Manchester United have found themselves relying on Ruud van Nistelrooy once again to fix their problems up front.
But over 20 years after the legendary Dutch striker arrived at Old Trafford, United will be trusting that he has moulded his own successor in Cody Gakpo.
The Red Devils’ history with signing stars from the Netherlands has been very hit and miss since the turn of the new millennium.
For every Van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie that have dazzled in Manchester, Memphis Depay and Tahith Chong have failed to impress.
But new boss Erik ten Hag was given the license to sign a number of players from the Netherlands this summer after arriving from Ajax.
And the Dutchman has been vindicated by the impressive early season form of Tyrell Malacia, Lisandro Martinez and Antony.
This may make United fans all the more frustrated that they missed out on bringing Gakpo as well, considering Antony Martial’s injury problems and Cristiano Ronaldo being out of favour.
PSV Eindhoven star Gakpo admitted that he came close to joining the Red Devils in the summer following talks with Ten Hag.
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He told The Times: “I was close to leaving, I spoke to Erik ten Hag a few times at Manchester United.
“In the end the deal didn’t go through, which was a shame, for me and my development, and because Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world, but also for PSV, because to transfer a player to Manchester United is a good thing for the club.
“It ended about a week before the end of the transfer window and in that week I had to decide if I would go to Leeds or Southampton.
“In the end I stayed, but it was a stressful period.”
Goal contributions this season
Cody Gakpo – 13 goals, 11 assists
Erling Haaland – 20 goals, 3 assists
Neymar – 12 goals, 9 assists
Robert Lewandowski – 14 goals, 3 assists
Lionel Messi – 8 goals, 8 assists
Gakpo has not let his disappointment at his failed move affect his form, with 13 goals and 11 asissts so far for PSV this term.
In fact, no player has made more direct goal contributions than his 24 in Europe’s top five leagues and Eredivisie, with Gakpo one ahead of Man City sensation Erling Haaland.
There is plenty of hope that Gakpo can take his form into the Premier League as Haaland has, especially with ‘Van Gol’ his coach at PSV.
The 23-year-old told SunSport in April: “Van Nistelrooy was my striker trainer in the academy.
“I have learned a lot from him and I look up to him. He’s spoken to me about how to finish in certain situations and it helped me a lot.
“He told me some tricks on shooting and keeping my options open. Shoot low and hard, not beautiful and high. A goal is a goal, you know. I am grateful he did.”
Under Van Nistelrooy’s tutelage, Gakpo has evolved from a left winger to a ruthless striker over the past year.
Gakpo scored a brace on the opening weekend of the Eredivisie season that came after another strike in PSV’s 5-3 victory over Ajax in Holland’s version of the Community Shield.
The comparisons in playing style are very similar to Marcus Rashford, however Gakpo gets his inspiration from boyhood idol Thierry Henry.
He added: “The Premier League is a big league. Virgil van Dijk plays there with Liverpool so I like to watch them.
“We are not the same kind of league but I think we try to look at the Prem and learn about it. Everybody wants to play one time in the Prem. I don’t favour one team but I like Arsenal a lot.
“I looked up to Henry when I was younger because he was a tall guy who played on the wing.”
That reveal may have been somewhat of a blow to Van Nistelrooy, who was famously involved in one of the Premier League’s all-time striker rivalries with Henry during the early 2000s.
Paul Scholes even revealed Van Nistelrooy used to sulk after games if the Arsenal striker had scored but Gakpo’s reveal has not stopped their relationship flourishing.
Last summer, Gakpo became the first Dutch player to make his international debut at a European Championships for 40 years.
The starlet came on as a late substitute for fellow United target Frenkie de Jong during their 3-0 win over North Macedonia.
Gakpo then took his fine form into the season, with the campaign just gone representing his best in a PSV shirt with 21 goals.
His 15 assists as well in all competitions meant no player aged 23 or under registered more assists per 90 than him and he looks nailed on to be part of Netherlands’ squad at the World Cup next month
Speaking to NOS, former United manager and current Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal said: “I think Gakpo is a great talent.
“He scores easily. He has now also shown that in the Dutch national team. He is also a young player, so he still has a lot of experience to gain.”
Gakpo has indicated on a number of occasions that he’d be open to a move to the Premier League amid interest from United and Arsenal.
But he has been advised to not rush a move to England and to look at how the direction the careers of Donny van de Beek and Depay went after sealing their big moves with United.
On Gakpo, Dutch football expert Marcel van der Kraan told talkSPORT: “He is probably one of the most promising players in Dutch football.
“Noni Madueke who plays on the other wing at PSV, the London-born winger, both of them have been very impressive. They are the highlights in that team.
“They are the ones who create everything in that team and why PSV were up until last week were top of the league, but they’re still fighting for the championship.
“Cody is a great player but I agree with Marco van Basten who has been campaigning against young players leaving so early.
“He’s great in Holland and the Eredivisie, and if you don’t know any different parameters in other leagues you would think this guy could play for Man United, Man City, Liverpool – all the clubs who have been looking at him.
“They have been sending their scouts to Holland and have been watching all the videos of him. His agent is in touch with some really big clubs in that top-five in the Premier League, he went to visit them last week.
“But Davy Klaassen and so many other players, Memphis Depay, when they left the Eredivisie early, they can’t do it. English football is another massive step up.
“I would advise Cody to not rush to the big clubs – make sure you play every week.
“He’s only got to look at Donny van de Beek to see what could happen to him.”
Time will only tell if Gakpo does make the move to Manchester whether he’ll be the latest Flying Dutchman like his mentor or just another one for the scrap heap…
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