Toronto FC want to win, again. Gregory van der Wiel wants to win, after a long time absent from grand stages. So, let’s say this marriage has started in the best possible way with both partners sharing a common denominator: silverware.
The Dutch defender, who joined the MLS side from Serie A’s Cagliari, has lauded TFC as a winning team who is striving to excel in all departments, in the interest of becoming a global club.
Although he may have been beyond the radar of Canadian soccer fans, van der Wiel’s move to Toronto is probably one of the largest transfer operations TFC have made.
The 29-year-old fullback has an excellent pedigree, having kicked his first ball at the academy of Ajax, one of the best in the European landscape. Afterwards, he featured for a top side like Paris Saint-Germain and donned the Netherlands shirt in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the highest level of soccer in the world.
Through this piece, I will try to recall some of VDW’s career highlights, which define him as the the man and the player that he is nowadays.
Van der Wiel was handed a debut at Ajax on March 11, 2007, when the team from Amsterdam locked horns with FC Twente away from home, emerging 4–1 winners. He was roped in as a central defender alongside Zdenek Grygera with John Heitinga, a central defender as well, being shifted upwards on the field as a midfielder. TFC’s newest signing played among some of the best names in Dutch soccer during that game, including Edgar Davids, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Ryan Babel.
He went on to collect almost 200 appearances while chalking up 13 goals with the Lancers. The winning mentality was instilled in van der Wiel’s mind at this early point of his career, having managed to lift two Dutch championships.
2010 World Cup Final
The 2010 FIFA World Cup was the pinnacle of Gregory van der Wiel’s career as he provided a huge contribution to the Netherlands’ cause. He helped them to the tournament’s final against Spain, which they lost 1–0 courtesy of an extra-time goal by Andres Iniesta.
In that edition of the tournament, he played five games, including in Holland’s winning opener against Denmark (2–0) and in their famous 2–1 victory over favourites Brazil, during which he halted the threats of the likes of Robinho and Kaka.
Such tournaments are always a learning curve for the players. TFC fans will be hopeful that van der Wiel can pass on that type of chip on the shoulder and sense of responsibility to the rest of the players, in order to raise the bar and challenge for the CONCACAF Champions League.
Move to Paris
Van der Wiel completed his move to PSG in the early stages of the 2012-13 campaign, after the French club tracked him for a long time. Throughout his four seasons spent there, the Netherlands defender played 89 times, clinching four Ligue 1 titles with the French giants.
Although he is criticized over his crossing skills, during his time in the French capital van der Wiel collected 12 assists. Over that period of time he was third in assists among Ligue 1 defenders.
The fullback was also a fundamental part of PSG’s European journeys in the UEFA Champions League, where he played 27 times, recording eight assists.
Turkey in style
After parting ways with PSG, van der Wiel started a new chapter in Turkey, at Fenerbahce. He was lauded as a great signing and was a regular starter in the early league outings. However, injuries and suspensions hampered his season which saw him feature in just 11 games.
Nonetheless, he was thriving off the field thanks to his clothing line, called BALR. It was founded in 2013 alongside other Dutch players including Eljero Elia, with the intention of making the life of a professional footballer more accessible to the general public.
This is van der Wiel the person, rather than van der Wiel the soccer player: A tattooed 29-year-old individual who still seeks ways of connecting his passions with his on-field duties, which sometimes aren’t appreciated by his employers.
Van der Wiel was the first Dutch player to ever join Cagliari. However, Cagliari supporters won’t have fond memories of him, after playing only six games between Serie A and Coppa Italia without fitting the bill as an experienced and quality player.
Days after leaving the Italian club, the Dutch defender criticized Diego Lopez’s side as being inadequate to win. He claimed that they lack a winning mentality, which hinders their growth as a team, eventually forcing him to seek pastures new.
In Italy, van der Wiel played only five Serie A games, including high profile fixtures against Fiorentina, Roma and Juventus, leaving no trace. Nonetheless, this brief experience should not worry TFC fans, especially given Cagliari’s difficult situation in the league. It is also not easy for modern fullbacks to adapt to the Italian game so quickly.