They may not be the biggest name in Dutch football, but FC Groningen were relegated after 23 years in the Eredivisie and have played a crucial role in developing some of the best players of their generation.
Based in the far north of the Netherlands, Groningen have rarely threatened to become an Eredivisie force, but have produced a slew of future world-class players and Ballon d’Or winners over the years, almost like a Southampton Dutch.
And while the club’s fans mourn their relegation, we’ve identified eight world-class reasons why the passing of FC Groningen should grieve your soul.
Virgil van Dyke
Van Dijk started the road to becoming the world’s best centre-back at Groningen in 2010-11, having joined them from Willem II as a youngster that summer.
In an interview with Sky Sports in 2016, reserve team coach Dick Lukkien recalled how Van Dijk needed a push to realize his immense potential.
This preference for the stick over the carrot took some time for the player to appreciate. «He was very anxious,» Lukkien said.
“He had to get used to me. Of course I recognized his talent, but I thought it was too easy, too relaxed.
“It was a challenge to change his mindset because he didn’t trust me at first and he’s someone who needs to have a connection with his coach. He thought I was too direct. I think he thought I didn’t like him. But I’ve seen the talent in him and when I see the talent I want to bring it out.
The rest is history…
Fifteen goals in 37 games were enough for Suarez for a move to Ajax in 2007, as he transformed from an Eredivisie nuisance to one of the best strikers of his generation.
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Fresh out of their youth academy, Robben made his debut for Groningen aged 16 and quickly became an established member of the starting XI.
Word spread that Groningen had nurtured one of the best young footballers in the world and PSV moved quickly to secure his signature in 2002.
Spells at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich established his status as a generational talent and Robben made a sensational come out of retirement to return to Groningen in 2020. The bond was strong…
It’s good to be home!💚 pic.twitter.com/5s3Yu1tsrD
— Arjen Robben (@ArjenRobben) June 27, 2020
Koeman made his debut for the club in 1980 and was an instant success, scoring 30 goals while still a teenager.
During his final season at Oosterpark, Ronald got to play alongside his older brother Erwin, who had returned for his second spell at the club.
But, while Erwin remained in Dutch football for the rest of his career, Ronald would go on to become one of the best players in the world at Barcelona and starred in the national team’s Euro ’88 triumph.
Now manager of the Dutch side, Koeman recruited his brother to become assistant manager. He lovely stuff.
Tadic is an Ajax legend, particularly for his role in their fairytale Champions League run in 2019, but the Serbian international also shone for Groningen earlier in the decade.
After joining from FK Vojvodina, Tadic recorded 22 assists in his debut season, the third-most in all of Europe’s major leagues behind Lionel Messi and Mesut Ozil.
He left for Twente in 2012, scoring twice against Groningen on his debut before being featured for both Southampton and Ajax.
Another Serbian international who has thrived at Groningen, Kostic’s 12 goals in 2013-14 were enough to earn him a move to Stuttgart.
He later impressed at Hamburg, before moving to Eintracht Frankfurt and helping them win the Europa League in 2022.
Faced with a choice between West Ham and Juventus last summer, the winger unsurprisingly opted for the Italian giants and scored the only goal in a Derby d’Italia win over Inter Milan in March 2023.
Japan are starting to produce some beautifully technical footballers, and after being picked up from Gamba Osaka, Doan was impressive to be named Asian Young Footballer of the Year 2016 after his first season in the Netherlands.
After rejecting a co-ownership offer from Manchester City, Doan was eventually sold to PSV in 2019 and now appears to be Freiburg who have won the Bundesliga.
He also scored in Japan’s victories over Germany and Spain at the 2022 World Cup, establishing himself as another Groningen prodigy.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) November 23, 2022
Ok, Blind was never technically sold by Groningen as he only joined on a season-long loan in 2009. Shoot us.
But his difficult spell in the north of Holland taught Blind the value of resilience in the face of adversity and playing at right-back gave him the versatility that would see him shine at Ajax.
The Dutch international will also represent Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Not bad.
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