When you walk into the clubhouse of FC Binnenmaas, the Dutch amateur football club in Maasdam, you will see a PSV Eindhoven shirt. The small village club is situated around 100 kilometres from the city of Eindhoven, so the link is not geographical, but instead related to the most famous of its alumni: Esmee Brugts.
Two years ago, Brugts was playing in the boys’ teams here. Today, the 18-year-old – who can play as a left-winger or as a No.10 – is a full Netherlands international and representing her country at this summer’s Women’s European Championship as the Oranje bid to retain the title they won in 2017.
It has been quite the rise. In fact, Marius Heinerman – Brugts’ coach at Binnenmaas – gets emotional recounting the four years the pair spent together before her big move, with them still in regular contact today as she ascends to new heights.
Brugts was playing for SV Heinenoord, the club of her home village, when Heinerman first spotted her. A year would pass before Binnenmaas finally got the talented forward to join, but she was worth the wait.
Asked what made her stand out, Heinerman doesn’t hesitate. “Her mentality,” he responds. “She always wanted to give her best. Even when the season ended, she still wanted to train.
“With the boys, when we lost a game, she was always critical of herself. ‘That must be better. That must be better. That must be better.'"
It was that constant pursuit of perfection which made her a real battler on the pitch – “She always went into a fight with the boys to get the ball” – while her technical skills were immediately apparent.
“Her footwork is very good. Every ball she takes, it's under control,” Heinerman adds.
That talent didn’t take long to grab the attention of the Dutch Football Association.
“She was always just very technical and always went past her defenders very easily, scored very easily,” Maxime Snellenberg – who first played with her now-PSV team-mate in the youth national teams at Under-14s level – tells GOAL.
“When she went with the U16s to another tournament, that showed that she was already better than our age group. She really was the best, I think, from the team already.
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“You just pass the ball to her and you just look and enjoy what is about to happen. She's very good, I think, in the small spaces – one, two touches and then she can be gone. She has very good shots, very hard and strong. That's also a very good quality.
“She's a hard worker as well. Sometimes, she's so tired that she can't walk anymore. She runs a lot for the team. She's a very good team-mate.”
The pair have been part of the first team at PSV for the past two years, with Brugts leaving Binnenmaas for the Dutch giants aged 16. It’s been in that time that she and Snellenberg have become closer friends.
“That started when the pandemic hit. We were actually playing PlayStation a lot because we couldn't do anything else,” the 18-year-old explains, before admitting Brugts is better at FIFA, though she’ll often beat her on Fortnite.
“We’re very good friends and we can be very annoying to each other. I think that shows how good friends we are. She always tries to make a joke as well. She's fun to be around.”
It’s all moved very quickly for Brugts, who ranked at No.12 in the 2022 NXGN list, since the move to Eindhoven. She's become a fixture of the PSV side, won the Dutch Cup, scored in the Champions League and, in February, made her senior Netherlands debut.
It was on just her third appearance for her country that she netted her first goal. When Brugts makes her Euros debut this summer – she was an unused sub in the 1-1 draw with Sweden last week – it will be only her seventh cap.
For Netherlands head coach Mark Parsons to have included the young forward in his squad just five months after her first game says a lot about the impression she has made.
“Every camp, it felt like we had an issue, so we were forced at times to look at people a bit quicker than we planned, but that gave opportunity and a lot of players have stepped up – Esmee being one of them,” Parsons said in June.
“[She’s] a very smart, creative player. I think her scanning, awareness and game insight is probably the biggest strength.
"She can dribble, pass, shoot, cross, defend – with one-v-one defending, defend with one-v-one pressing – but it's the game insight and intelligence that I think we're going to be enjoying for a few years.”
It’s not about waiting for that to come, either. Brugts is already making that impact now, at such a young age.
Heinerman has noticed her improvements in her box-to-box movement and goal-scoring, as well as her leadership.
Snellenberg, recovering from an ACL injury that she says Brugts is helping her get through, is excited to see her in action in England.
“I’m trying to go to a match, but I don’t know if it’s possible [with pre-season],” she says as her conversation with GOAL comes to a close.
“Maybe if they reach the final, then I will go for sure. I noticed that in our programme, July 31 is free,” she laughs.
Whether success like that comes for Brugts with the Netherlands this summer or not, it’s already clear that she is bound to have huge moments with her country at some point in her career.
“All the club, we are very proud of her,” Heinerman adds. “She is the face of FC Binnenmaas for the women.”