Football Features

Van Basten’s prodigy and a current Real Madrid star: 12 players who got their first break at Heerenveen

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 17:35, 16 December 2021

There’s something fascinating about Heerenveen, a club that constantly reinvents themselves whenever it seems they are dead certainties to struggle.

Not exactly a powerhouse of Dutch football, De Superfriezen can be a blueprint for others. A frugal business model coupled with good scouting and youth set-up is partly why they’ve punched above their weight. From the latter two, we’ve seen many future stars get their first opportunity to shine bright at the club.

What follows is a list of 12 individuals who developed at Abe Lenstra Stadion — named after the club’s greatest player — or became an ever better footballer before leaving for pastures new.

1. Michael Bradley

Joined from: MetroStars

Heerenveen appearances: 69

Left for: Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2008

The son of soccer coach Bob Bradley, it was inevitable that Michael would follow in his father’s footsteps. Having been educated at the IMG Academy, he entered the 2004 MLS SuperDraft and was selected 36th overall by the MetroStars, then managed by Bradley senior. The central midfielder would soon make history when Heerenveen acquired his signature in 2006, Bradley became the youngest MLS player to ever be sold and he subsequently enjoyed three seasons in the Netherlands, registering 19 goals across 55 league outings. Borussia Mönchengladbach were impressed and signed him. Since leaving Germany, Bradly has represented Aston Villa, Chievo, Roma and Toronto, where he currently plies his trade.

2. Jon Dahl Tomasson

Joined from: Køge

Heerenveen appearances: 86

Left for: Newcastle United in 1997

Denmark had no shortage of fantastic players in the 1990s and no one was more prolific than Jon Dahl Tomasson who ultimately bagged 52 goals across 112 international appearances spanning 13 years. His journey began at boyhood club Køge, where Heerenveen’s scouts were convinced of his qualities and, following his arrival at the Dutch outfit, Tomasson registered 37 goals in 78 league matches. Watching from afar was Premier League entertainers Newcastle United but his time at St James’ Park was at best forgettable. Feyenoord would soon rehabilitate him, leading to a transfer to Milan where he collected a Champions League winners’ medal. Once leaving the Rossoneri, he’d turn out for Stuttgart and Villarreal before ending his career at De Kuip.

3. Marten de Roon

Joined from: Sparta Rotterdam

Heerenveen appearances: 104

Left for: Atalanta in 2015

A regular face in the Dutch national team, Marten de Roon has come a long way from his Sparta Rotterdam days. Heerenveen saw De Roon’s potential and the Zwijndrecht-born midfielder seamlessly fit into their plans. A strong three seasons in Friesland alerted Atalanta who parted with a reported €1.3m for his services. He’d spend one year before Middlesbrough promised him Premier League riches. It only lasted a single campaign before the Dutchman re-signed with La Dea and he’s since become a key cog in Gian Piero Gasperini’s set-up.

4. Bas Dost

Joined from: Heracles Almelo

Heerenveen appearances: 73

Left for: Wolfsburg in 2012

As you will soon realise, Heerenveen have employed ferocious strikers across certain periods. Tomasson was more of a forward but Bas Dost is a completely different breed. Having shown glimpses at Heracles, the powers that be rightfully gambled and it paid off handsomely. Dost would go on to bag 52 goals across 73 matches with 45 of those strikes coming in the league. His final season (2011/12) saw him pick up the Eredivisie Golden Shoe and that attracted Wolfsburg who had the Dutch marksman for five seasons. He left for Sporting CP where he continued to be devastating (76 goals in 84 league outings) before returning to Bundesliga action with Eintracht Frankfurt, whom he’d left for Belgian powerhouse Club Brugge.

5. Filip Đuričić

Joined from: Radnički Obrenovac

Heerenveen appearances: 110

Left for: Benfica in 2013

Before the rise of Dusan Tadic, it was somewhat accepted that Filip Đuričić was Serbia’s next great footballer. A big reason was his consistent performances in a Heerenveen jersey. The attacking midfielder ultimately made 99 league appearances, grabbing 20 goals in the process. Đuričić was immediately linked with regional giants Ajax but opted for a Portuguese adventure with Benfica where his career stalled. As Águias loaned him out three times, including to Southampton, before greenlighting a sale to Sampdoria and from there, he joined Sassuolo where he feels right at home with the last two seasons being Đuričić’s most productive since his Heerenveen days.

6. Alfred Finnbogason

Joined from: Lokeren

Heerenveen appearances: 70

Left for: Real Sociedad in 2014

Another striker who maximized his minutes. Alfred Finnbogason also had the privilege of working under Marco van Basten, whom he credits for his personal development. The 61-time capped Icelandic star enjoyed two Eredivisie seasons where he scored 53 goals across 65 matches. Understandably, this led to a number of clubs vying for Finnbogason’s signature though ultimately he fancied La Liga by putting pen to paper on a Real Sociedad contract. But that dream was unfulfilled as Los Txuri-Urdin loaned him out twice. One destination was Augsburg, where he’s since permanently settled.

7. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Joined from: PSV Eindhoven

Heerenveen appearances: 61

Left for: Ajax in 2006

Heerenveen couldn’t have believed their luck after purchasing unwanted PSV centre-forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who developed into a goalscorer par excellence. His time was short and that’s because Ajax also realised his frightening potential. After registering 33 goals across 46 games, he truly came alive in Amsterdam — 76 strikes in 92 league appearances — which alerted Real Madrid’s attention. Unfortunately for him, Bernd Schuster, the manager that wanted him, was relieved of his duties as soon as Huntelaar arrived. That being said, he still played 20 times in La Liga and bagged eight goals. Milan later adopted him and Huntelaar produced similar numbers before calling Schalke home. The Dutch marksman really took off there, subsequently earning a Bundesliga top goalscorer prize. Huntelaar, after scoring 126 times from 240 matches played, returned to Ajax where he finally got his hands on the Eredivisie shield.

8. Luciano Narsingh

Joined from: Youth system

Heerenveen appearances: 70

Left for: PSV in 2012

A graduate of Heerenveen’s youth set-up Luciano Narsingh showed from the get-go he was going to be a devastating winger by Eredivisie standards. His final campaign saw him come close to breaking Ruud Gullit’s record for most assists in a single Dutch top division season. PSV hoped to profit from his individual brilliance and to an extent they did. Narsingh managed 26 goals and 31 assists in 159 appearances before Swansea City made him a Premier League footballer. Like many who took this step before him Narsingh floundered before re-settling at Feyenoord, where he’d struggle to recapture those former numbers.

9. Ruud van Nistelrooy

Joined from: Den Bosch

Heerenveen appearances: 35

Left for: PSV in 1998

Arguably the most ruthless Dutch centre-forward post-Van Basten. Before he lit up Old Trafford, where he bagged 95 goals across 150 league matches, Ruud van Nistelrooy was terrorising Eredivisie defenders. The first real signs of his incredible striking brilliance on a consistent basis came at Heerenveen, where he found the net 13 times in 31 outings. PSV, who had the likes of Ronaldo and Romario on their books, transferred him to Eindhoven and no backline was safe. Van Nistelrooy entered relentless mode, as well as developing a feared partnership with Belgian forward Luc Nilis, and when Sir Alex Ferguson finally got his man, the native of Oss had celebrated 62 league goals having played 67 matches. Following his departure from England, he’d gain a new lease of life at Real Madrid — 64 goals in 96 matches — before winding down his career at Hamburg and Malaga.

10. Martin Ødegaard

Joined from: Real Madrid (on loan)

Heerenveen appearances: 43

Left for: Vitesse (on loan) in 2018

Speaking of Los Blancos, their much-wanted wunderkind Martin Ødegaard sensationally completed a loan move to Heerenveen, which made the Dutch club his third since breaking through. There was a common belief that Ødegaard should have opted for Eredivisie football, with Ajax heavily interested, over the glitz of Madrid as it would aid his development more greatly. With no chance of turning back time, Ødegaard hit the ground running and soon became a valuable member of the roster. He featured across 38 league outings, scoring three goals and creating four more, but that wasn’t the end of his Dutch stay as Vitesse would also gain him on loan. After them, it was Real Sociedad’s turn before Arsenal briefly enjoyed his services. He went back to Madrid but his services were no longer required. Now in London, with the Gunners, Ødegaard is hoping that his career truly begins.

11. Georgios Samaras

Joined from: Youth system

Heerenveen appearances: 108

Left for: Manchester City in 2006

Though born and raised in Greece, the footballing career of Georgios Samaras began at Heerenveen where he’d develop into a dependable forward. Manchester City were hoping for more than they got but Samaras never really delivered his end of the bargain before being moved on to Celtic, where he enjoyed a rejuvenation. Samaras featured across 156 league matches for the Glasgow giants and returned 53 goals. A return to England with West Brom never got going and the final years of his professional career were spent at four clubs on three different continents.

12. Hakim Ziyech

Joined from: Youth system

Heerenveen appearances: 46

Left for: FC Twente in 2014

Quite possibly the last special talent to come through Heerenveen’s youth system, Hakim Ziyech is a licence to print goals. He’d soon outgrow his boyhood club, after scoring 13 goals and creating 11 more in 46 appearances, by joining FC Twente where Ziyech became an even better player. Following an embarrassing Champions League qualifier exit, Ajax — in an attempt to appease supporters — acquired his signature. It proved to be among Marc Overmars’ most astute signings as Ziyech was directly involved in 130 goals (with him scoring 49 of those) in 165 appearances. Now at Chelsea, the Moroccan international has struggled to hold down a regular starting berth and it remains to be seen whether he’s part of Thomas Tuchel’s long-term plans.

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