“If there’s just a one percent chance of getting him from Chelsea, then I’ll go for it,” PSV technical director Marcel Brands said, seemingly outlining his personal summer mission in the wake of the Eindhoven side’s Eredivisie title win.
The celebrations following Sunday’s resounding 3-0 victory over an imploding Ajax in Eindhoven have barely calmed, but the reinstated champions already have an eye on the future.
But Brands is not planning an audacious bid for an established Chelsea first-team player to strengthen his side for another title defence and European adventure. Instead it is a player who is already a pivotal figure within their own ranks: Marco van Ginkel.
The midfielder has played 63 games for the Eindhoven side, scoring 31 goals, and has now won two Eredivisie titles with them. Not only a first-team star and fan favourite, he has been captain since the beginning of the season, and yet he has never been their player.
Despite the club’s attempts to buy the 25-year-old from Chelsea last summer after getting the best out of him for six months at a time in two previous loans, they were forced to settle for another temporary switch. Keeping the door open on his future at Stamford Bridge, the Blues had even extended his contract to 2020.
Although Van Ginkel’s development had been hindered by four years of persistent knee troubles, he has shown in his first full season since he left Vitesse in 2013 why Chelsea were wise to bank on his return, and also why Brands is determined not to send him back.
He has been lining up at the base of midfield, but Van Ginkel has still chipped in with 14 goals and four assists in his 27 league appearances. While he has developed a bit of a specialism in penalties, scoring nine, he regularly appears at vital moments to tip games in PSV’s favour and it is usually an omen: they've have never lost a game in which he has found the net.
Mexico international Hirving Lozano’s 15 goals and eight assists have made him the hero throughout his maiden season in Europe, but he, Gaston Pereiro, Luuk de Jong and Steven Bergwijn would not have been able to tear defences apart as smoothly as they did had Van Ginkel not been there.
Cocu has done a superb job in using the pace, strength, aerial prowess and goalscoring ability of his attack. They have been devastating at times, often putting four, five, or, in one occasion, seven past opponents.
Partnering Jorrit Hendrix in a deeper role, the support that Van Ginkel offers the forwards and the protection he adds to the defence as a natural box-to-box midfielder makes him pivotal in balancing out the side.
With his good control and neat, quick passes, Van Ginkel helps maintain the pace of PSV’s moves when they charge forward with pace and keeps the ball bouncing around the forward stars if they opt to go long.
He stood out in the early days of his career because of his energy and stamina, but he has become an even bigger presence in every area for PSV. He covers large distances in almost every game; winning the ball, dropping back to help in transition and lingering around the box waiting for his moment - he pops up everywhere.
The title challenge would have been a more strenuous one without him. Instead, the Noord-Brabant outfit have been top of the table since late September and the lack of a real battle for the position even allowed them to lose 5-0 at Willem II without any concern.
Seeing his importance to the team, regular playing time and growing confidence repaid with another trophy has made this season a “dream come true” for Van Ginkel. “We just deserve the title, we were in control,” he said.
And Van Ginkel might have preferred the tranquillity of a title stroll over a race, given the extremes he has been used to in his career.
This season he has found a stability that he had not enjoyed since the cruciate ligament injury that devastated one of Netherlands’ most promising midfielders just four games into his first season in London.
He recovered in good time, but they flared up again to cut his playing opportunities in half while on loan at AC Milan and then delayed his second spell at PSV by six months a couple of years later.
He had a scare this season, too, when he was absent for three weeks and kept out of the national team, but his complaint was down to a shoulder injury.
The Dutchman is taking extra care to avoid any further issues and they may not be completely behind him. But Van Ginkel has shown he has the talent and class to play a vital role when he stays fit.
He will find out this summer if he has impressed Chelsea enough to have a chance of a career there, but either way PSV will start hunting for that one percent chance immediately.