If you were looking through the Leeds United squad right now, and were asked to pick out the best bargain, who would you pick?
Perhaps Raphinha would feature prominently in your thoughts after arriving for just £17m for French side Rennes last summer, and then going on to enjoy an impressive debut campaign in the Premier League for Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
And while the Brazilian, or someone like Illan Meslier, would definitely be stand-out contenders for that award, Pascal Struijk may be the best of the lot.
The Dutchman arrived from Ajax on a free transfer back in January 2018 after the Dutch giants decided not to offer him a new contract, initially taking him on trial before handing him a three-year contract to join up at Elland Road.
The fact Struijk was let go spoke volumes of how little Ajax really valued him, and Dutch journalist, Jan Spaans, said: “You never thought Struijk was going to be a first-team player at Ajax. Ajax’s academy is famous and you hear all the time about the best players in it but they didn’t speak about him so much or have any high hopes.”
Since then however, Struijk has developed into a Premier League regular under Bielsa, playing in holding midfield as well as further back in central defence.
The 6 foot 3 star has started all three of Leeds United’s games in the top-flight this season, while he played 27 times in the league the previous campaign – a sure sign of the trust Bielsa has in him.
And, after a particularly impressive display against Manchester United last season, former Leeds man Noel Whelan waxed lyrical about the young starlet.
He said: “I thought he was phenomenal at the back. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this kid. He went through a stage of playing in Kalvin’s role but that was the wrong choice by Bielsa for me. He is a centre-half all day long. You can see him growing in that position.”
Former Leeds ace Dominic Matteo is also a big fan of him, saying: “He reads the game a lot better than he’s credited for. He’ll get even better too. Struijk is one to look out for.
“There’s plenty of work to be done but, with the size of him, his physicality, his passing, he’s got it all and can step into midfield. He looks very calm on the ball, players who are a bit erratic are not for me but he looks comfortable in possession.”
Now, CIES have him valued at an impressive £17m, and that’s a real testament to the work that he’s done himself in improving every day, and the coaching ability of Bielsa at Elland Road.
The Whites struck absolute gold by landing Struijk on a free, and he’s proving why he could be one of the best steals of the modern era for the Yorkshire club.
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