Why Dutch call-up is just rewards for Sunderland’s Patrick van Aanholt

Patrick van Aanholt
Patrick van Aanholt
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There has been one unquestionable beneficiary in the Sunderland squad from Sam Allardyce’s five-and-a-half month reign at the Stadium of Light.

Rarely can a player have experienced two such contrasting halves of the season as Patrick van Aanholt.

The left-back was a liability during Dick Advocaat’s eight-game tenure in those opening exchanges which left Sunderland facing such an uphill battle to remain in the Premier League.

Lapses of concentration and basic schoolboy errors stemmed from van Aanholt on a game-by-game basis, and were repeatedly at the heart of Sunderland’s descent to the bottom of the table.

When Allardyce arrived at the helm and heard the testimony of Sunderland’s coaching staff, there was no immediate recall for the Dutchman.

At that stage, a new left-back in the January transfer window looked absolutely imperative and it was no surprise when sources in Greece indicated that Sunderland were having a close look at Olympiakos’ Arthur Masuaku.

Allardyce gave van Aanholt an opportunity in his third game when he reverted to a 3-5-2 at Everton and a wing-back position made evident sense for a player whose attacking prowess was rarely in doubt.

But the Sunderland boss clearly still held reservations over the 25-year-old, as he reverted to Billy Jones as a makeshift left-back when the Black Cats returned to an orthodox back four.

Gradually though, van Aanholt began to blossom.

A first Premier League goal in November’s win over Stoke helped confidence-wise, but Allardyce’s focus on defensive drills has markedly improved van Aanholt more than any other member of the side.

Since the turn of the year, he has arguably been Sunderland’s most consistent performer.

The capacity for a clanger is still there - as testified by Michail Antonio’s goal for West Ham last month - but van Aanholt’s performance levels rightfully earned him a recall to the Holland squad earlier this week.

The ex-Chelsea man hasn’t appeared for his country since the 2013-14 campaign, when his two caps during a loan spell at Vitesse Arnhem weren’t sufficient to earn a place in the Dutch squad for that summer’s World Cup.

But van Aanholt - who joined Sunderland for just £1.5million in the summer of 2014 - believes that playing regularly in the Premier League has ultimately knocked off the rough edges.

“I hope to show what the Premier League does for a footballer,” said van Aanholt in his homeland, ahead of tomorrow’s friendly against France.

“I’ve become stronger, that’s obvious.

“Playing for my country was never out of my head, I just don’t think you should talk about it. You have to show it.

“Playing for my country remains a huge honour. Of course it hurt to be left out of the 2014 World Cup, but I also saw the positives.

“I was in the picture and I wanted to show what I was worth in the Premier League.

“It’s good to be selected again.”

Only a superb second half save from Newcastle keeper Rob Elliot denied van Aanholt what would have been a decisive second goal for Sunderland in last weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby.

Sunderland’s inability to hold on to the slender one-goal advantage left them confined to the drop zone during the international break; two points adrift of fourth bottom Norwich, albeit with a game in hand.

But van Aanholt remains confident that Sunderland will go on to beat the drop.

“The manager has a lot of experience,” he added.“I feel really good at Sunderland and I think we will stay up.”