Denzel Dumfries has overcome Dutch doubters to become runaway star

Denzel Dumfries’s scintillating displays for the Netherlands at Euro 2020 make him a flag bearer for the potency of self-agency. His is an attitude that says anything and everything can be conquered if the desire is truly there.

Want to become a total football defender? Employ Edgar Davids and a personal sprint coach since 2018 to add explosiveness. No professional club fancies you until Sparta Rotterdam take a punt at age 18? Grab the chance and rise to become PSV Eindhoven captain. Doubted by Frank de Boer as recently as March? When reinstated by the head coach, storm this championship tournament by scoring twice and returning man‑of-the-match performances in the opening two games.

Now, Bayern Munich, Internazionale and Everton reportedly head a list of prospective suitors that is surely as long as Dumfries’s raking runs from right wing-back. Those sprints turn defence into attack and have been key in De Boer’s men taking on Czech Republic in Budapest on Sunday as Group C victors with maximum points.

The 25-year-old’s sparkling play makes him a contender for player of the tournament. Yet his is a fizz that waited to be uncorked as the boy from Rhoon in the south of the Netherlands faced rejection. Born to a mother from Suriname and a father from Aruba, the Caribbean country which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dumfries was never considered a certainty for the top. Playing for VV Smitshoek, then neighbouring Barendrecht, he was rated by junior coaches as way down the talent chart. But Dumfries possessed a quality that is rarely considered when assessing potential: determination.

Here, Dumfries’s sense of self allowed him to shrug off the lack of offers until Sparta scouted him when he was turning out for Barendrecht’s highest age group. This breakthrough came after Dumfries had tasted international football: for Aruba. This decision, too, pointed to clear-headedness. In representing Giovanni Franken’s side in friendlies against Guam on 28 and 31 March 2014, Dumfries retained the option of one day pulling on a Netherlands jersey.

“I saw in Dumfries the drive that other players lacked,” Franken told NOS Sport last week. “You can tell that some people will get to the top.” After a 2-2 draw and 2-0 win in which Dumfries scored, this was illustrated at a party where Dumfries asked his Aruba teammate Reinhard Breinburg what would help him to break into the professional ranks and was told by the defender, who was holding a drink, to ignore alcohol. Dumfries later told Franken he did not wish to represent Aruba when chosen for the next official matches because the Netherlands was the target.

Consider this for a moment: while an amateur and with no professional club interested, Dumfries rejected Aruba because he believed the team of Johan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp and Robin van Persie was his international future. The decision was vindicated. Three years at Sparta that started with his debut as a half-time replacement in a 1-0 second-tier win against Emmen in February 2015 brought promotion the next year as champions, before he went to Heerenveen for a single season, 2017-18.

By now Dumfries’s fierce motivation had been noted, the sight of him upbraiding a Heerenveen teammate for a perceived lack of passion not uncommon. His refusal to countenance stagnation was evidenced by him employing Davids and Errol Esajas, a former national relay coach, who is the brother of Dumfries’s manager at Barendrecht, Lesley. Since 2018 Davids, a former Netherlands international, has worked with Dumfries on his speed, alongside Esajas.

When Dumfries signed for PSV in July 2018 the fee was €5.5m. By the following October Ronald Koeman had given Dumfries his Oranje debut, starting him at right-back in a 3-0 defeat of Germany at the Amsterdam Arena. Dumfries has won a further 21 caps but the narrative has not been without twists.

De Boer dropped Dumfries to the bench for two consecutive outings – a 2-1 Nations League win against Poland last November and a 4-2 World Cup qualifier defeat by Turkey in March – when Koeman’s successor remained minded to play 4-3-3 and trialled Hans Hateboer and Kenny Tete at right-back. Yet when Euro 2020 started Dumfries was first choice once again, though in a 3-5-2 shape with which many of the squad were unfamiliar.

In the opening group match against Ukraine, Dumfries began shredding any doubts: about the system and his penchant for wing-back play, scoring a memorable late header in a 3-2 win. His buccaneering style executed at high pace has continued to destroy defences, as in the 2-0 victory against Austria when he scored again and won the penalty for Memphis Depay’s opener.

Now, after a 3-0 defeat of North Macedonia completed the group matches, come the Czechs. They will hardly relish facing the Netherlands. De Boer’s team are approaching top gear. Dumfries is their high-octane personification.