UEFA Europa League launches Wonderkids series with teenage PSV sensation Xavi Simons
Thursday, February 16, 2023
"I'm a midfielder but I can also score goals and I believe I can score even more," says the 19-year-old PSV prodigy as he looks to keep his career momentum going in the UEFA Europa League.
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The excitement of the UEFA Europa League knockout stages kicks off with a new three-part series celebrating the Wonderkids of this season's competition – starting with the teenager who has lit up the PSV Stadion, Xavi Simons.
Wonderkids shares the determination, ambition and challenges the most promising players must overcome to unleash their full potential.
At 19, former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain attacking midfielder Xavi Simons is enjoying a break-out season at PSV, playing a starring role in group stage victories against Zürich and Arsenal and earning a call-up to Louis van Gaal's Netherlands squad for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Having failed to score in his 11 first-team appearances for Paris before joining PSV in the summer, Simons is now finding the target regularly, something he puts down to working with PSV boss Ruud van Nistelrooy: a prolific striker in his day with the Eindhoven club, Manchester United and Real Madrid.
"You can see in my game that I really enjoy playing for both him and the club," Simons says. "He was an incredible striker who scored lots of goals and I can learn from him. The way he finished them, the action he used, is incredible. I'm a midfielder but I can also score goals and I believe I can score even more with his help."
Van Nistelrooy has allowed his young protégé opportunities to prove himself in the Europa League, and Simons has loved it. "When you step onto the pitch it's really special," he said. "You hear the music, and you see all the fans going crazy and that gives you the adrenaline to keep pushing and win the game.
"Playing in the Europa League has really helped me develop. You play against top teams like Arsenal, and it improves you as an individual player but also as a team. The quality is high."
PSV clinched a spot in the knockout round play-offs after a 2-0 defeat of the English Premier League club, with Simons producing a stand-out performance. "The Arsenal game was a favourite," he admitted. "You really wanted to play against them. Your adrenaline goes for sure: it was such an important game. Footballers really enjoy playing like this."
A Barcelona trainee from the ages of seven to 16, when he joined Paris, Simons has benefited from rubbing shoulders with two of the greatest players of his age. "When I was seven years old, I saw Messi and Neymar playing, and now I'm lucky enough to have played with them in the same team, training with them and learning a lot from them," he says. "They're still winning titles and scoring goals and enjoying the game. That's the most important thing. You can see it in their faces: they're smiling."
However, if Messi and Neymar provided excellent guidance in their way, one of Simons' biggest role models remains 37-year-old Luka Modrić, still a key player for Barcelona's arch-rivals Real Madrid. "The way he plays is fantastic," he says. "He can attack, he can defend, he can play midfield really well. Everything he has is incredible and he's still doing it now."
Simons is hoping to have a similar all-round ability one day, but in the short term, the target is making it to the Europa League round of 16, with his side taking on six-time competition winners Sevilla in their next tie.
"[The Europa League] is a competition that all boys dream to play in," Simons says. "You play against top European teams and playing these kinds of teams is really important for your career. You know a lot of people are watching these games.
"The main target is really being good in the group and that we all stay together. That's the most important thing. We all want the same thing. We hope to win the competition, but in football, everything can happen."