The face of a well-developed PSV team poised for a deep run in the Europa League, and a breakthrough star for the OrangeCody Gakpo is quietly becoming one of Europe’s best players.
Before leading the World Cup field in goals scored (tied with a few others) and helping the Netherlands to a top spot in the group stage, Gakpo was running circles around Eredivisie defenders.
Last season he scored 12 league goals and 12 league assists for PSV, but he is already on track to break that benchmark.
Gakpo already has nine Eredivisie goals and 12 assists in just 14 games. He led his team to the KNVB Cup, won Dutch Footballer of the Year and multiple Player of the Month awards; all at the age of 22.
Now 23, Gakpo has taken his game from the Netherlands to Qatar, as he wows fans and scouts alike.
But how can you explain the youth’s sudden burst of quality? Well, it’s definitely coming.
Rising through the ranks
The meteoric rise of Cody Gakpo centered around one city: Eindhoven. His roots in the city go back to 1999 when he was born.
It was only natural that he was attracted to Jong PSV as a young child. He joined the elite academy by age and progressed steadily through the age levels.
For the most part, Gakpo remained an undiscovered talent, one only analyzed by PSV senior scouts and interested bystanders who wanted to know more about the winger.
But Gakpo really started to warm up in 2017, where he scored seven goals in just 13 First Division appearances.
Gakpo got serious attention a year later when he scored 10 goals and assisted four times in just 11 appearances for Jong PSV.
His extraordinary performances earned him a call-up to his youth club in 2019, where he had to get used to the fast-paced nature of the Eredivisie.
Gakpo was definitely a key player in PSV’s COVID-affected campaigns. In two years he made a total of 14 goals and 9 assists.
Still, Gakpo’s 2021-2022 season earned him the attention of Premier League scouts everywhere. Main striker Donyell Malen is leaving for Dortmund and a move to the left wing has been the catalyst for his breakaway season.
He totaled 21 goals and 15 assists in all competitions. He was as adept at creating chances as he was at finishing them. Gakpo drove PSV to a KNVB Cup and scored the match winner in the final against Ajax.
A striker, a winger and a midfielder in one
Gakpo continued his meteoric rise, scoring thirteen goals and assisting 17 times in just 24 appearances in all competitions. He is the goalscorer who propelled PSV to third place in the Eredivisie and to the knockout rounds of the Europa League against Sevilla.
Some of Gakpo’s best performances came when he was able to wreak havoc on the wing. He and . Despite playing as a striker in those matches, he was able to shift to the wing and attack in the flank. Those matches showed his ability to finish chances like a true number nine.
Multiple heatmaps show that Gakpo usually stays just outside the box on the left flank, as a winger usually does.
From time to time he will make daring dives towards the corner flag to pull off a cross. He sometimes falls back at the halfway line to help his team defend in tricky situations.
His ability to move from sideline to sideline while posing a huge threat to goal is most reminiscent of Ajax’s Dusan Tadic. It is therefore no wonder that Gakpo has played as an attacking midfielder on several occasions.
Unlike other wingers, he also plays over the attacking third. He plays on both flanks looking for bold out-of-the-box shots, such as his bet against Ecuador in the 5th minute.
What makes him so deadly is his ability to create space and force his opponents to respect him. He creates space by lurking on the edge of the box, drawing in defenders or setting him up for daring runs into the heart of the box.
That’s how he scored his goal against Senegal, where he snuck past an unsuspecting Senegalese defense and pushed his header past Edouard Mendy.
His style of play also helped him score his third World Cup goal against Qatar, where he got the ball 20 yards from the box but dribbled to the penalty, beating the Qatar goalkeeper.
His positioning gives him a lot of good chances to score, and he does score.
His role in the Netherlands
One of Gakpo’s best skills isn’t his ice-cold finishing, reliable game play, nor his intelligent positioning. For Louis Van Gaal, it’s his consistency and his ability to adapt everywhere.
“Things can change, but Cody has what it takes to be a star. He has a great personality to become a star player because he is open to anything and everything,” Van Gaal told media at a post-game conference against USA.
“Cody is a very young player – he is 23 but looks younger. He has only been with PSV for two, three years and always played from the left. He didn’t want to play in the center or at 10 years old, but he had to for me. Now he thinks I’m a great head coach!”
Van Gaal’s ability to plug Gakpo into his favored 3-4-1-2 anywhere – attacking midfielder, left striker or right striker – could help him deep into the finals of the competition.
His partnership with Memphis, a player known not only for his goals but his style of play, means Van Gaal has plenty of agility to work with in the attacking third. This was evident from the four matches of the Netherlands.
In his group stage matches, Gakpo looked for goal more like a true number nine. He tried to create space with sharp runs, but only fired a few times.
But against America, Gakpo played more as a facilitator. It was evident in the Netherlands’ first goal, where Gakpo took the ball and found a plundering Denzel Dumfries on the wing, who crossed to Memphis for an easy goal.
It will be a mystery to know how Van Gaal will use Gakpo against Argentina in the quarter-finals. Argentina’s back-line stretches out a bit, so having Gakpo string together passes from sideline to sideline could help them immensely.
But the game’s variables are too complicated to unravel, and anything tactical is unknown until the lineups are known. Friday will certainly be a big factor in Gakpo’s career, but he will certainly stand out in front of thousands of frantic fans.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Pro Shots
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