It's been a difficult year for Donyell Malen.
After a breakout half-season in the Eredivisie in 19/20 and making his international debut he suffered a serious knee injury that looked to have ended his season and, with it, his hopes of competing at Euro 2020.
Of course, the coronavirus ended everyone's season, and allowed Malen time to recover. He was also given a Euros reprieve, with the tournament shifted to 2021, theoretically allowing him the chance to compete.
And of course for a player with pace to burn, it was important to assess how he recovered from that injury and whether he looked to be the same player. Mercifully, everything looks just fine for the former Arsenal youth player.
Not since the proper emergence of Memphis in 2013-14 has a league seemed too small for the talents of a prodigious Dutch forward, and like Mattijs De Ligt in defence and Frenkie De Jong in midfield, Malen has his sights set on reaching the very pinnacle of the game.
The 21-year-old has been the worst-kept secret in the Netherlands for some time, and since his international debut, where he arrived off the bench to score in a superlative victory over Germany in September 2019, PSV are preparing themselves for the day that their latest prized asset moved on. Having lost Steven Bergwijn to Tottenham last January, Malen could well be the next to move on.
For reasons not yet explained, the 21-year-old was rejected by Arsenal as a youth despite scoring regularly for the U18s and being selected to travel on the pre-season tour in the summer of 2017. Just weeks later he was sold to PSV and, like Serge Gnabry before him, you have to wonder how the Premier League side got it quite so wrong.
Malen’s skillset is one that is coveted by every major club, primary among them the ability to turn, progress through the gears and terrify defenders with his acceleration, close control and composure in front of goal. Malen has spent most of his time this season playing through the middle for PSV but has played wide in the past, hence the links to him being a potential Jadon Sancho replacement.
In 18-19 Malen made just six starts and 25 sub appearances as coach Mark van Bommel introduced him gradually into first-team football, but he recorded 10 goals and four assists in just 965 mins of Eredivisie action, the equivalent of a goal contribution every 69 minutes. And in his role as undisputed starter in 19/20, his statistics across the attacking board rank with anyone else in the league. Even returning from his injury, he's hit the ground running with six goals in both the Eredivisie and the Europa League.
PSV are developing a solid Dutch base to their side but they know their place, like rivals Ajax, as a club renowned as a conveyor belt for talent. Malen has already been linked with Liverpool in the past, as well as this recent Dortmund link.
The fact that he wanted to leave Arsenal to ensure he could show what he is capable of speaks volumes of a player who is confident in his own ability and also that football is for the playing, not the collecting of pay checks.
He said last year: "I still had a contract for a year and Arsenal even wanted to extend that. I don't play football for the money. I never did that. Otherwise I would not have left England.”
⚽ Watch Donyell Malen in action: