos of this world saw them reconsider their long-term strategic choices. No longer would attempting to sign the best talent from elsewhere be the club’s main focus. Instead, their aim would be to develop the best talent themselves.

“I think the youth academy is really important for Dutch clubs,” head coach Mark van Bommel told Goal and Voetbalzone.

“We are trying to make our academy better and better. We are working on a brand-new building for the academy.  

“Of course, the other teams have a lot more money than we have, but we are trying to develop our own players in a very good way.

”Ideally, you want as many academy graduates as possible in the first team. It would be perfect if you had the whole squad, but that’s not possible. You need a good mix of players from different age categories and different styles of play.”

The man who has been tasked with ensuring the PSV academy delivers on that ambition is Ernest Faber. He was born and raised in Eindhoven and enjoyed a lengthy spell in the first team himself, as well as working as an assistant coach before being named academy director in June 2018.

“PSV are like a family to me. I started here when I was 12 and I’m now 47,” Faber said of his beloved club.

“I was a youngster when PSV had players like Romario and Ronaldo. The club had the ability to sign big stars at the time.  

“But now there is such a big difference when it comes to the money, you have to spend. The amounts of money that are being spent are too much for a club like PSV.  

“I think the process to take the academy to the next level already started around 2007 or 2010. They put a program in place and every head of academy since has been adding new levels to that.”

That change of focus already paid off when a certain Memphis Depay graduated from the academy and eventually made his first-team debut in 2011-12.

The gifted attacker would go on to lead PSV to Eredivisie glory in 2014-15, winning the top-scorer title as well as the Player of the Year trophy before earning himself a record £30.6 million (€34m) move to Manchester United.

“You look at players like Memphis or other players who took the same route,” PSV’s academy director continued.

“They’re playing in the first team already when they’re 16 or 17. You get playing time, you get experience on a high level, you fight for the league title, you play in the Champions League and you’re playing cup finals.  

“You get the space to develop yourself. You need that experience to go to the big leagues because over there you are still a young player even when you are 23.”

Ever since Memphis’ departure, more and more academy graduates have made their way into the first team. Jeroen Zoet, Jorrit Hendrix, Steven Bergwijn, Mohammed Ihattaren, Michal Sadilek and Cody Gakpo are just some of the first-team regulars to have come through the ranks of the club’s academy.    

Out of that group, Bergwijn seems closest to earning himself a big-money move after a superb 2018-19 campaign.

“Stevie is close to Memphis’ level back in 2015,” Van Bommel stressed.  

“It’s always difficult to compare players, but if you look at their qualities, then Memphis was playing more or less in the same position.  

“It can be possible that a club pay almost the same amount for him as they did for Memphis.”

A summer move would mean the end of an eight-year spell at PSV for the 21-year-old and he has fond memories of his time in the club’s academy, highlighting the warm atmosphere as a particular plus.

“Things are just really friendly and down to earth here,” Bergwijn stated. “It’s a very warm and friendly club. You feel at home straight away at PSV.

“That was important for me and I think it is important for everyone.”

Whereas Bergwijn travelled back and forth between Eindhoven and Amsterdam in his younger years, fellow academy graduate Zoet actually left his hometown Veendam to live with a host family closer to PSV.

“It was a pretty big step in my career at the time,” the goalkeeper reflects.

“I left my normal surroundings with my family, friends and everything you’ve built up there. I made the decision based on a gut feeling. And PSV were the club that gave me the best feeling.

“I had two different host families and I definitely felt homesick while I was with the first host family. But I really felt at home after that. That really felt like a second home to me.

“PSV's support was quite good. They evaluated the situation and stayed on top of how things were going with me. I eventually made the switch to another host family and I think that was an important decision. It helped me in my development on the pitch as well.”

While Zoet already has well over 200 Eredivisie appearances under his belt, highly-rated midfielder Ihattaren is only just getting started.

The 17-year-old is regarded as one of the biggest prospects to set foot on PSV’s training ground, De Herdgang, in recent years. Indeed, he has already made his Eredivisie debut despite his tender age, much to the delight of Under-19s coach Ruud van Nistelrooy.

“The way he has developed is spectacular,” the former Manchester United star said.

“I thought he was going to need at least a season to develop and get used to things, but he has developed as a rocket really.

”There’s a big future ahead of him. But it’s a matter of putting in the daily work to develop yourself and to get the maximum out of yourself in every aspect. I think that’s his biggest challenge.”

Having been with PSV from a young age, Ihattaren is keen to reward the club for the time and effort they’ve invested in him to get him where he is today.

“I have always had a clear plan and I am following that plan at the moment,” he explained when questioned about his decision to snub interest from abroad in favour of a contract renewal with PSV.  

“The preference was always to stay at PSV, that was the sensible thing to do. I want to become the star player at PSV as soon as possible.

“I want to become important for the club, make the fans happy and win the title – more than once.  

“And then in the end, I would like to earn a big transfer. But I am happy at PSV for now and in no rush to move on.”

Following in the footsteps of Ihattaren, Bergwijn and Zoet is something American youngster Richie Ledezma will be dreaming of at this stage of his career.

The creative midfielder made the courageous decision to leave the USA for Eindhoven in January 2019 and started his PSV career with the U-19 team.

“Richie adds something special, that’s why we brought him in,” Van Nistelrooy said.  

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick thinking, passes, movement, he can score a goal and he’s creating chances for the whole team. He's a very promising talent, I was really happy to work with him.”

Ledezma himself, meanwhile, has acknowledged the move to Eindhoven was a bit of a culture shock, but has hailed the club’s support in helping him adapt to his new surroundings.

“The club have helped me find a home and they help me with my nutrition, my food, how I eat,” Ledezma said.

“Because I was a little chubby when I got here, I guess. They all called me fatty and stuff, so I was like … cool ... you know?

“It is really different from the US. The quantity of food you eat... I think it is a cultural thing, no more McDonalds!“

With a number of PSV academy graduates now among the continent’s most coveted players, it would be easy for the Eredivisie giants to think they’ve already achieved what they set out to do about a decade ago.

They have no intention of resting on their laurels, though, and in August they will be opening a brand-new building at De Herdgang that should further support their biggest talents.

“We have made a big investment into a high-tech building with the latest innovation to support and develop the players more and better than we have been able to do in previous years,” Faber explained.  

“Everything is being taken care of for the players. They get nice clothes, nice shoes, everything is there in the dressing room. Everything is being looked after."

Their latest push should further enhance their reputation as a club that no longer buys the biggest talents from abroad, but produces their own superstars instead.  

Ronaldo is no longer the player PSV youngsters look up to. That honour now goes to former academy kid and record sale Memphis.