Ajax: Can Gregory Van Der Wiel Rediscover His Confidence This Season?
Gregory van der Wiel took a touch to the right of the penalty area's half circle, chanced a glance on goal and proceeded to fire a searing drive across keeper Estaban Alvarado that shot into the upper reaches of the net.
Not 10 minutes into Ajax's first match of the Eredivisie season, the man whom many would have believed would have moved to a "bigger" club by this point in the summer had produced a bit of sublime skill that had the club of his youth in a 1-0 lead.
While Champions League participation, coupled with an expected push for a third league title in a row, are not exactly terrible conditions for a player, Van der Wiel might rightly have expected he'd have moved on from Ajax by now.
After all, the 2009-10 Dutch Young Player of the Year (he's now 24) had seen his career perched upon a near-exponential upward track for the past couple years.
Bert van Marwijk's first choice at right-back for much of the Netherlands' excellent 2010 World Cup campaign (he started all but two of the Dutch's seven matches, including the final against Spain), Van der Wiel was immediately linked with a host of moves away from Amsterdam following the tournament in South Africa.
His ability to burst up the wings provided an added boon to any attack, and while questions about his defensive prowess remained, his youth assuaged many of the fears. Tactical acumen could always be improved through dedicated work after all. And marauding runs by a fullback go a long way toward covering up defensive inefficiency.
Suitors came calling, but a move never materialized. Van der Wiel instead spent the next two seasons at Ajax, helping manager Frank de Boer's side win back-to-back league titles.
Like the Dutch national team as a whole, the 2012 European Championships seemed to be the platform upon which Van der Wiel could once again force his way into the eye line of a top club.
But the tournament proved anything but a revelation. Rather, it was a nightmare. The Netherlands failed to win a game in the group stages, conceding five goals and looking utterly inept at the back.
Teenage left-back Jetro Willems bore a heavy brunt of the criticism, but Van der Wiel was a far cry from impeccable.
Hopes of a major move away, which had appeared ready to bloom ahead of Poland and Ukraine, began to wilt amidst the pressure of the maddening campaign.
There were rumors, as there always are, swirling about after the tournament's close, but come August, Van der Wiel was still at Ajax.
Given his (still) young age, it can hardly be said that this is a make-or-break season for him, but a slew of good performances would go a long way to somewhat lessening the bitter taste that emanated from the Euros.
This past weekend's game against AZ Alkmaar, while starting brightly, eventually faded with Jozy Altidore's brace, which fired Alkmaar to a 2-2 draw at the Amsterdam ArenA.
Perhaps that is a fitting result for Van der Wiel's current predicament. Headway has been made, but there is still a long way to go—particularly where defensive responsibility is concerned.
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