In less than four years, Orkun Kokcu has gone from Feyenoord academy graduate to one of the Eredivisie’s finest players.
Kokcu’s journey to the top of the game in the Netherlands has seen a once underrated prospect from Groningen’s youth set-up turn into a hero in Rotterdam.
But the 21-year-old may be set to make his final appearance for the Dutch outfit on Wednesday, when they take on Roma in the Europa Conference League final.
Their opponents in the tournament decider have been eyeing a move for Kokcu, with some reports claiming that the Turkey international has already agreed to join the Giallorossi.
They are not the only potential suitors, however, as Arsenal having been monitoring him for quite a long time, with links to the north London side having circulated for years.
As far back as 2020, ex-Feyenoord coach and former Manchester United and Ajax defender Jaap Stam argued that the midfielder has the quality to shine in the Premier League.
“He would need to adjust because the step to Arsenal and the Premier League is totally different when you compare it to Holland,” Stam told GOAL. “The pace of the game, the quality, the intensity is a lot higher.
“But he has the ability. He is a player who has the personality to want to improve, he always wants to do better. He’s never happy with himself, he’s disappointed if he doesn’t score, or his passes aren’t good enough.”
It has been, however, a long, difficult journey for Kokcu to get to this level.
He and his family all had to make sacrifices to help him and his brother Ozan, who currently plays in the Dutch second tier with Telstar, make it in the game.
“Becoming a professional footballer has always been our dream,” he told Voetbal International. “Whenever a talent day was organised somewhere, my brother and I were there.
"Where have we been? Where haven't we been! Ajax, AZ, Haarlem and more; wherever there were opportunities, we went, but we were never lucky.
“Until that man from FC Groningen suddenly appeared. Every Thursday afternoon we drove north with the whole family, we even got time off from school.
“Ozan was allowed to train, but I took my ball and went to do something for myself on the other half of the field. Dribbling, shooting, you know.
“One day a youth trainer from Groningen asked if I wanted to train with their D2 team. I was there anyway… I still think they thought there at Groningen: ‘We want that brother, so let's get his brother Orkun and we'll keep them together’.
“But for me it was the opportunity I had been waiting for so long and soon I started to stand out too and was allowed to stay. When you look back on it now, a lot is based on coincidence. And luck.”
The whole family packed up and moved to Groningen to support the boys' dreams, but Feyenoord came calling for Orkun and the situation became more complicated.
“I was playing in FC Groningen's C2 team when Feyenoord came forward,” he said. “That felt like a win, if you are wanted by a club like that… The problem was that things didn't go smoothly again.
“My brother stayed with Groningen, and I was too young to live alone in Rotterdam. So again a family sacrifice. My father stayed with Ozan in Groningen, my mother went back to Haarlem with me and took me to training in Rotterdam every day.
“As a family, we have lived separately for two years. Until Feyenoord decided to get Ozan too, then we were complete as a family again.”
And so, from the age of 13, Kokcu rocketed through the Feyenoord youth ranks to make his debut in the senior team at just 17-years-old.
Coming on to replace the injured Jens Toornstra, he showed in his 45-minute display against FC Emmen that he had the potential to be a special player.
It was a dream debut for Kokcu, who chipped in with a goal and an assist to play a crucial part in Feyenoord’s 4-1 victory.
He immediately looked at home in the centre of the field, invading spaces to receive the ball and dangerous when on it.
Although a bit fragile due to his youth, Kokcu looked smart, creative and threatening - attributes that would see him become a key figure in the famous red and white jersey, and beyond.
The Haarlem native has a knack for finding room in the tightest of defences and even when under immediate pressure, his fine touch and quick movement allow him to evade defenders and carve out a chance with his excellent passing.
As Feyenoord’s most creative player, Kokcu wins the ball, holds on to it well and pulls the strings from midfield, opening opportunities as he drives forward with his head up scanning for a team-mate in space.
He finished the 2021-22 Eredivisie season with seven goals and nine assists in 32 matches, and has stood out in Feyenoord’s excellent Europa Conference League campaign, too.
Few would argue that he is not ready for a move away from Feyenoord despite being just 21, and given Arsenal’s need for more depth in their midfield, he may be the solution for Mikel Arteta’s team.
Kokcu has enough in his arsenal to adapt to the change in intensity and pace of the Premier League, but he would need time to do so and there is no guarantee he would be given it.
The challenge for Kokcu is in delivering consistent quality performances. He has had a few sloppy displays for Feyenoord but when he is fit and in fine form, he can dazzle opponents.
“In order to become great and stay great, you need to be able to continuously maintain [that level of performance],” Feyenoord coach Arne Slot said. “A top player does that nine out of 10 times, and slightly lesser players do it seven of 10 times.
“It is a challenge for him and the whole team to reach a high level every week.”
He added in September: "It's been a while, but now others are starting to notice [his quality]. That's because not only does he not lose the ball, but also because he makes very good passes.
“If he also starts scoring goals, it will be more noticeable to the public. Apart from his goals, I also thought it was very good that he ran players off the ball. That is a very nice development for him."
Kokcu still has a long way to develop, but Wednesday's clash against Roma will provide him with the perfect opportunity to show that he is ready to continue his progress on a grander stage.