Deadly Denzel! How Dumfries went from 'traitor' to Euro 2020 star

Denzel Dumfries scores for Netherlands v Austria at Euro 2020

Denzel Dumfries scores for Netherlands v Austria at Euro 2020

Denzel Dumfries picked the perfect time to get his first goal for Netherlands.

The Oranje had just surrendered a two-goal lead to Ukraine in their opening game of Euro 2020 and a draw would have seen the pressure increase on Frank de Boer’s team in their battle to win Group C. They had looked shaky heading into the tournament after a sudden switch to a 3-5-2 formation and had hardly convinced in defence against Ukraine despite their positive attacking performance.

A win, however, would have provided a huge boost for a team and a nation in need of one. And then came Dumfries.

With just five minutes left of match, the 25-year-old rose high to meet Nathan Ake’s cross at the back post and send a powerful header past Georgiy Bushchan.

But the right-back did not stop there.

Four days later he stormed through Austria’s half alongside Donyell Malen and was perfectly placed to fire into the net after his PSV team-mate squared to him.

These eye-catching displays have caught the attention of some of Europe's biggest clubs, with Real Madrid, Arsenal and Everton all prominently linked with a move in recent times.

Dumfries' early international breakthrough

Meanwhile, these may have been his maiden goals for the Netherlands, but Dumfries had already scored at international level long before Euro 2020. That happened in 2014 when Dumfries, then only 17, netted the opener for Aruba in a friendly against Guam.

The defender was playing at amateur level back then and could have devoted his international career to Aruba, but he refused to commit by playing in a competitive game for the Caribbean island. He always knew he was destined to wear the famous orange jersey one day.

Denzel was seen as a traitor.
- Giovanni Franken

“He simply said, with zero minutes of experience in professional football, that he chose Oranje,” then-Aruba coach Giovanni Franken said to Voetbal International. “In the beginning everyone laughed, of course, until they understood that he was serious. Yes, then something happened. Aruba is a proud island, so Denzel was seen as a traitor.

“In Aruba, you also have television programs and they were about Dumfries. He was made fun of in skits and stuff. It was pretty intense, but Denzel just shrugged.”

Franken even attempted to convince him that he would not become a star for the Dutch national team, adding: “I did try, you know, to talk to him. I said: ‘Denzel, suppose you get to play for Oranje as a right-back, then you are a player in a long line. But suppose you make it to the top and you are an Aruban international, then you have the same status as Roger Milla and George Weah had in Cameroon and Liberia, a folk hero’.

“Denzel looked at me, smiled and said: ‘No, dude. Not necessarily. I will be in the Dutch national team’.”

Perhaps using Franken’s doubt as motivation, Dumfries’ journey to the top level took off that year.

An incredible rise

A few months after his debut for Aruba, he was signed by Sparta Rotterdam and within a year was playing in the second tier of Dutch football.

The following season, Dumfries became a crucial player for Sparta as they won the Eerste Divisie, earning him the league’s Talent of the Year award. The adjustment to the top-flight proved no problem, either, as he kept his place in the starting XI and reached the semi-finals of the KNVB Beker.

Dumfries’ rapid rise earned him a move north to Heerenveen in 2017 and he continued to impress so much that he was snapped up by PSV after just one season at the Abe Lenstra Stadion.

Yet again, he needed no time to settle in at the Eindhoven giants. Dumfries immediately secured a place in the starting XI and played in every game as they finished second in the Eredivisie and came up against Barcelona, Tottenham and Inter in the Champions League.

Sure enough, vindication for his decision to snub Aruba came that October when Ronald Koeman called on him to make his first Netherlands appearance in a 3-0 win against Germany in the UEFA Nations League.

Just as he has remained a mainstay in the PSV team (and was eventually made the team’s captain), Dumfries has been the top contender for the right-back spot in the national team. Joel Veltman, Kenny Tete and Hans Hateboer have all been given a shot in the last three years, but Dumfries earned Koeman’s trust and has stayed first choice under Frank de Boer.

He has been one of the main beneficiaries of De Boer’s switch to the 3-5-2 formation, too. Allowing him to push high up the field and get into dangerous areas, he is afforded enough cover at the back that he barely needs to worry about the defensive side of the game.

He has thrived so far, becoming a key part of the attack alongside Malen, Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum and has been one of the heroes of the Euro 2020 group stage.

By the start of next season, he could well find himself wearing the colours of Real Madrid, Arsenal or Everton.

Arubans can mock and insult him all they want, but Denzel has had the last laugh.