Long gone are the days when a winger’s sole purpose was to hug the touchline tight enough to get chalk on their boots while delivering cross after cross. Today’s wide-men are versatile, often acting like inside forwards, which makes them a hot commodity.
Few leagues (if any) can historically lay claim to producing more quality on the flanks than Dutch football’s top division. In modern times Marc Overmars swapped the Eredivisie for Premier League competition and while donning an Arsenal jersey he ascended to all-time greatness.
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Since then many have followed in his footsteps. The question is, were they as successful?
Jesper Gronkjaer (2000)
- From: Ajax
- To: Chelsea
- Premier League appearances (goals): 104 (7)
Ajax and Denmark will forever be intrinsically linked due to the sheer amount of Danish footballers who have graced Amsterdam for nearly five decades now. The late 90s saw Jesper Gronkjaer impress supporters and it wasn’t long before he was Premier League-bound. Chelsea acquired his signature, and he’d enjoy four modest seasons in England’s capital. He remains fondly remembered at Stamford Bridge after being heavily involved against Liverpool on the final day of the 2002/03 season. Claudio Ranieri’s men ran out 2-1 winners at home, with Grønkjær assisting and scoring in the game, which meant they’d qualify for the forthcoming Champions League and in doing so accelerated Roman Abramovich’s acquisition of the club. The rest, as they say, is history.
Arjen Robben (2004)
- From: PSV Eindhoven
- To: Chelsea
- Premier League appearances (goals): 67 (15)
Just as Gronkjaer was leaving, in came the much-coveted PSV Eindhoven winger Arjen Robben, whose performances attracted Premier League attention. Perennial champions Manchester United were certain they had gotten their man but a career at Old Trafford never transpired, with Chelsea instead enjoying his incredible forward play for three successive campaigns. Under the leadership of Jose Mourinho, he levelled up, subsequently helping the Blues secure back-to-back league titles. Robben’s wing partnership with Damien Duff was a full-back’s nightmare.
Upon leaving West London, he would go on to enjoy a reasonable spell at Real Madrid, bagging another championship before cementing his legacy with Bayern Munich, where the Dutchman finally got his hands on the Champions League trophy.
Georgios Samaras (2006)
- From: Heerenveen
- To: Manchester City
- Premier League appearances (goals): 60 (8)
Though a Greek native, it was at Dutch outfit Heerenveen where Georgios Samaras turned professional as a teenager. He’d soon reward their faith by ultimately registering 30 goals across 110 appearances in all competitions. Arsenal and Manchester City were keeping tabs and it would be the latter who eventually brought Samaras to England’s top-flight. He couldn’t repeat those numbers for a pre-Abu Dhabi takeover team and was swiftly moved onto Celtic, where Samaras enjoyed better success. A brief Premier League return occurred with West Bromwich Albion in the 2014/15 season but, once again, it was nothing to write home about. No longer playing, Samaras can these days be found as vice-president of his boyhood club, OFI Crete.
Ryan Babel (2007)
- From: Ajax
- To: Liverpool
- Premier League appearances (goals): 107 (17)
“He has all the potential to become the next Thierry Henry,” said Marco van Basten in an ill-advised comparison that understandably affected Ryan Babel in the early days of his Liverpool career. A standout at Ajax, which led to Van Basten (Netherlands boss, at the time) calling him up for international duty, Babel wasn’t short of suitors and soon made Anfield home.
He was never able to break through and consistently hold down a regular starting berth, though, with Rafael Benitez often utilising him as an impact substitute. There were flashes of brilliance but it could never be sustained. In the years following his departure, Babel has become somewhat of a footballing nomad having played in five different countries (and making two separate returns to Ajax). A Premier League comeback did happen, but he couldn’t help Fulham stave off relegation in 2019.
Nacer Chadli (2013)
- From: FC Twente
- To: Tottenham Hotspur
- Premier League appearances (goals): 124 (21)
Another who impressed Premier League eyes while plying his trade in the Eredivisie, Nacer Chadli was a menace for Twente. Tottenham hoped Chadli would carry that swagger and ruthless play over to the English top flight, but he never really did. That’s not to say he didn’t show up. His second campaign (2014/15) remains his most prolific across 11 top-flight seasons; Chadli managed 11 strikes across 35 games, but he was unable to come anywhere close the following year and soon joined West Brom, where there were flickers of brilliance.
Dusan Tadic (2014)
- From: FC Groningen
- To: Southampton
- Premier League appearances (goals): 134 (20)
The arrival of Ronald Koeman as Southampton boss led to more Eredivisie arrivals, Dusan Tadic being the most notable. During his time in the Netherlands, he’d built a reputation as a creative genius and the Saints were banking on the Serbian international to fill Adam Lallana’s boots. Tadic, now playing in a more demanding competition, ended up creating no fewer than 27 goals across 134 outings and in the 2015/16 season, only Mesut Ozil (19) and Christian Eriksen (13) created more than him (12). Tadic has since returned to Dutch football, where he’s hit even higher heights while representing Ajax and there’s a case to be made there isn’t a more impressive footballer currently playing outside Europe’s top five leagues.
Steven Berghuis (2015)
- From: AZ
- To: Watford
- Premier League appearances (goals): 9 (0)
On paper this could have been one of those under-the-radar brilliant signings. Steven Berghuis, in his final AZ season (2014/15), showed he was ready for the next step. Watford were aiming to maintain their Premier League status and felt the Dutch winger could slot in and do a nice job but instead he’d struggle for playing time before the powers that be shipped him back to Feyenoord, initially on loan. His temporary stay was soon made permanent, and he’s looked a different player ever since having averaged 16 goals per season. He could soon become persona non grata at De Kuip, however, amid reports of an impending move to eternal rivals Ajax.
Viktor Fischer (2016)
- From: Ajax
- To: Middlesbrough
- Premier League appearances (goals): 13 (0)
Speaking of the Amsterdammers, they sure felt a future star was on their hands in Viktor Fischer, another Dane who dazzled audiences. But injury would soon rear its ugly head, and Fischer found himself on the outside looking in. A change of scenery was needed and Middlesbrough seemed to be the right place. However, it couldn’t have turned out much more differently. The Danish winger never seemed to be in Aitor Karanka’s plans and once again was looking for a new club. He’s since joined FC Copenhagen after a brief Mainz 05 stay.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh (2018)
- From: AZ
- To: Brighton & Hove Albion
- Premier League appearances (goals): 50 (2)
Since the 2009/10 season ended, no fewer than eight Eredivisie golden shoe winners have gone on to play Premier League minutes. Luis Suárez has undisputedly been the most successful, though Brighton & Hove Albion will have envisaged Alireza Jahanbakhsh being a pivotal cog. It was too much to ask, though, and the Iranian forward couldn’t transfer his Eredivisie numbers to England’s top division. In fact, he’d register a paltry two goals across 50 league matches. On the outs with manager Graham Potter, he’s seemingly Netherlands bound with Feyenoord set to become Jahanbakhsh’s latest club.
Steven Bergwijn (2020)
- From: PSV Eindhoven
- To: Tottenham Hotspur
- Premier League appearances (goals): 35 (4)
It may have been his standout performance against them in the Champions League which convinced Tottenham to sign PSV forward Steven Bergwijn when looking to strengthen their forward options. He couldn’t have made a more immediate impact than netting on his debut against Manchester City as Spurs registered a 2-0 home victory but it’s been a challenging period since, as Bergwijn would revert to a squad role with Mourinho in charge. The 23-year-old Dutchman will be hoping to frequently star under incoming boss Nuno Espírito Santo.