Several individuals are in contention for the “I cannot believe he is still a Chelsea player” trophy- Baba Rahman and Lucas Piazon, just to name a few. Another player who could stake his claim for the iconic award is Dutch international Marco van Ginkel. The 27-year-old midfielder joined Chelsea all the way back in 2013, and has managed to feature for the first team for just 97 minutes (four appearances) over a period of seven years. All four of those were in his debut season too; so where did it all go wrong for him?
Once dubbed ‘the next Frank Lampard’ by Jose Mourinho, Marco van Ginkel’s career has been plagued by injuries. In fact, he is still recovering from the knee injury which has kept him out of action since July 2018. These long absences from the spotlight meant our fan base forgot he was still on Chelsea’s books- but were reminded when the club announced that his contract would be extended by another year; as it was due to expire at the end of June. This news came as a shock to everyone, and it remains to be seen whether he will finally be given a chance at the club seven years after his arrival, or if he will be sent out on loan again or sold outright.
Marco van Ginkel arrived at Chelsea on 5th July 2013, following a string of impressive performances for Vitesse. He made his debut for the Dutch club in 2010, at the age of 17. Ever since, he was deemed as the next midfield sensation, which was emphasised by the fact that he was awarded the Dutch Talent of The Year award in the 2012/13 campaign after his eight goals guided Vitesse to their highest finish since 1998. Peter Bosz (then manager of Vitesse) hailed him as the successor of Frank Lampard at Chelsea, and deemed this move the best for his career. Jose Mourinho, who was back at the helm for the second time, echoed these high praises, and also threw the name of Gerrard into the mix, calling him a ‘solid, well-rounded player who has all the tools to be a superstar’. His ability to find the back of the net despite playing in a box-to-box role made him a coveted commodity.
The hype was real- and van Ginkel made his debut on the opening match day of the season against Hull City, albeit featuring only for six minutes. He followed this up for the second game as well, featuring for five minutes in the 2-1 success over Aston Villa. The Dutchman finally made his first start for Chelsea in the Champions League against Swiss side Basel, and played for 76 mins as Chelsea succumbed to a 2-1 defeat. Exactly six days after this, he was handed another start by Jose Mourinho, this time in the EFL Cup, away to Swindon Town. Unfortunately, just ten minutes in, van Ginkel suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, which kept him out for seven long months. He did not feature again that season, and played for the U21 side upon his return to action- as Chelsea had acquired the services of Nemanja Matic from Benfica to bolster the midfield.
His failure to convince Jose Mourinho saw him head to Italy on loan- and it took him to the famous city of Milan. Van Ginkel made his first start for AC Milan under Filippo Inzaghi against Empoli, only to be stretchered off 34 minutes in due to an ankle injury. Upon his return, he continued to feature sparsely until he picked up another ankle injury in training. However, once fully fit, he showed his skillset as he played every single minute of Seria A football from the beginning of April until the end of the season in May.
This fruitful loan spell at Milan attracted attention from the Premier League, and he joined Stoke City on a season long loan. However, manager Mark Hughes preferred other players to him and the arrival of Imbula brought an end to van Ginkel’s time at the Britannia Stadium, as his loan was terminated after six months. Deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea as well, PSV Eindhoven provided an escape route to van Ginkel, as he returned to the Eredivisie. He exceeded expectations under manager Phillip Cocu as his eight goals led PSV to the title.
While there was talk of him extending his stay in Holland, he was forced to return to Chelsea due to a knee injury. He made his recovery and returned to the Dutch side in January 2017, and stayed there for the following season as well. This 2017/18 season was very impressive for him, as he captained the PSV side to another Ederivisie title despite the fact that he was only a loanee. There was talk of him moving to the city of Eindhoven permanently, but decided to stay at Cobham to undergo an operation to reconstruct his anterior cruciate ligament. Van Ginkel has not made an appearance for the Chelsea first or reserve side ever since.
Now, at the age of 27, it would be very interesting (and unlikely) for him to be included in the first team squad after being side-lined for two years with injury. The news of his contract extension took everyone by surprise, and it should be seen whether he finally achieves even a small portion of what was embedded in his destiny, or if he will go down as another case of ‘what could have been’. Still 27 and (ideally) in his prime, he could have at least another five years of top level football in him, should he manage to keep himself fit. Is it at Chelsea? I find that very unlikely, and he could be heading on loan or sold on a permanent sooner or later- with the Dutch league seeming his most likely destination.