Thijs Dallinga: A Box Office Forward

Thijs Dallinga took a touch with his right instep, shielded the ball with his body, turned toward goal and fired the ball home in off the inside of the far post. The movements, while subtle, had a coolness about them. A panache that suggests the striker that possesses it has far more years at a top level than he does. With this goal, coming at home in a Europa League win over group leaders and significant favorites Liverpool, Dallinga had announced himself on a global stage.


Add in his six goal involvements for Toulouse in Ligue 1, who are admittedly coming to terms with maintaining campaigns across domestic and European fronts, and the Dutch forward is putting together a season that will catch eyes. His journey to this stage has been far from straightforward but he has taken to it with much the same aplomb as he took this particular goal. We are witnessing a forward become accustomed to (and perhaps thrive in) the limelight.


Dallinga is a native of Groningen but he started his career 74km down the road in Emmen, progressing through the youth ranks. He grabbed his professional debut at just 17 years old for FC Emmen in the Dutch Second Division. Emmen went to the Eredivisie in that season via the playoffs but Dallinga made the journey to the top division by a different route. He made just eight senior appearances for Emmen and scored a lone goal before being brought to his hometown club. 


FC Groningen paid €100k for Dallinga’s services and the sky seemed to be the limit. He started his career in green and white in their youth team, but this path turned out to be a dead end. He scored five goals in the 17 times he turned out for Jong Groningen but they stopped competing before he could establish himself in the first team. Despite being retained after the youth team shuttered, he made just seven appearances for Groningen’s senior squad and at the expiry of his contract, Thijs decided to blaze a trail away from home.


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Dallinga signed on a free with Excelsior Rotterdam, at the time in the Dutch Second Tier. He went in search of more consistent game time, what he got was the perfect fit. Marinus Dijkhauzen, in his second spell as Excelsior manager, was a forward himself as a player and it seemed to bring Thijs to a new level. He went absolutely insane at Excelsior, scoring 32 goals in just 37 Keuken Kampioen Divisie matches, and firing home another four goals in the playoffs, propelling Excelsior into the Eredivisie.  


During this exceptional 2021-22 season with Excelsior, it was not a question of whether or not Dallinga would score, it was simply a question of whether he’d have a touch in the penalty area. If the answer was yes, and you were the opposing team, you were picking the ball out of the back of the net more often than not. He was making the right runs, ending up in the correct areas and picking from a variety of finishes that only had one outcome.


The hallmark of Dallinga at his height was composure. He never seemed to make a bad decision. His right foot in particular was lethal, whether he went for power, a chip or a curled finish. The ball just seemed to find him, and Excelsior’s players were more than happy to feed this phenom the ball. He ended that season with an absolutely staggering 45 goal involvements in 44 appearances and he nearly single handedly willed Excelsior to the playoffs.


It was here that his flair for the dramatic first appeared. In the second leg of the Promotion Playoffs against ADO Den Haag, Excelsior trailed 4-1 on aggregate after 47 minutes. Two Excelsior goals in the final 12 minutes put the tie back in reach. This was where Dallinga popped up, heading home from 10 yards in stoppage time to force extra time and eventually penalties which would seal Excelsior’s success. Dallinga had not flinched that the chance came in stoppage time, or that it came on the road, or that it was on his head rather than on his right foot as he would probably prefer. 


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Dallinga was already worth the price of admission but his ability to appear in clutch moments had made him worth far more. Toulouse FC had been acquired by new owners, RedBird Capital Partners in 2020. Traditionally a bit of a yoyo club, despite once being the home of now legendary striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, they looked to former Tottenham and Liverpool Director of Football Damien Comolli as the man to lead them into a new era.


By 2022 they had achieved promotion back to Ligue 1. Comolli was looking to add talent that would establish the club from the City of Violets as a team firmly established in the Ligue 1 and European hierarchy. They went searching for a reliable goalscorer and decided that there basically was not a hotter hand than that of Dallinga. They paid €2.5m to Excelsior to separate them from one of the greatest goalscorers across a season in Dutch football history.


Dallinga had a more than respectable first season in French football. He scored 12 Ligue 1 goals as Toulouse were comfortably mid table and cemented their place in the French top division for another year. What was far more remarkable was what they pulled off in the Coupe de France. Dallinga scored six goals, including a brace in a 5-1 thrashing of Nantes in the Final, which secured Toulouse their first ever domestic silverware at a top level. It doubled as the route for Toulouse back into Europe for the first time since 2009.


While Toulouse have not turned up any trees in Ligue 1 thus far in 2023, Dallinga has continued to raise his stock within the world game. His return of five goals in 13 Ligue 1 matches this season might seem modest but his three goals in Europe speak to a player who has a penchant for performing on the biggest stages and might just have the ability to make a significant difference at an even higher level. His close control combined with an absolutely decisive right foot seem to be the stuff that big clubs dream of. He is instinctive in front of goal, rarely passing up a big opportunity, and he has an ability to finish from narrow angles which opens up more opportunities.


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His underlying numbers suggest that his return of about one goal in two appearances is perfectly sustainable, and in fact he may have room to outperform that expected goals average a bit. Since that significant performance and win against Liverpool, he has scored twice in three appearances for Toulouse and made his debut for the Dutch National Team, coming off the bench to replace Wout Weghorst in a 6-0 dismantling of Gibraltar.


This year has been a coming out party for Thijs Dallinga in Toulouse and most recently in the Oranje of his home. His game has all the hallmarks of the Dutch greats that have preceded him and he has the stage now on which to play up to, or surpass, their standards.


By: Phil Baki / @PhilTalksFooty

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Soccrates Images / Getty Images