Kevin Strootman’s World Cup dream has, in the words of Louis Van Gaal, “fallen to pieces.”
“What has happened to Kevin is really dramatic,” the Netherlands manager told the Dutch football federation’s website on Monday, as per Football-Italia. “I can imagine at the moment that his world is falling in.”
Strootman, who had picked up a knee injury in last Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat to France, nevertheless started AS Roma’s crucial Serie A match against Napoli, Sunday, and lasted just 13 minutes before being carried off on a stretcher.
Subsequent scans revealed a cruciate ligament tear in his left knee, according to the BBC, thus ending his season for both club and country.
“He gave a great contribution to our qualification for the World Cup in Brazil,” added Van Gaal. “We have never had to do without him.”
Indeed, of the Netherlands’ seven matches so far this term—four qualifiers and three friendlies—Strootman played from the start in six, only dropping to the bench for a meaningless Group D encounter with Turkey.
He was Van Gaal’s first-choice midfielder, and in those six matches he partnered four different players.
Now, with just three months to go before his side’s World Cup opener against Spain, the manager must strike a new midfield partnership. And while he has at least three options, none of them can possibly match the versatility, poise in possession and creativity provided by a duo including Strootman.
Option 3: Stijn Schaars and Leroy Fer
Strootman’s most regular midfield partner was Stijn Schaars, and it’s likely Van Gaal will now make the 30-year-old his go-to man in the centre of the park.
A Euro Under-21 winner with the Netherlands in 2006, Schaars has never scored a senior goal for his country but possesses the instincts, distribution and tackling abilities that make him trustworthy.
A tandem with Norwich City’s Leroy Fer, who made his most recent international start in that Turkey match, would be Van Gaal’s safest option.
Option 2: Nigel De Jong and Jordy Clasie
Nigel De Jong hasn’t figured in Van Gaal’s plans all that often this season, but he did start alongside Strootman in the Netherlands’ penultimate World Cup qualifier against Hungary—an 8-1 win.
His plans disrupted by Strootman’s injury, Van Gaal could always opt for a more physical approach in the centre of the park—much like that adopted by his predecessor, Bert Van Marwijk, in the 2010 tournament.
De Jong is a scrapper, and a partnership with Feyenoord prodigy Jordy Clasie would be fascinating.
A superb distributor of the ball, Clasie, 22, could perhaps thrive in tandem with a hard-man willing to fight the wars in order to give him space to work.
Option 1: Stijn Schaars and Jordy Clasie
Schaars isn’t as mobile as Strootman, but his skill set includes the passing and tackling elements that could work alongside an able distributor of the ball.
Clasie, perhaps unfairly nicknamed the “Dutch Xavi,” as per Goal, will want to touch the ball as much as possible, and the 2014 World Cup could well be his coming-out party given Strootman’s injury.
It’s also telling that, having started with Strootman against France, Clasie was joined in midfield by Schaars when the Roma midfielder was withdrawn.