Whilst Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been deservedly earning his plaudits this season after an absolute dream start, there are a few other players in the PSG rank who have gone about their business in an impressive manner. Thiago Motta has put his injury woes behind him and asserted himself as a vital member to the spine of the team. Marco Verratti has matured – despite his lapse on Tuesday – becoming an ever integral link in the midfield. But there is one man who outdoes them all in my opinion and that is Gregory Van der Wiel.
The Dutchman has been absolutely superb at right-back this season. He has come a long way from his early days in the French capital. Arriving from Ajax in the summer of 2012, he was seen by former coach Carlo Ancelotti as a more than ideal contender for Christophe Jallet’s stranglehold on the full-back position. To think though, VDW may not have become a Parisien player had Lyon’s Anthony Reveillere not failed a medical.
Being a product of the Ajax academy, he learnt his trade through the ranks before finally establishing himself at the former European Cup winners. Upon his arrival you could see why Ancelotti had been keen. Decent reputation, great physique and had been a regular in the Dutch national team despite their underwhelming European Championship that summer. Things however did not go according to plan during those first few months in France. Jallet was undoubtedly the number one choice at that time and judging by his form over a course of a year, there was no argument. Ancelotti may have made Jallet’s captaincy a brief one before handing it over to Thiago Silva but it underlined the coach’s faith in him. Straight away it made Van der Wiel’s task of getting into the first-team an uphill one.
He never really had a consistent run in the championship winning season but still made 27 appearances overall in all competitions – 20 from the start. You could perhaps say that we started to see the real VDW after he netted his first goal for the club in a 4-0 win over Toulouse in February. He came on as a second-half substitute for Jallet that afternoon but it definitely spurred him on after opening his account. Ancelotti was starting him a whole lot more and he looked rejuvenated. It may have taken him a little time to settle to life in a new country and a new league – which is understandable of course – but the Parisen fans were starting to see flickers of what the full-back could really do during the spring.
This season, he has been an absolute revelation and a star for the team. He is not one to do anything too out of the ordinary, but he undertakes his duties with aplomb and is a real professional. He has ousted Jallet from the starting line-up with ease which has now seen a role reversal of last season. It is the Frenchman who is now on the outside looking in. But, absolute credit to Van der Wiel. Jallet has been a model professional at Paris Saint-Germain. He is the symbol really of the pre-QSI era and set an example by working so hard to ensure he had a future at the club. Not only that, he became captain in the process. Yes, the Frenchman’s form at the start of the season was not too clever but it should not deter the fact that VDW has now made that right-back position his own.
The stats do not lie either. He already has seven assists to his name. That is more than treble what he accumulated in the whole of last season. His pass success rate in Ligue 1 is above 90% which is one of his key characteristics. He is ever so assured on the ball and his link-up play is excellent. The understanding he has forged in particular with Zlatan this campaign is joyous. We saw it again on Tuesday night, the Dutchman played in a teasing ball across the face of goal for the Swede to tap home. They really have developed a key understanding, especially in Europe. Apart from Zlatan you can definitely make a case for the right-back being PSG’s best player in that competition. He has been outstanding.
It is fantastic to see him now with his feet well and truly under the table. The road to get where he is now has been rocky to say the least. Last season was hard for him at times but he persisted. Those performances have also gained international recognition as he is now back in favour with the Dutch national team which is the greatest evidence of how well he has done.
Well done Gregory. Paris Saint-Germain’s most underrated player!
Statistics courtesy of WHOSCORED.COM