Brought in to fill the void left by Bastian Oczipka’s departure to Schalke, Jetro Willems has proved an instant hit at Eintracht Frankfurt in 2017/18.

The 23-year-old Dutchman even has the nickname to prove it.

Labelled ‘The Dutch Destroyer’ by Frankfurt head coach Niko Kovac, Willems has been a virtual ever-present so far this season, featuring in all but one of the Eagles’ 14 Bundesliga assignments, as well as a further two in the DFB Cup. He has even produced four assists.

“I’m a defender, but I love to get forward,” said Willems, who made 144 Eredivisie appearances for former club PSV Eindhoven, before joining Eintracht in the summer. “It’s my job to create chances. That said, the only statistic that I look at after a game is how much ground I covered.”

Not many players get the better of Frankfurt’s Jetro Willems (r.). © imago / Nordphoto

A 2011 UEFA European Under-17 champion with the Netherlands, Willems grew up watching another turf-tearing wide man, Arjen Robben. He even got to play in the same side as the decorated Bayern Munich star at UEFA EURO 2012.

“He was playing at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, and I was only playing in Holland,” Willems recalled. “Then suddenly I’m on the same pitch as him. I was only 17, 18 years old. You have a perception of these players as footballers, but he turned out to be a top bloke.”

In spite of the Netherlands’ failings in Poland and Ukraine, where Willems became the European Championship’s youngest debutant at 18 years and 71 days, he returned to his homeland to forge a solid reputation as one of his country’s most promising left-backs. With 12 goals and 34 assists in all competitions for PSV, he was the obvious replacement for Frankfurt’s outgoing assist king Oczipka.

“Other clubs were interested in me, and Niko Kovac told me I could earn more money elsewhere, but he also told me how he could make me into a better player. He said I had my qualities, but also my weaknesses that he wanted to work on. My first question was: ‘What are they?’ He told me, and I was convinced after that. Honesty is the most important thing to me.”

A man of principles with a devilishly handy left foot, Frankfurt have found their rightful successor to Oczipka – and his best years are still very much ahead of him.

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