Elko Born takes a closer look at Norwich’s record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Where did he come from, and will he make it in the Premier League?
It must be difficult to be one of the Eredivisie’s top goalscorers. Especially if you’re dreaming of a move to the Premier League. Imagine this: You go to bed, stare at the ceiling, you think about the cheering crowds and getting goal of the month on Match Of The Day. Then, after finally falling asleep, you suddenly wake up, shocked and drenched in sweat. After a minute of pure confusion, you discern a greyish, translucent figure hovering over you.
It’s the ghost of Afonso Alves. He’s coming to haunt your dreams.
‘What have you ever accomplished?’ he shouts, as the hapless front man tries to hide under the duvet and think about Ruud van Nistelrooy. ‘The Eredivisie is ridiculously bad. It’s easy to score goals there!’
Yet despite all this, a move to the Premier League is everything most young, Dutch footballers want – strikers especially – because England is close by, the language barrier is easy to overcome, but first and foremost because, according to myth, goals scored in England are the best goals there are.
In England, the crowds cheer louder when the ball hits the net, young Dutch boys think. And besides that, a goal scored in England is by definition spectacular. In England, strikers score insane backwards headers and 40 yard belters. They don’t have to drop back to midfield and pass all too often, the defenders will just hoof the ball to you wherever you are.
No wonder 24 year old Ricky van Wolfswinkel was eager to depart Sporting Clube de Portugal to become a striker in England this summer. For while Norwich might not be Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea, it is undoubtedly an English Premier League club. And since this particular English club was prepared to pay almost £9m (a club record), no wonder Sporting – like many other Southern European sides, firm believers in the ‘money must flow’ philosophy – were eager to sell.
Luckily for Van Wolfswinkel and his girlfriend, the ghost of Afonso Alves probably won’t be joining them in their new house in Norfolk. Van Wolfswinkel is not what you would call an Eredivisie rookie: with Sporting, he scored 50 goals in 89 games, and while the Portugese Primeira Liga is – much like the Eredivisie – no Premier League, he has at least proved he can do it abroad against Champions League calibre sides like Benfica, nonetheless. Against Braga he even scored a hat-trick.
Judging by Van Wolfswinkel’s calm demeanour and apparent suave, his cosmopolitan career path doesn’t appear to be anything special. But really; for a young, talented striker it’s out of the ordinary, to say the least. Indeed, when Van Wolfswinkel was 21, most people expected him to take ‘the Huntelaar route’: from Heerenveen to Ajax to Real Madrid, or something like that. Instead, he moved to Sporting aged only 22. And with Robin Van Persie, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and possibly Luuk de Jong ahead of him, he’s only played for the Dutch national team twice – one of his matches being a summer friendly against Indonesia.
It is perhaps for this reason that in his home country, Van Wolfswinkel is not quite as known, or at least as prolific, as, let’s say, a young player like Adam Maher. In fact, in The Netherlands Van Wolfswinkel is best known for a series of adverts he made together with Huntelaar for Dutch supermarket chain C1000. In these adverts, Van Wolfswinkel and Huntelaar try to one-up each other by performing pranks involving footballs and humiliation. During international tournaments, the Dutch love adverts like these, possibly more than they love the football itself. Especially if the weather is nice.
In his hometown of Woudenberg, however, he is a local hero. The amateur league side V.V. Woudenberg even named a football court after him. Van Wolfswinkel is the first international footballer to hail from Woudenberg, and besides that, he’s a striker in England now. The people of Woudenberg, who take pride in the assumption that their town is located in the exact centre of The Netherlands, were never going to let such a landmark achievement for a local boy pass without any type of commemoration.
And while they probably won’t name the stadium after him anytime soon, it’s certainly possible Van Wolfswinkel will become a hero in Norwich as well. Though not quite strong, intelligent and technically gifted enough for the top tier of the Premier League, Van Wolfswinkel simply seems made for The Canaries, holding their own in the increasingly polished ranks of the mid-table teams. He has already shown signs of his pedigree on his Premier League debut by scoring a beautiful header against Everton. It was perhaps the type of goal you’re only allowed to applaud to the full in England, Van Wolfswinkel might say. And that’s what Norwich want of him: to score the type of goals Norwich need him to score and celebrate each finish as a confirmation that the £9m fee the Canaries paid this summer was worth every penny.