Josh Sippie takes a look at Donyell Malen, PSV’s bright youngster.
The Netherlands is the birthplace of so many of the modern day greats of football. It is where the mind of late great Johan Cruyff sewed itself into the fabric of the game. Simple things like the triangle midfield formation that Barcelona have mastered – it came from Cruyff. It’s just a footballing nation that has fallen on hard times. Hard times as in their domestic league has become a bit of a feeder league.
PSV Eindhoven is one of those domestic teams who have just landed themselves a gem in Donyell Malen. PSV are always at or around the top of the Eredivisie and they often manage it, like most teams in the Dutch division with the help of talent-laden young footballers like Malen. Last year they finished third in the division and going into the start of the 2017/18 season, they are ranked as the fourth youngest team in the division.
Who is Donyell Malen?
Born in Wieringen, Netherlands, Donyell Malen began his footballing journey at the age of 8 in 2007 when he was picked up by Dutch super club Ajax. He spent eight years at Ajax, growing with the acclaimed academy and rising up the ranks of young Dutch prospects, a list that is always riddled with talent.
His impact was immediate on the international stage. When he hit the U15 level, he popped in nine goals in just five appearances before rising through the ranks. He made another strong impression at the U17 level, where he scored eight in fifteen appearances and has only continued to rise.
Even from his early years as a teen, he has been pegged for greatness. His Ajax U14 coach Brian Tevreden noted that “if he does everything right, he can be one of the best strikers.”
When he did leave Ajax, there was a massive outcry against the move. Ajax expressed their disappointment when Malen left the club amidst the budding controversy. The young striker was thought of so highly by Dutch football fans that when he left the Ajax academy for Arsenal, the backlash was massive as he was labeled as a traitor. Such are the things that will happen when you carry the pressure of being the top prospect of your nation.
Malen arrived at Arsenal and shot through the ranks. At just 17 years old, a year after signing, he found himself to be a regular with their U23 side, where he showed his tremendous diversity in not just scoring goals, but doing so much more as an all-purpose attacker.
Malen’s agent, the renowned Mino Raiola, who has represented Zlatan Ibrahimovic, had this to say about the Dutch attacker when asked about which young footballers excited him the most:
“Gianluigi Donnarumma is in the national team at 17 so he will continue to get better with Italy and AC Milan, Moise Kean is doing well at Juventus but the one who I am excited about is already with a Premier League club and that is Donyell Malen at Arsenal.”
Malen has also had the benefit of working with Denis Bergkamp at Ajax and Thierry Henry when the former Barcelona and Arsenal star was the coach at the Arsenal academy, and with that sort of intelligence adding to the mind he already has, the possibilities are limitless.
What is his Style of Play?
To begin to describe his style of play, I will again borrow a quote from Tevreden. “It’s hard to describe him. If I have to compare him with a player in the Premier League, he seems a bit like Alexis Sánchez. He is relatively small, fast and strong, even though he is not the greatest striker. He can also play as an attacking midfielder or as a wide player, he is multifunctional.”
Malen is an incredibly quick player. But not just with his feet. His mind is always aware of what is going on around him and that is where the comparison to Alexis really hits home. It isn’t just a matter of being talented with the ball, his movement off the ball and his ability to gel with the ebb and flow of the attack is invaluable, especially at the young age of 18.
While he is a reliable goal scorer, having notched a handfuls of goals in his rise through both the Arsenal system and the international ranks, his use goes so far beyond that as he is an intelligent passer, a tireless worker, and an ambitious young man who aspires to be like the greats that he has worked under.
He is a tremendous dribbler with sound feet and is capable of whittling through opposing defenses and forcing them into awkward situations. His first touch compliments these abilities, as he is capable of some devastating twists and turns that will spin defenders into the ground.
What are his Strengths?
The quick feet of Donyell Malen have to rank as his primary strength. Whether he is on the ball or receiving it, both of his feet are so sound that the ball looks as if it was tethered to his ankle. His first touch is remarkable for a teenager and his confidence when receiving the ball and gearing up for a skill move to shake defenders is a joy to watch and shows how much he is thinking with and without the ball. He is rarely caught off guard because he has already thought ahead enough to be prepared for just about anything.
This leads to second biggest strength, that is being his ability to remain calm under pressure. It’s always remarkable to see a young man with the composure that he has, but no matter the situation, whether he is leading a quick counter attack or controlling the ball on the edge of the box, he is always cool and calculating, thinking about his next move. It’s a byproduct of the supreme footballing intelligence that he possesses. Being calm under pressure is the perfect way to facilitate that intelligence.
Malen is also capable of scoring some breathtaking goals. He can fire curlers from distance or coolly slot the ball away from inside the box. As he isn’t a strict No. 9, he can be found all over the box, both in and around it, and this allows him the freedom to score all manner of goals.
What are his Weaknesses?
It may sound silly, but the first (and only) weakness I thought of is simply that he shouldn’t be used as a primary striker, which Arsenal had been doing before shifting him around the park to greater effect. The skill set of Malen, just like with Alexis, is too diverse and too useful to confine to a purely striking role. If he is to play that role, he may not be able to deliver consistent numbers like a pure goal-scoring No. 9 would.
Which explains why, while he does possess the skills to score some fantastic goals, he wasn’t necessarily a consistent scorer. When you’re played as a striker, that kind of thing gets noticed and pinned as a weakness. But in Malen’s case, it was just a matter of him being so much more than a scorer.
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