When Genero Zeefuik joined Groningen for half-a-million Euros in summer 2012, little did he expect to be on loan in the Scottish second division just over halfway through his four-year contract.
Hearts are the beneficiaries of the Dutchman’s malaise in northern Netherlands. He is now surplus to Groningen’s requirements, but coaching staff there still expect him to thrive after crossing the North Sea to Edinburgh.
Assistant coach Dick Lukkien describes Zeefuik as a skilful and capable striker who simply lost his way at Stadion Euroborg. Groningen paid PSV Eindhoven ¤500,000 (£390,000) for him in 2012 and handed him a four-year deal. He fell out of favour, ended up in the reserves and was sent to Scotland last week on loan until the end of the season.
Hearts fans who attended Saturday’s 5-1 win at Dumbarton would agree their club seems to have negotiated a shrewd piece of business.
Zeefuik produced two fairly orthodox goals from close range on his debut and also had a penalty saved by the Dumbarton goalkeeper Danny Rogers. However, it was his intelligence and link-up play which caught the eye, as well as his burly physique.
Lukkien explains the 24-year-old’s strengths and weakenesses. He feels the move to Hearts will reinvigorate a player who remains highly regarded in his homeland, and who simply needs game time and goals to restore his damaged confidence.
“I think technically Genero is very good. He is easy with the ball at his feet,” said the assistant coach. “He did not succeed at Groningen because he didn’t score too much. He had the chances, but he was a little bit unlucky. It was frustrating for him and that got into his confidence a little bit. If he is used in his position and you give him a lot of the ball, then he will become a terrific player for Hearts.
“I can compare him a little bit with Mark de Vries. He is an excellent player, he can link up well, he is strong and he can see what is happening around him. You have to use him that way. When you play the ball to Genero, he can keep it and it gives time for other strikers and midfielders to get close to him. He is very good in that way. He needs to play in a team that attacks. When he plays in a defensive team, he is not at his best. Genero needs to be near the goal.”
Hearts’ forward-thinking approach to Saturday’s match brought out some of Zeefuik’s best qualities. A question remains over whether he needs to lose some of his 14-and-a-half-stone weight, something Groningen coaches have debated for some time.
“That’s always a little bit of a distressing point with Genero,” continued Lukkien. “When you look at him you think he could lose a couple of pounds. When you talk with him about it, he says that when he loses weight he doesn’t feel really well. That’s also a little bit in his head, I think.
“He has to lose some pounds in my opinion but when he loses too much weight then he is wondering a little bit whether his performance can still be good. That’s the balance which he is searching for. When you see him he is big, but he’s always been a strong and big player.”
Similarities could be drawn between Zeefuik and the former Celtic striker John Hartson – whose size caused consternation amongst many of his managers but whose physique and bulk remained a huge asset throughout a successful career. Zeefuik gets a taste of football in Glasgow himself this Friday night when Hearts visit Rangers for a game which could have a major bearing on the destination of the Scottish Championship title. The Groningen management will be watching with interest.
“I think the spell at Hearts will be good for Genero over the next three or four months, and I think it will be good for Hearts,” said Lukkien. “I see he had a fantastic debut on Saturday and scored two goals. One of his strengths is that when he is just outside the box, about 18 or 19 yards, then he can hammer the ball at goal.”
Lukkien’s eulogising begs the question of what went wrong for Zeefuik at Groningen and why they are keen to sell the forward at the first opportunity. “Two years ago he came to Groningen and in the first year he did pretty well,” explained Lukkien. “Last season his performances went down a little bit. This season we brought in Danny Hoesen from Ajax and Dino Islamovic from Fulham, both strikers, so that meant Genero became third striker.
“In the beginning, he had difficulty coping with that and he found it hard to deal with, but he got on with it. He played games in the reserves and there was nothing to complain about in the way he handled that situation.
“Obviously it was not what he wanted. We were looking for an opportunity to buy a better striker and that’s what happened. That cost him is place.
“In the last five months he didn’t play many games for Groningen. He was injured at the beginning of the season and that took some time but for the last few months he was fit and he trained well. He didn’t play much but I think he is still fit.”
From labouring in Groningen’s reserves, Zeefuik could etch his name in Tynecastle folklore in only his second Hearts appearance if he scores a decisive goal in the title race at Ibrox.