Meet Euro 2012's youngest player: Netherlands' new left-back Jetro Willems

The promising talent was still playing his football for the Dutch Under-17 team only one year ago, but could now be a starter at Euro 2012 for Bert van Marwijk
By Stefan Coerts | Netherlands Expert

When Netherlands Under-17s were crowned European champions in May 2011, it was clear to see that the Dutch had a number of fine talents coming through. It wasn't too much of a surprise then when players such as Karim Rekik, Terence Kongolo, Jetro Willems, Tonny Trindade de Vilhena, Memphis Depay and Anass Achahbar all made their first-team debuts at their respective clubs during the 2011-12 campaign.

However, not many would have expected one of these young sensations to make the step up so quickly to Oranje's senior side ahead of Euro 2012. But that is exactly what the 18-year-old Willems has done as he looks to help his country claim their first major trophy since Euro 88.

With first-choice left-back Erik Pieters being forced to withdraw from the Netherlands' provisional squad due to injury, national team coach Bert van Marwijk called up a number of players who could replace the PSV man. Surprisingly, the more experienced heads such as Vurnon Anita, Alexander Buttner and Urby Emanuelson were all cut from the list at one stage or another as the Oranje boss decided to put his faith in young Willems.

PLAYER STATISTICS | Jetro Willems (PSV & Netherlands)
Age: 18
Position: Left-back
Value: €4m-5m
Contract: 2016

Pace, tackling, crossing
   Height Weight Place of Birth  Date of Birth
Former club
   1.75 m 68 kg
Rotterdam  March 30, 1994 Sparta

The wing-back is a product of the illustrious Sparta youth academy, where PSV team-mates Kevin Strootman, Georginio Wijnaldum and Depay all started their careers, and he made his first-team debut at the Rotterdam side at the tender age of 16.

His good performances at Het Kasteel quickly caught the attention of the big boys, and Willems eventually joined PSV on deadline day of the 2011 summer transfer window as the Eindhoven side pinpointed the defender as an important player for the future.

Breaking into the first team on the long term was not what Willems had in mind, though. He made his first official appearance hardly two months after making the move to the Boeren. The left-back took full advantage of the injury-forced absence of both Pieters and back-up Abel Tamata, and quickly convinced then head coach Fred Rutten that he was more than a reliable option in defence.

Although Willems had to endure his fair share of difficult games, most notably in the losses against Feyenoord and Valencia, he is arguably one of the most talented young full-backs around in Europe. The 18-year-old has already been linked with Manchester United, and his inclusion in Van Marwijk's squad for Euro 2012 only further confirms his status as one of the rising stars of Dutch football.

Arsenal Birmingham City Dynamo Kiev Legia Warsaw
August 15, 1993 March 10, 1993 December 9, 1992 November 10, 1992

Willems may even dream of starting for Oranje in their opening Euro clash against Denmark on Saturday after impressing during Netherlands' warm-up friendlies prior to the tournament. The PSV youngster started against Bayern Munich, Bulgaria and Northern Ireland, while his biggest competition for the left-back spot, Stijn Schaars, only featured from the start in the 2-0 win over Slovakia.

Despite having only just made his international debut, Willems has already exhibited maturity beyond his years: he's comfortable and composed on the ball and looks assured at the back whenever called into action. Additionally, his impressive runs forward will give Oranje something extra in attack on the occasions where left-winger Ibrahim Afellay chooses to cut inside.

Willems, admittedly, has hardly been tested against top-class opposition, and the occasional lapses of concentration could prove costly at a major international tournament like Euro 2012. However, Van Marwijk's only other realistic option, Schaars, is unproven at left-back as well, and the Sporting Lisbon midfielder lacks the pace and natural defensive instincts that the 18-year-old possesses.

Having just completed a breakthrough season for PSV, Willems could find himself being thrust into the transfer spotlight at the end of Euro 2012 if he impresses for Netherlands at Poland Ukraine.

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