Cody Gakpo was heavily linked with a big-money move to the Premier League before the World Cup and the 23-year-old responded with three goals in as many group-stage games for the Netherlands.
The PSV Eindhoven forward, who usually plays as a winger but has been part of a front two for Louis van Gaal’s Oranje, will be expected to make an impact on the knockout phase when the Dutch face the United States in the last 16 on Saturday.
Gakpo already had 13 goals and 17 assists for PSV this season before becoming the first Dutch player to score in his first three World Cup matches.
“He has only been playing with PSV for two or three years and always played on the left,” said coach Louis van Gaal.
“He did not want to play up front or at 10, but he did have to for me. Now he thinks I am a great head coach.
“He has everything it takes to become a star.
“He has a wonderful personality to become a star because he takes in anything and everything.”
Gakpo is reportedly close to a January move to Manchester United and media reports have said Liverpool also are interested.
First he will shoulder plenty of responsibility as the Dutch attempt to set up a quarter-final against either Argentina or Australia.
“It’s no surprise, I knew him from PSV Eindhoven,” said wing-back Denzel Dumfries after the 2-0 win over Qatar.
“He’s an incredible player and now we’re seeing his qualities at the highest level. I’m proud of him but he has to keep it up as this is when the tournament really begins.”
Gakpo was not even a regular starter for PSV during the last World Cup, first establishing himself in the side during the 2019-2020 season.
He has steadily improved since, hitting double figures for goals for the first time in 2020-21 before scoring 21 last term.
Gakpo only made his debut for the senior national team last year at Euro 2020 — a brief substitute appearance against North Macedonia.
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‘Very important’ for Dutch hopes
But his breakthrough on the biggest stage has come at the perfect time for Van Gaal’s men, with key player Memphis Depay only fit enough for a place on the bench in the first two games after a hamstring injury.
The Dutch will be hoping the pair can continue to fire up front together, after Depay impressed as a starter on Tuesday against the hosts.
“Gakpo is very important, he has already shown his value,” said midfielder Teun Koopmeiners.
“We hope that he will continue like this because he is very important for us.”
It would be a big decision for Gakpo to leave PSV mid-season, having been at his hometown club since the age of eight.
But with every goal he scores in Qatar, it appears more likely that his future lies away from Eindhoven.
“I had more or less expected that he would evolve this way but I believe that he’s going to evolve even further, much further, so I’m not surprised (by his performances) at all,” Van Gaal said.
But for now, Gakpo is focused on fulfilling his nation’s dream of finally lifting the World Cup after three previous final defeats.
“We want to win each game, one after the other, because our goal is to be world champions,” said Gakpo, who has scored with a header, with his left foot and with his right foot in the tournament.
“We are working hard for that. Having scored three goals… It’s always important to score, of course, but I’m happy to help the team.”