It seems a lifetime ago that Donyell Malen was toiling at De Toekomst as one of their most prominent attacking youth players with a prolific goalscoring record at Ajax’ fabled academy. He joined the Amsterdammers at 8-years-old before his agent Mino Raiola navigated a move to Arsenal when he was 16 as Ajax failed to sign him to a professional contract. Hat-tricks for Arsenal’s U23s at Brighton and U18s against Reading as well as impressive pre-season performances while briefly being tutored by the legendary Thierry Henry were the highlights of a two-year stint at Hale End. Raiola then orchestrated a return to his home country for PSV Eindhoven as he finished his first season at PSV as Jong PSV’s top scorer.
The Eredivisie is littered with De Toekomst youth products as Steven Bergwijn and Pablo Rosario make up another two players who have walked those hallowed halls. Malen quickly reinvented himself at PSV Eindhoven as an attacking force for Jong PSV, prolific scorer off the bench for the first team as he now leads the PSV attack from the front. He has lived many lives as he is still 20-years-old and in the fledgling stages of his career, but he has plundered goals from Amsterdam to Eindhoven via London. PSV and Malen are currently negotiating a new contract as he is in the final year of the agreement he signed after joining from Arsenal.
He now dons the number 9 shirt as Mark Van Bommel seeks to develop him into a multi-faceted, fast-paced and prolific force leading the PSV attack. He is a world away from PSV’s last striker who wore his current number in the aerially proficient Luuk De Jong. This is fitting as Van Bommel’s first move as Head Coach was to promote Cody Gakpo and Malen to the first team permanently. Malen who has spent a career taking opportunities responded by scoring a tap-in against Galatasaray in pre-season before robbing Papa Alou Cisse of the ball against Olympiakos, shielding possession by shouldering the defender off the ball to keep his composure and slide past the keeper for his second goal in two games.
Van Bommel trusted Malen with opportunities in PSV’s season opener against Utrecht before he assisted a last-minute winner away to Fortuna Sittard for Dante Rigo. On a night where Raiola unleashed a tirade about Paul Pogba on Twitter, his much younger client stooped low to net a last-minute winner from an Angelino cross away to BATE Borisov in a UEFA Champions League Qualifier. He continued his astonishing August by playing an accurately lobbed cross for De Jong to tap in a late winner away to PEC Zwolle. Van Bommel gave youngsters like Malen increased opportunities that his predecessor Phillip Cocu did not provide while his rigorous training regime allowed PSV to grasp victories in the latter stages of games.
Malen’s ability as a cocksure attacker was greatly enhanced by UEFA Champions League experience at the Camp Nou and at home to Inter Milan where he was agonisingly close to scoring an overhead kick which was saved by Samir Handanovic. This prepared him well for Bergwijn’s absence at home to Tottenham where he exhibited a turn of pace and Velcro-like close control in tight spaces as a counter attacking threat. Late in the game, a free-kick was headed into his path where he mis-kicked it for De Jong to apply a calm finish to level the score at 2-2 for a draw.
The young Dutchman was given the opportunity to develop into more than a bit-part substitute with a start in a home match at home to Fortuna Sittard. His game was limited to crossing from the wide areas as Gakpo replaced him at half-time to put in a more assertive performance. It seemed like the Eindhoven-born youngster would usurp Malen as Van Bommel’s main substitute but Malen continued to be effective when called upon. With PSV down 2-1 away to Heerenveen, the former Ajax and Arsenal youngster took on a pass to beat his man and opened his body to equalise. Gakpo would then assist Malen with his seventh goal of the season by crossing for the young attacker head in a fourth against PEC Zwolle.
Van Bommel brainstormed a tactical idea with Malen starting up front while De Jong played in an attacking midfield or shadow striker hybrid role to freshen up a stale PSV attack. Malen was deployed in this role at home to ADO Den Haag where he nurtured a talent for receiving the ball in the tight central channels and working it out wide. He was a constant source of movement and interchange, dropping deep to show for the ball before making a dummy run to open some space for Denzel Dumfries to open the scoring. Malen was also more tigerish and rapier at counter-pressing than De Jong as he rounded off the scoring by rising high to send a looping header from an Angelino delivery over the keeper and into the goal off the post.
The PSV Head Coach has continued utilising Malen as a central striker at the expense of a more natural striker dovetailing behind him as an attacking midfielder. In the UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying Round First-Leg, he continued his penchant for late goals with a clever flick in the dying minutes of the game to secure a 3-2 victory. In the second-leg, he did well to beat his man and loop a perfectly arrowed cross to Bruma who diverted into the net to equalise in a match PSV would eventually lose. Malen can take respite in being one of the best performers on the pitch as he will be PSV’s first choice striker for the foreseeable future.
As a striker, Malen’s quick feet and directness allow him to be an unbalancing presence for opposition defences as he drops deep to receive possession and layoff to teammates. He uses tricks and flicks to provide an air of shiftiness in between the lines as he can receive the ball, shield it from his marker and work a pass out wide to drive into the box and wait for a delivery. The concerning facet of his play as a striker is that his best touches tend to be far away from the nine space, in the deeper or wider areas working combinations as he does not attack high crosses with the conviction of De Jong and Lammers which limits PSV’s attacking play.
“He came to us two years ago from Arsenal, where he could earn much more money. Donyell knows what he wants and that is playing. He can do that during rush hour, on the outside and in a free role. He always has a threat,” said Van Bommel to the Eindhoven Dagblad in the summer.
Malen accrued 10 goals and 4 assists in the Eredivisie last season as he took the shortest time to score double figures in the Eredivisie. At Arsenal, he worked with a mental coach while he has played under the tutelage of great strikers like Luc Nilis, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Henry. He will be able to fill many roles as the centre-piece of PSV Eindhoven’s attack with Lozano and Bergwijn likely to depart towards the end of the summer. Marcel Brands signed him for a 600,000-euro bargain from Arsenal as PSV look to tie him to a new contract because it may not be long before he plays for a top European team again.