ATTRIBUTES: Close control, dribbling, intelligent passing
PLAYS (A BIT) LIKE: Mesut Ozil
In an era where the Dutch have been bereft of genuine attacking talent, Calvin Stengs is one of the developing stars expected to lead the charge for the Netherlands in the future. Stengs broke onto the scene at AZ at the beginning of the 2017-18 season, but seven minutes into his debut against PSV he tore his cruciate ligament and missed a full 15 months of football. There was serious concern whether Stengs could fully recover, but in the past 12 months he has proven all over again that his skillset is to be respected.
Stengs is instantly recognisable, and not just because of his David Luiz-esque hairstyle; his languid, leisurely approach as he moves with the ball is easy on the eye, and he can drift seamlessly past defenders before they know he’s gone. It’s all ball manipulation, less speed of body and much more speed of mind. He takes up the now conventional inverted winger position on the right despite being predominantly left-footed and just glides inside into areas where he can be most effective. And he does this by looking to pass in between full-back and centre-back. His weight of pass and timing of release is good, and it’s getting better.
He entered AZ’s side half-way through the 2018-19 season and ended with three goals and four assists in the Eredivisie, the equivalent of a goal involvement every 241 minutes. But with a full pre-season behind him and a fantastic relationship with fellow talent Myron Boadu, he has raised his game in every conceivable metric. Per P90 he is averaging three shots, five touches in the box and 1.9 completed dribbles. But his direct goal involvement is most impressive, with five goals and seven assists already domestically and in the Europa League. He creates something every 100 minutes.
There’s a natural state of intelligence that permeates Stengs’ play and he is clearly comfortable in his surroundings, having been with AZ since the age of 12. It helps that the club has been patient in his comeback and they are now watching him blossom. His superb solo goal against Utrecht last January shows what he is capable of, but he’s so much more to him - think Mesut Ozil, when playing on the right of the triumvirate behind Karim Benzema at Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho, marauding inside and releasing the ball with precision. He’s obviously not anywhere near Ozil at his peak yet, and the tests will come for Stengs when matches get physical and defenders become more aware of his abilities, but at the base level he is a player with acute awareness and the proficiency to put the ball into the place where he himself would like to receive it.
Oranje boss Ronald Koeman said before the September Euro qualifiers that Stengs isn’t ready yet but his form has only gotten better since and given the impact PSV’s Donyell Malen made on his full debut against Germany, his time will arrive soon.
I dream big. Ultimately, I want to reach the top. The top is Barcelona, they have been my club since childhood, since Ronaldinho.Calvin Stengs
Having already overcome a significant setback in his short career, there’s clearly no shortage of confidence and even the Dutch media feel that he has already outgrown the Eredivisie. Pundit from Telegraaf TV, Valentijn Driessen, said of him: “He has mapped out a path for himself that goes abroad via AZ and not via Ajax or PSV. This boy will be joining the Dutch national team in no time.”
We’ll soon find out.