Football Features

Xavi Simons joins PSV from PSG: former La Masia star is not the only one-time wonderkid to seek an Eredivisie restart

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 8:52, 30 June 2022

Xavi Simons is set to continue his professional career at PSV Eindhoven.

The highly-promising 19-year-old Dutch forward has relocated from Paris Saint-Germain, where he only made 11 senior appearances. A pupil at Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, Simons was being tipped for great things during his early teenage years, but he flew the Catalan nest before he had a chance to break into the club’s first team.

Simons, then advised by the late Mino Raiola, wanted more than Barca were offering. PSG would ultimately swoop in for the 16-year-old midfielder in 2019, though his time in France has now come to an end. Originally set to pen fresh terms with the Parisians and join PSV on loan, Simons has now run down his contract at the Parc des Princes and signed for the Dutch outfit on a permanent five-year deal.

Incidentally, he has become the fourth such player this summer to leave a Ligue 1 club as a free agent and join a Dutch side, after Walter Benitez (Nice to PSV), Carlens Arcus (Auxerre to Vitesse) and Burak Yilmaz (Lille to Fortuna Sittard).

Born in Amsterdam, before leaving for Spain, the son of former Eredivisie striker Regillio Simons — the only player to net four goals past PSV in a single Eredivisie match — was seemingly destined for footballing prominence in his homeland if things hadn’t worked out elsewhere.

Dutch football’s top division has a unique standing on the European circuit. Its main selling point has always been the flourishing talents in an attack-minded league. Rafael van der Vaart was, after all, the first Golden Boy award recipient. Simons who, let’s not forget is still a teenager, will be hoping to cement a regular starting berth under newly-installed PSV head coach Ruud van Nistelrooy, but even that’s not a guarantee.

At least in the upcoming season, by signing a five-year contract, he’s given the Eindhoveners breathing room to allow him to develop without rushing things. PSV have a good track record in this department, especially when developing young attack-minded players. With that being said, he does immediately offer Van Nistelrooy an option.

Across those aforementioned 11 senior games for PSG, totalling 331 minutes, Simons managed to only create one goal. Competition on the PSV flank will be stiff as Yorbe Vertessen, Ritsu Doan and Noni Madueke can all play on the right, with Cody Gakpo and Bruma possible alternatives. A ‘number 10′ role may be Simons’ best shot at getting into Van Nistelrooy’s starting line-up, especially with Mario Gotze leaving for Eintracht Frankfurt and opening up space.

When scouting the Amsterdammer, sporting director John de Jong revealed that the club paid close attention to his performances at youth level in particular. “We are convinced of his potential,” he told the club’s official website. “Xavi has got it all to develop into a key player for PSV and likes to share with us the path to fame and success.” His numbers are encouraging: five goals and six assists in 12 UEFA Youth League games, plus three goals in five appearances for the Netherlands U19 team.

Eredivisie, the resurrector of promising careers

As touched upon, very few leagues have the reputation of being a nurturing ground and developing football’s next stars as the Eredivisie. Their record in recent years might be on the colder side of things, but that hasn’t stopped young talents from across Europe — and the wider world — from shining in the Eredivisie. However, it’s not only those at the beginning of their respective careers who have used the Dutch top flight as a platform to grow, but former wonderkids too, either looking to resurrect a promising journey or get back on track. Unfortunately, not all work out…

Hachim Mastour (PEC Zwolle)

There was a running gag which states that whenever an exciting prospect leaves the Eredivisie prematurely he’ll be playing for PEC Zwolle in a few years’ time. PEC are no longer a top-flight side on the count of their demotion last season but the principle remains. It only took hold after one-time Ajax wonderkid Ouasim Bouy joined them after failing to make the grade at Juventus. He’s not the only Serie A talent De Blauwvingers have signed, though. Internet sensation and AC Milan academy star Hachim Mastour spent the 2016/17 season in Zwolle, but only managed five league appearances. He’s not done much since and was recently back in the headlines when being unveiled as second tier Moroccan side Renaissance Zemamra’s newest player.

Alen Halilovic (Heerenveen)

Speaking of Milan, it was there where Alen Halilovic hoped to kick on after showing the world his capabilities while representing boyhood club Dinamo Zagreb. Among those paying attention were Barcelona, but he never made the grade, instead enjoying a loan spell at Sporting Gijon before moving onto Hamburg, where again, the Croatian midfielder struggled for playing time. Milan ultimately acquired his signature but they too loaned him out, notably to Heerenveen where, during the 2019/20 season, he featured across 17 league outings, registering one goal. Halilovic has since turned out for Championship teams Birmingham City and Reading.

Bojan Krkic (Ajax)

It’s never easy being compared to Lionel Messi, or following in his footsteps, especially when the Argentine is at the peak of his powers. Even before the 2000s were done, Bojan Krkic was strutting his stuff in La Masia with the world at his feet. The forward seemed destined to be part of the Barca furniture for years to come, but he became a victim of their plethora of attacking options, and subsequently found himself at Roma in 2011. The Spaniard did return, though his stay was brief and Ajax signed the Linyola native on a season-long loan in 2013/14. Bojan managed four goals across 24 matches as Frank de Boer’s men won a fourth straight Eredivisie title. Now at Vissel Kobe, where he’s linked up with former teammate Andres Iniesta, the one-time capped Spain international can always say he’s netted in four of Europe’s top five leagues — La Liga, Serie A, Premier League and Bundesliga — a feat managed by few.

Ravel Morrison (Den Haag)

Sir Alex Ferguson is responsible for developing a generation of British footballers which ensured Manchester United were English football’s dominating force in the 1990s and 2000s. The so-called ‘Class of ’92’ will always have a special place in United supporters’ hearts, but when it comes to the most talented he’s seen, Ferguson states that the individual in question was not among that successful batch. That distinction belongs to Ravel Morrison who, for a multitude of reasons — mostly off-the-field behaviour — never made the grade at Old Trafford when he should have. Morrison remains a big what-if and is merely a journeyman these days. Among the 11 clubs he’s represented since leaving United in 2021, one was ADO Den Haag where, across the 2020/21 season, he would make four Eredivisie appearances, failing to find the net.

Martin Odegaard (Heerenveen and Vitesse)

A far more successful use of the loan system was Martin Odegaard, who spent three seasons in the Netherlands between Heerenveen and Vitesse, where he accumulated 69 appearances while finding the net on 11 occasions and creating 15 more goals. The much-talked about Norwegian star made headlines when he travelled across Europe searching for a new club before his 16th birthday. Stromsgodset ultimately received a sum from Real Madrid where Odegaard struggled to make the grade. Real Sociedad temporarily enjoyed his services before Arsenal brought him over to England. He is now a key fixture in Mikel Arteta’s rebuilding job. So far, he’s featured 60 times for the Gunners while being involved in 16 goals (scoring nine himself and creating seven).