PSV Eindhoven are based in the Dutch region populated with the most professional football teams, but talents born and raised in Eindhoven, rarely emerge from PSV’s academy. Cody Gakpo is a novelty as he was born in Eindhoven and went to school in the region as he has been in the PSV academy since he was 8. When Mark Van Bommel was appointed, his first order of business was to promote Donyell Malen and Gakpo to the first team as both have made giant strides in a very short space of time. The 20-year-old Dutchman of Togolese and Ghanaian descent is unique in many ways and could prove to be a pivotal player for his hometown club this season.
“Let me say that a visually impaired or the greatest non-football connoisseur could have perceived his qualities,” exclaimed PSV Head Scout, Riny de Groot to the Eindhoven Dagblad.
Throughout history, most Dutch wingers have been known for their pace and trickery as Gakpo is unique as he bundles past his fullback with pure strength rather than bursting past them with pace. However, he can control the pace of the game when the ball is at his feet as he uses his superior size to hold off defenders and play combinations with teammates. He also has the ability and football intelligence to play in a more central role with his innate sense of timing and distribution in the pockets. PSV have been blessed with a bounty of attacking talent in their academy as Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld and Justin Lonwijk are players they have been able to let go.
Gakpo announced himself to the first-team in style as he came off the bench to strike in a shot from range against Galatasary in pre-season last year. Due to an injury to Steven Bergwijn for a home match against Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League, Donyell Malen moved to the starting lineup while Gakpo was promoted to the PSV bench. However, his breakthrough would only come in 2019 as he began to put together some encouraging performances from the bench to earn more game-time for PSV. At home to Fortuna Sittard, Gakpo lost the ball and chased back to win possession before cutting back a cross to Luuk De Jong who stooped low to head in his 100th goal for PSV.
The 20-year-old added to his cameo with a goal as he received a cross-field pass from Steven Bergwijn to cut in and fire a shot past the unsuspecting keeper. However, the most entertaining facet of his performance was his linkup play with Angelino. Gakpo worked a one-two with the Spaniard to shoot into the side-netting as the young Dutchman used his Moussa Dembele-like ability to shield the ball and work combinations. He then played through the Spanish left-back for Angelino to lob a cross for De Jong to tap in goal 101. Gakpo could have had a brace as fellow youth product, Mohamed Ihatteren played him through for the youngster to open his body and place his shot past the keeper and onto the post. Gaston Pereiro then used the rebound to cross for De Jong to head in goal 103 from point blank range.
Gakpo earned more minutes away to Heerenveen as he constantly drove to the by-line in imperious fashion as he glided around on the pitch with the ball glued to his feet like an ice-skater. He took on a pass which was inadvertently played behind him, beat his marker and then worked a pass for Bergwijn to curl a shot off the palms of Walter Hahn. Gakpo then came on for a home match against Feyenoord for a disappointing Gaston Pereiro with the away side leading 1-0. He cut past his man and delivered a cross to Hirving Lozano which the Mexican duly diverted off the post and in for PSV to equalise.
The 20-year-old then set about changing the game with his incredible distribution from the wide areas. First, he had a cross to De Jong that was nearly swept in but was deflected out for a corner. He then had a stunning reverse cross to Bergwijn who took a touch and struck wide. Gakpo then took matters into his own hands as he turned his man to have a shot on goal, but the winning goal proved elusive for PSV. In another substitute performance for PSV against PEC Zwolle, Gakpo was unlucky to be denied a goal as De Jong had a header saved from a corner and the man from Eindhoven tapped in from close range to have his goal disallowed by VAR. However, that did not stop Gakpo from being a thorn in the side of the defence as PSV worked a short and quick free-kick routine to Gakpo who crossed for Malen to head in his 7th goal of the season and Gakpo’s 4th assist of the season.
Gakpo’s care and creativity in possession is only seconded by the grit and energy he uses to regain possession once the ball is lost. Away to Vitesse, he won the ball and played a pass for Bergwijn who played a through ball for Lozano to go one-on-one with Remko Pasveer for the Mexican to attempt to dribble the keeper instead of shooting as Pasveer got down low to hold the ball. Four days later at home to ADO Den Haag, he put together one of his most industriously creative performances. Erick Gutierrez played a through ball to Gakpo who outmuscled his fullback with a brilliantly executed spin and played a cross for Lozano to flick wide.
Angelino then worked a throw-in to Gakpo who drove into the box and prodded the ball onto the forehead of De Jong who nodded it home. Gakpo and Angelino then continued their profitable partnership when the Dutchman angled a pass in behind for the Spaniard who sent a looping cross to Malen who adjusted his body and directed a header past the keeper and in off the post. Gakpo should have had another assist when he held onto possession at a moment where it seemed like time stopped to send a lunging defender sliding past him before he played a well-weighted cross for Malen to mis-kick. Gakpo managed to create three chances and gain one assist in a 13-minute cameo.
This earned him a start against AZ Alkmaar where he was given the freedom to move around, find space in the pockets and drop deep to receive possession. Early in the game, he crossed for De Jong who failed to get a proper touch on the ball. He then received the ball in space and played a one-touch flick to Angelino. He had the best delivery of the game when he crossed for Malen to take a touch and smash over in a game that PSV lost 1-0.
This summer, PSV signed Bruma from RB Leipzig who has been impressive to this point while the club were lucky to keep Steven Bergwijn. Gakpo will have to compete for a starting role but has begun this season in the same vein of form he ended last season. Away to Heracles, Gutierrez worked a chip to him for Gakpo to cut back for his fellow youth product, Ihatteren who directed a shot past the keeper at the far post. He will continue to make his hometown proud as the first Eindhoven born and bred PSV player to impress in the first team since Ottman Bakkal.
“He brought a little more life. Cody is already in a good position at Jong PSV and now came in well again. He made a fantastic goal and already gave an assist for that. And he could even make a second one. Cody has qualities. You see that he is growing and that those guys also need the Eerste Divisie,” said Van Bommel to Voetbal International after his performance against Fortuna Sittard.
The tall and lumbering force outmuscling fullbacks on PSV’s flank was a breath of fresh air to PSV last season as Gakpo and Ihatteren brought exuberance to a season that was stalling for PSV. Van Bommel promoting Gakpo and Malen on his first day as PSV Head Coach proved to be one of his smartest decisions. Gakpo used his limited opportunity to accrue 5 assists and score 1 goal last season as he has already beaten his goalscoring tally in all competitions with 2 goals as well as laying on 2 assists. His ability as a creative force off the bench will provide Van Bommel with the variety needed to sustain campaigns in the Europa League and Eredivisie.