When Merab Jordania was unveiled as chairman of Vitesse in 2010, he stated his ambition to deliver the Dutch Eredivisie title by 2013. Those who scoffed at this seemingly supercilious declaration are now hastily backtracking with Jordania on course to fulfil his dream.
If anyone still doubted the Arnhem club's fledgling championship credentials, those suspicions were dispelled when they travelled to league leaders PSV Eindhoven last weekend and returned with a 2-1 comeback victory. It was Vitesse's seventh straight away success this term and lifted Fred Rutten's charges to within two points of the summit.
Playing a pivotal part in their lofty ascent is forward Wilfried Bony, whose 15th goal from 14 top-flight outings in 2012/13 completed the momentous turnaround in Eindhoven. Not just a goalscorer, Bony's exceptional technique and intelligent running mean defenders can never rest. The 23-year-old Ivory Coast international says he owes these gifts to the humble environment in which he learnt his trade.
"I grew up playing football in Bingerville, near the Ivorian capital of Abidjan. Everybody loves football there," said the No9, whom Vitesse signed midway through the 2010/11 campaign. "As kids we played on sandy pitches, there was hardly any grass. Often we played barefoot with a worn-out ball. Only when I reached the age of the 13 did I start playing for a club and wore boots for the first time. They really hurt my feet. I felt more comfortable playing without them and it made dribbling easier. My technique comes from playing barefoot."
Bony's footballing education continued at the academy of former Olympique de Marseille defender Cyrille Domoraud, before he accepted professional terms with local outfit Issia Wazi aged 18. AC Sparta Praha came calling 12 months later and, after patiently waiting in the wings, Bony burst onto the scene in 2009/10 by notching nine goals in a title-winning campaign. His displays drew acclaim, culminating in the award for best foreign player in the Czech First League and a call-up to the Ivory Coast squad. Since landing in Arnhem, meanwhile, he has scored 30 times in a total of 49 league games.
Former Vitesse striker Roy Maakay, who took Europe by storm during a glittering 17-year career, likens Bony to a vital cog in a well-oiled machine and envisages a bright future for the front man. "But it is not all about Bony," said the 37-year-old of the Netherlands' third-placed club, behind PSV and FC Twente. "The whole Vitesse team is built on solid foundations. They are a balanced side and the way they play allows Bony to shine. He is always being provided with pinpoint passes. He is a player that is improving every week and I believe he has the attributes to play at the highest level."
While Bony is ruthlessly self-centred in his quest for goals, his deeply rooted patriotism and selflessness away from the pitch are infectious. "I want to make the people of Ivory Coast proud. I want to help my family live a more comfortable life," he said.
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