Xavi Simons of the Netherlands during the UEFA EURO 2024 Qualifying Round Group B match between Netherlands and France at Johan Cruijff ArenA on October 13, 2023 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

We knew Xavi Simons was special – but this blow-your-mind nutmeg is something else

We all knew Xavi Simons was going to be special. But few realised just how special he’d become in a short space of time. 

From an early age, the kind of age where the primary concerns of most Western teenagers are spots, alcopops and getting over your fear of the opposite sex, Simons was earmarked as a potentially generational footballer.

“I remember hearing about him before I played against him,” recalled Roland Banya, who faced a 13-year-old Simons during the Academy Cup tournament in 2016. “He didn’t do any mad skills or anything like that.

“He was just so tidy on the ball and never lost it, it was so impressive. When you hear of all these wonderkids at that age, you think of them doing crazy skills.

“But Simons was just moving the play and passing with his left and right. Nothing too crazy. He was definitely one of the best players I have ever played against. He was unbelievable.”

It has been a whirlwind time for Simons since, between departing Barcelona’s youth academy for PSG, winning the Ligue 1 title and French and Dutch cups, to earning his first international cap at last year’s World Cup in Qatar.

And the 20-year-old is now a firm fixture in the Netherlands’ side, one that travelled to Greece for a crucial European Championship qualifier needing a victory in front of a hostile Athens crowd. One they’d only achieve through Virgil van Dijk’s last-minute penalty.

Luckily, one of the boons of youth is not giving a solitary eff about nerves. A fearless that diminishes naturally with age, but flows through Simons like a river. A confidence that picks the biggest Greek defender and makes an absolute mug of him.

As Virgil van Dijk rolled a pass into the feet of Simons, Panagiotis Retsos steamed in to dispossess him like a runaway locomotive without any concept of personal space.

But the PSV attacker used Retsos’ momentum against him like a seasoned pro, waiting until his opponent had reached the point of no return before flicking the ball between his legs with the daintiness of a Georgian lady-in-waiting.

If you look closely, you can see the spirit drain from Retsos’ face at the realisation he’s been stitched up like a kipper. Thankfully, for his ego, Simons was unable to score after a one-two with Manchester United legend Wout Weghorst.

A video of Simons’ highlights at the aforementioned youth tournament has since racked up more than 1.4 million views on YouTube. And it quickly becomes clear that it wasn’t just his mop of curly blonde hair that made the crowd take notice.

His calmness in possession, range of passing and spatial awareness were so advanced for someone of his age, it was clear he would go on to great things.

PSG were fighting off suitors for his signature all summer, with reported permanent bids from Manchester United and RB Leipzig rejected out of hand. He’s spending the 2023-24 season on loan with the latter, seducing Bundesliga crowds with his jaw-dropping dribbling ability.

“The first thing I’d say about him is his hair, it attracted everyone towards him!” said Eoghan Heavey, another Irishman that played against Simons in his teens.

“His touch and dribbling was unbelievable. There was a lot of hype around him. He was their captain and got everyone going with his leadership skills. He was special.

“Everything about him was perfect. We were pressing like crazy, but in one split second, he was gone. I’ll never experience anything like that again.

“He’ll be a huge player for the Netherlands for years to come.” It’s pretty safe to say that he already is.

By Michael Lee

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