ottenham’s fringe players will take centre stage here in Arnhem tonight and, in the absence of the starting XI from Sunday’s win over Newcastle, Dutch international Steven Bergwijn will be the star attraction on his return home.
It is coming up to two years since Bergwijn left these shores for English football but it still feels like the former PSV Eindhoven winger is yet to really get going at Spurs.
Certainly, both Bergwijn and head coach Nuno Espirito Santo believe there is more to come from the 24-year-old, who has been hampered by niggles and will start for Spurs tonight for the first time since August after suffering an ankle injury on international duty.
“He’s a very talented player, unique inside our squad,” said Nuno, who revealed that Harry Kane, Heung-min Son and Co. have remained at Hotspur Way to prepare for Sunday’s derby against West Ham.
“He’s fantastic in one-v-one offensively and he gives us speed. We need Stevie. I repeat: we need Stevie.”
Asked if Spurs fans had seen the best of him since he joined as Jose Mourinho’s first permanent signing in January 2020, Bergwijn added: “No, I don’t think so – I know I have more to give, but I started this season positively. Last season was difficult for me, but you will see the best of me soon.”
Given Nuno’s usual hesitance to discuss individuals, his praise for Bergwijn was striking and you wonder if the coach is aware of the need to build up the forward’s fragile confidence.
Bergwijn could scarcely have made a stronger first impression in English football with goals in his first three home matches, including stunning strikes against Manchester City and Manchester United, to suggest Spurs had signed another explosive, free-scoring winger.
But he managed a miserable return of just one goal in all competitions last season and his most memorable performance for Spurs arguably remains the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool in December, when he was guilty of a glaring miss with the match finely poised at 1-1.
His confidence visibly drained and Mourinho largely overlooked him for the remainder of the season, his goal coming under interim boss Ryan Mason against Aston Villa in May.
A well-taken finish against Chelsea in pre-season was another flicker from the Netherlands international but he needs a competitive goal or two to kickstart his Spurs career and avoid becoming another flop from the Eredivisie.
“All the players that come to Premier League need time to adapt, need time to integrate themselves, change of country, tough competition,” Nuno said.
“The Premier League is a different more demanding competition in terms of opposition. Not only the Holland players need some time to develop.”
Nuno’s approach to the Europa Conference League risks creating two tiers within his small squad but the competition does offer Bergwijn and Spurs’ other fringe players the chance to build form and confidence, and make a case for inclusion in the League.
“We take [this competition] very seriously because it’s an opportunity to win something and also show yourself,” Bergwijn said. “I know what I can do. I’m fit again so now it’s time to show myself again.”