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The curious case of Steven Bergwijn: Tottenham’s Dutch attacker is at a career crossroad

Steven Bergwijn has been red-hot for the Dutch, but has been a failure to launch at Spurs.

Holland v Germany -International Friendly Photo by Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images

As the season has gone on and Antonio Conte has gotten more and more used to the squad and the club, Tottenham Hotspur has exhausted all of their avenues to a trophy again this season. After bouncing out of the UEFA Conference League in the group stage (which is arguably viewed as a good thing now) and losing to Chelsea and Middlesbrough, respectively, in the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup, Spurs have gone from focusing on sometimes playing 2-3 games a week to now just 1-2 games each week.

And so, Spurs have set their sights on a top four finish to qualify for a Champions League spot for next season with the idea that each match will be equivalent to a cup final, and the team needing to go on a strong run to finish the season. Now that Spurs are no longer playing multiple games a week, it has allowed Conte and his staff to continue to line up his favored starting lineup each game without much rotation.

Since Conte arrived in November, Spurs have continuously lined up with a back three outside of a few times where they were chasing games. Regardless, Spurs’ preference in recent weeks has cemented into the 3-4-3 shape. Outside of some changes here and there, due to injuries/knocks or COVID cases, Spurs have been relatively unchanged, particularly in the front three. Obviously, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are always going to be selected, but Spurs have tried out a few different players to complement them. As mentioned in my prior article, no one has had the impact that Dejan Kulusevski has had with the elite Kane and Son duo since coming into the side in the January window. Prior to Kulusevski, it was Lucas Moura who manned the position.

With multiple international breaks in between the season, we get a chance to see players that may not be getting on with their current clubs yet head back to play with their countries and look like completely different players. This has been the case with Steven Bergwijn for Netherlands and Joe Rodon for Wales. Notably, Bergwijn is up there as one of the most impressive players in this most recent international break, netting three goals for his country while contributing as both a starter and as an impact substitute.

This is not just a one-off either as Bergwijn was huge for the Dutch in their World Cup qualification-defining win against Norway back in November. When Bergwijn is on his game, there is a good player there. Gifted with a strong base, good pace and strong technical capabilities, Bergwijn is the type of player that Spurs could — and should — be looking to develop as a difference maker.

Purchased from PSV in 2020, it looked like Bergwijn was going to set the world on fire when he came in after scoring a debut goal against Manchester City. Fast forward over two years later and Bergwijn has really been a case of failure to launch. He has rarely started for Spurs and some of his misfortune (particularly that late one on one goal scoring opportunity he failed to put away at Liverpool) has overshadowed his time at Spurs. He has also been dogged by injuries during his time at Tottenham. He will always have the late magic against Leicester when he scored two goals in stoppage time to give Tottenham a huge away win, but the 24-year-old is reaching a crossroads where perhaps both he the club would be better suited to go their separate ways.

I have no doubts Bergwijn can be a quality player. He is a unique prospect and provides for a profile that can operate in a variety of different roles and even excel in a number of leagues. As is the case with many of Spurs’ incomings in recent seasons, it is not fair to entirely judge these players given the situations they have walked into.

Bergwijn came in under José Mourinho and was really set up to play as a defensive-minded winger, with the Portuguese manager failing to identify the things that the Dutchman could offer in the final third. There was then that weird, brief spell when Ryan Mason took over the first-team where, outside of a thunderous strike against Aston Villa, he barely featured. When Nuno Espírito Santo came in, Bergwijn actually started out well but slowly faded into the background. You could say that Bergwijn’s best spell at Spurs has been with Conte where the Italian manager has utilized him as a complementary center-forward to go along with his typical positioning on the wing.

Unfortunately for Bergwijn, he has really become second fiddle in Conte’s selections due to how much of an impact Kulusevski has made in the group, actively improving the link-up in attack while also occupying the space in the final right third quite well. In Bergwijn’s appearances under Conte, he has performed and been a versatile piece, but his involvement has seriously decreased since Kulusevski came into the fold. With Spurs looking settled on their front three at least until the end of the season, Bergwijn’s role has really been minimized to coming in if Spurs are chasing a result or as fresh legs if Spurs are looking to see out games. Because of Conte’s preferences and the starting XI appearing to be drilled into place at least until the end of the season, Bergwijn once again finds himself in a situation where even in his appearances he does not even have ample time nor opportunities to prove that he is deserving of starting minutes.

All in all, the transfer of Bergwijn has not really worked out regardless of which manager he has played for. Sure there have been spells of a good form, but nothing to a consistent that Spurs were hoping for when they shelled out nearly £25 million him in the January window. There have been injuries and knocks here and there, multiple managers and Bergwijn, like Tanguy Ndombele for example, has failed to kick on at the club perhaps in large part due to all of the circus acts going on inside, outside and around the club over the past few difficult seasons.

A transfer ultimately looks likely, considering that Bergwijn is a young asset that could recoup Spurs a nice bit of money. However, I think all teams need at least 4-5 attacking options. For example, Liverpool utilizes 4-5 players for their three attacking positions. It may not necessarily be a fair comparison given the performance and stature of both clubs at the moment, but Spurs, barring a Zagreb-style meltdown, will be in one of the European competitions next season and it does make sense to keep him if all parties agree it is best. After all, this is a player that has developed a little bit under the radar for Conte and as the squad continues to adapt to the Italian’s methods and his rigorous patterns of play, it may behoove Spurs to hang onto a player like Bergwijn who is gaining valuable experience with Conte and will continue to do so with an entire offseason and preseason approaching.

In January, prior to the Leicester away miracle, the Dutchman was apparently on Spurs’ transfer list. At the time, it was Newcastle and Ajax that were most interested in his services. Heading back to his homeland to play for the league’s superpower in Ajax may be in the cards for Bergwijn, especially considering they have some more money to spend after selling players like David Neres and Lassina Traoré among others. But as it stands now, it is just a game of wait and see with Bergwijn. Spurs would do well by keeping him and allowing to come good on their investment in him, especially since he is signed through 2025. Conte, however, may not see it that way, and so it could also serve all parties well to shake hands and simply part ways.

Follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.