The Netherlands has long been a breeding ground for some of the world’s top young talent, from the likes of Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf in Ajax’s 1994/95 vintage to more recent hot prospects like Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong.
With a flourishing academy system, it’s a footballing nation that has no trouble producing superstars – the only issue is keeping them. While the likes of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord are historic and reputable sides, they simply can’t compete with the financial muscle of Europe’s ‘big four’ leagues when it comes to retaining their players.
That may represent a challenge for Dutch clubs, but it’s music to the ears of the Premier League’s elite, who are constantly circling the Eredivisie on the lookout for the next top talent to emerge.
It should therefore be no real surprise that Orkun Kökçü is already attracting interest from England, despite only having made 33 league appearances in his fledgling career to date.
Feyenoord’s 19-year-old midfielder has been strongly linked with a transfer to Arsenal or Chelsea this summer, with Real Betis, Sevilla, Roma and Atalanta reportedly waiting in the wings if he can’t be tempted by a move to London.
So what has the youngster done to merit so much attention after just a season and a half of first-team football?
A return of two goals and three assists in 2019/20 from an attacking central midfielder isn’t particularly spectacular, but it’s the diversity of Kökçü’s skill set that is distinguishing him from the competition.
The Haarlem-born hot prospect helped his club to third place in the Dutch top flight before their season was cancelled last month, with De Stadionclub on a 14-match unbeaten run when the campaign was prematurely concluded.
A top three finish is all the more impressive considering their early season struggles under former manager Jaap Stam, with Kökçü playing a key role in Feyenoord’s resurgence under veteran replacement Dick Advocaat.
On the ball, it’s his supreme distribution that stands out. Kökçü’s repertoire ranges from neat and tidy passes in the centre of the park, to incisive through balls and eye-catching long-range switches of play.
While he’s a player who picks his moments to attempt the spectacular, his 84.1 per cent pass completion rate and 60 per cent long pass success rate (from 2.75 attempts per 90) reflects a man who has all the requisite distribution skills to thrive in one of Europe’s big leagues.
Despite not playing out wide, Kökçü is a supreme crosser of the ball too – as indicated by both his 50 per cent cross completion rate and his corner delivery, which has been a constant source of attacking threat for Feyenoord this season.
But to characterise him as simply a ball-playing midfielder would be unfair. He also has high energy levels and isn’t afraid to take on his man at times, nor get back and make a last ditch tackle when called upon.
Kökçü isn’t a penalty box assassin by any means, with just 1.85 touches in the area per 90, but that hasn’t stopped him popping up with the odd spectacular strike at goal – most notably an outstanding long-range finish against Utrecht back in December.
The broad spectrum of the Turkish Under-21 international’s skills should make him a perfect fit for the Premier League, where he will be able to round off the rougher edges of his game alongside some of the world’s top players.
Arsenal’s record with improving young signings like Mattéo Guendouzi and Gabriel Martinelli may make the Emirates Stadium an obvious choice for Kökçü, but Frank Lampard’s willingness to blood academy prospects also bodes well if he ends up in West London this summer.
Whatever the destination, one man who is convinced that the Feyenoord star has what it takes is his former manager Stam, though he warned that there would be a period of adjustment if the 5ft 9in midfielder were to make the step up.
“He would need to adjust because the step to Arsenal and the Premier League is totally different when you compare it to Holland,” Stam said, when speaking to Goal earlier this week.
“The pace of the game, the quality, the intensity is a lot higher.
“But he has the ability. He is a player who has the personality to want to improve, he always wants to do better. He’s never happy with himself, he’s disappointed if he doesn’t score, or his passes aren’t good enough.
“When I joined Feyenoord, he hadn’t played a lot because everyone said he was too young. I put him in the first team and let him play most of the games, I trusted him and saw a lot of ability in him. Now he’s proving himself in Holland and is one of the best midfield players in the country.
“He’s certainly got the ability to make that step to the Premier League.”
With a youthful revolution taking place at both Arsenal and Chelsea, it will be fascinating to see which London side can tempt the Feyenoord man to the capital.
At a reported price of £23million it would be a sizeable investment for either club, but everything about Kökçü’s performances this season suggest that he might just be worth every penny.