After playing the final at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, losing it in extra time, 0-1, against Spain, and finishing in third place at the next edition of the world football flagship competition, the Netherlands were booming with confidence. The demise was so big, it sent shockwaves after the team failed to progress to the final tournament in Russia 2018, with the Netherlands building back from the ground up.
Coach Ronald Koeman was brought in to spearhead the development of the new squad, but he left for Barcelona, while Frank de Boer’s too prudent style was derided by many, as the former defender was fired after the UEFA EURO 2020.
Enter Louis van Gaal, who took over the reigns at Oranje for the third time in his career, a coach with principles, a coach who would never make a compromise, one that has a clear idea about football in his head and will never change it.
This meant that the team was going to have an experienced backbone, but also with an eye on the future, has also been a coach who supervised several rebuilds both in the national team, but also at the club level.
Therefore, nobody was surprised when van Gaal announced the 26-player roster for Qatar 2022 and some names were quite new. Chief of which was Xavi Simons, long touted to be a huge prospect of Dutch football, who made his debut in the Round of 16 match won by the Oranje against the USA team, 3-1, having previously represented the Netherlands at every younger age category level.
With his trademark hair and immense flair, Simons spent his formative years at FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, two powerhouses of European football, which had definitely made a mark on him, having trained with one of the best players in the world.
But to achieve his breakthrough, he had to forge his own path. Therefore, in 2022, he went back to the Netherlands, after having featured in 11 games for PSG, preferring to get a centre stage at PSV Eindhoven, one of the giants of Dutch football. Here, in his first full professional season, he thrived, scoring 10 goals in 22 games, thus confirming his inclusion in all sorts of lists regarding the next best thing in football.
“I was training every day with the stars but playing matches is also important. I learned a lot from these players, but I’ve just turned 19, so I think I had to make this step in order to develop,” said Simons.
Indeed, he made a record-breaking start at PSV, the best in the history of the club, but PSG still holds a bit of sway over Simons, who left the French giants on a free. A $5 million buy-back clause was entered into the agreement, so if Simons delivers, PSG can vastly profit.
It was written in the stars that Simons was going to be a professional footballer, inheriting the passion for the sport from his father, Regillio, a Dutch player of Surinamese descent, a true journeyman that played in the Netherlands and Japan.
“I know a lot things he will face. We are lucky. He has a very sober attitude. He comes home with the MVP trophy, but he doesn’t look at it. He is busy with other things, playing on his telephone. When he plays, he looks professional. He’s a big guy, arranging things around him, but as soon as he’s off the pitch, he’s a kid,” said his father, Regillio, about Simmons.
Simons moved to Spain after his playing career ended and it was also the place where the young Xavi, named after the great Spanish midfielder and current FC Barcelona coach, started playing football.
First, it was a small team in Alicante – CD Thader – but when Simons was only seven years old, he entered the La Masia, the state-of-the-art academy of FC Barcelona, where he spent nine years learning the trade.
The midfielder, who can fulfil a variety of roles on account of his wide range of skills, captained the Catalan club at various age levels, but eventually left for PSG in 2019. It was a big blow for Barcelona, with the club hierarchy considering Simons the best prospect of La Masia since Lionel Messi.
“I prefer to assist than to score. For me, assists are the most important. When I score, I am happy, but if a team-mate scores I am also happy. So I prefer to assist because it’s good for the team,” said Simons after moving to PSG.
With excellent development and a huge pedigree under his surname – he likes to wear Xavi on the back of his shirt – Simons is considered to be the future of the Oranje, hence the call up from van Gaal for this World Cup.
“I happened to say to Xavi that he could make a step. What I can see is the training, how he relates to it, and whether he shows guts. I observe that he is experiencing increasing development as a player. And that he tries to do what we ask of him,” said van Gaal.
Indeed, in the end, Simons made his debut at the FIFA World Cup aged only 19 years old and he could be the future of the Netherlands team. It is only up to him.