All Whites midfielder Ryan Thomas has been compared to Dutch star Arjen Robben by his club coach.

PEC Zwolle manager Ron Jans was speaking in the context of Thomas' rapid rise over the last few years, which has seen him go from Central League football in New Zealand to one of the brightest young talents in the Dutch first division.

Thomas arrived as a triallist in September 2013 and in the space of two months became a first-team regular, something Jans says is almost unprecedented in his experience.

"I've been coaching for a long time now," Jans told the Herald on Sunday. "It's doesn't happen a lot that a youth player in two months is part of the first team and playing. They never do it so quickly, almost never. Ryan came - with the wind, as we say - from New Zealand and had a chance of one in a 100 to make this step. But once he played, he never went out. It's exceptional, it's not normal."


Jans pauses for a long time when asked to think of a comparable ascension.

"I spent eight years at FC Groningen," he said. "There was a young player there called Arjen Robben. He was 16 years old when he made his debut and was a regular after that.

There was no one else at Groningen as quick as Ryan [and] I don't have another example."

Jans knows his stuff. He played more than 350 games in the Eredivisie, has managed in both Holland and Belgium and signed Luis Suarez to his first contract in Europe. The 57-year-old still recalls, with a smile, the first time he saw Thomas playing for Zwolle reserves against a local club.

"Our technical director told us there would be someone coming from New Zealand," said Jans. "When I saw him playing, it was obvious that he had not a little bit but a lot more than other players of his age. He trained with us and I was impressed with his mentality, his drive, his motivation.

"What surprised us was that in New Zealand you don't play with or against so many good players. But he was exceptional, not only in skill but also mentality. I think Declan [Edge] did a great job in giving Ryan a great base to go to a higher level."

Thomas recently signed a contract extension until the end of the 2017-2018 season but Jans knows it's inevitable the 21-year-old will move on at some stage.

"I think the limit for Ryan is a very high one but where it will end? I won't know," Jans said. "You have to be lucky with injuries and things but this is not the end of his career here. We have a good team, good results, but his destination is somewhere else and we try to help him in every way we can. He is going well here but if he plays here for 10 years then there is probably something wrong."