Holland have a history of producing technically proficient players – after all, total football emanated from the Netherlands. It’s no surprise, then, that three of the most exciting midfielders in Europe – Jordy Clasie, Kevin Strootman and Adam Maher – all play in the Eredivisie and represent the Oranje.
Today saw the latter take on the former, with Maher’s AZ Alkmaar up against Feyenoord, for whom Clasie has been so impressive. My focus was on Maher, AZ’s number 8, and the 19-year-old put in a decent performance as his side went down 3-1, with Clasie grabbing one of the home team’s three goals.
In an entertaining game, AZ started the better side, with Maher at the centre of a lot of impressive moves. He constantly showed a good first touch, including when under pressure, showing also that he can supply a good pass when being pressed, which was his first involvement in the game. His style is elegant, happy to receive the ball and either play it instantly or go on a mazy run – adept with either foot.
This ambidextrosity was demonstrated most obviously just before half-time, with Maher’s biggest involvement. The youngster picked the ball up roughly 35 yards, and drove at the opposition. The player confronting him backed off, clearly frightened by Maher’s close control, meaning he was able to fire in a left-footed shot low to the corner, with the goalkeeper pushing it around the post for a corner.
Other than that, Maher was quiet but impressive when he got on the ball. Positionally he was the most advanced of three midfielders, getting forward to support Jozy Altidore, who had a bit of a battle with Joris Mathijsen throughout. In fact, Maher was the one acting as peacemaker between the two when a scuffle broke out.
Some of the key facets of Maher’s performance were that he was often pressing the defensive midfielders/defenders of Feyenoord when they were on the ball, roaming around looking for space and the ball, and showing good awareness, often looking around him to see how best to position himself when Feyenoord had the ball.
This served him well around the 15 minute mark when he showed good defensive awareness and a short burst of pace to nip in ahead of a Feyenoord midfielder to win possession back for his side just inside the opposition’s half. However, it didn’t go so well when he tried intercepting a short pass in a crowd on the edge of his own box – the ball found its way to a Feyenoord forward who almost scored.
In a way, Maher’s performance was reminiscent of Arsenal’s own Jack Wilshere. At one point, when he burst between two defenders’ challenges into the Feyenoord half before being pushed over as the opposition realised the danger, you could have been forgiven for thinking AZ had signed Wilshere on loan.
On top of that, he continuously lurked at the edge of the Feyenoord area instead of rushing into the box with the rest of the AZ midfielders. The fact that he recognised his own shortcoming of not being particularly good in the air, as well as realising that his side needed someone there in case the ball broke, is promising.
Overall, the young star was composed and assured on the ball, showing an elegant touch and dribbling style – he made two promising runs in the first half when drifting out wide; first getting down the right wing to get in a decent cross, before taking down a cross-field pass assuredly and wriggling past his man, although he then lost his balance.
He appears to have a slight tendency to over-elaborate, but works hard off the ball to chase opponents down when he has the freedom to roam across the pitch – something he seems to like to do. Penetrative passes are also a part of his game on today’s evidence – rather than delaying a counter-attack, he often gets the ball and fires it into a more advanced forward in a good position.
Other than some good passes and touches in the second half, he wasn’t involved much – Nick Viergever was dismissed for a poor tackle in the second period, which seriously disadvantaged AZ. His main involvement of the second 45 was a mazy run which was forced into the corner by the impressive Bruno Martins-Indi. He attempted to lose his man with some extraordinarily quick footwork, but was unable to do so (more due to the competence of his marker than anything).
He wasn’t able to have much of an impact on the game, with Feyenoord winning 3-1 thanks to impressive performances from Graziano Pelle, Jean-Paul Boëtius and the afore-mentioned Jordy Clasie. However, there were certainly signs of quality and potential. Stay tuned for further match reports on Maher, and also perhaps Clasie, whose drilled volley from 20 yards put Feyenoord 2-1 up.
Home to some of the most talented players in the world, the Eredivisie has given a lot to Arsenal with players like Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and Robin Van Persie only being the tip of the iceberg. The Simple Ball’s creator, Kevin Bakx joins us once again to share some of the best talents coming out of the Netherlands.
Yet another Eredivisie season has come to an end, with Ajax clinching the title for a second year running and Feyenoord surprisingly snatching Champions League football away right in front of PSV’s nose. Twente had a disappointing end of season, only reaching European football because of the UEFA Fair Play awards, Heerenveen experienced a good run with their wonderful forwards and AZ were eventually let down by their squad-depth in the title-race. In short, it was another exciting round of games.
In similar, spectacular fashion, the Premier League season came to an end, with Arsenal qualifying themselves directly for the Champions League on the final day of the season, and in the process also finishing above Tottenham which made for another St. Totteringham’s Day.
As internationals partake in an all-important European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine, the hunting season has begun again though and Arsene Wenger will quite certainly not sit back as his side endure an on-going trophy drought. In his search for new additions, he will surely look at the Eredivisie too, for its big reputation regarding talent refinement is practically unrivalled. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride as I take you along in a tour around the best possible signings from Holland that Arsene can make.
Adam Maher – Central/Attacking Midfielder – AZ
Recently being voted Eredivisie Talent of the Year, Adam Maher has turned out as one of the brightest young midfielders in the world at AZ. The 18-year old was promoted into the senior side by manager Gert-Jan Verbeek and impressed the match fitness guru so much in training that he gave him a starting spot right away.
As the season progressed, Maher paid back the faith put into him and became an important cog in AZ’s title-race with his tireless running, dribbling technique and great composure in front of goal. Oranje manager Bert van Marwijk also believes in Maher, recently selecting him for a training stage with the senior national team in Lausanne. Whilst still not the finished product at all, he’s got amazing potential and could become one of best midfielders in the world.
Kevin Strootman – Central Midfielder – PSV
Strootman’s career has been a fairytale so far, working his way up from Sparta in the Dutch 2nd Division (the Jupiler League) to a starting spot with Eredivisie title contender PSV and a regular spot in Van Marwijk’s national team selection. He’s a man whom adapts quickly to his surroundings and despite his minor set-back this season, he’s still one of the best midfielders the league has to offer.
The 22-year old’s game is based around incisive passing, vision and driving runs into the box, qualities that all suit the English game. Defensively, he could still learn a thing or two but his physical build allows him to best his opponents, an aspect that’ll surely be developed even more in England. In short, Kevin’s a bright talent and one Arsene should surely consider.
Jordy Clasie – Central Midfielder – Feyenoord
This short, frail and above all inexperienced central midfielder surprised both friend and foe in his first season at Feyenoord, grabbing the side by the scruff of the neck and guiding it to Champions League football alongside Guidetti, El Ahmadi, Vlaar and Koeman. His diminutive style of passing has led to Xavi-comparisons and indeed, his quick, agile physique combined with an array of both short and long balls does make you think of the Spanish metronome.
Clasie isn’t just an asset to the offensive side of midfield though, as his game contains much more than just glamorous through balls and sweeping cross-field passes. He’s a very capable standing tackler and knows how to make good use of pressure from his deep, midfield spot. Perhaps not a direct strengthening to this Arsenal, like the above two are, but quite certainly one to watch for the future.
Christian Eriksen – Attacking Midfielder – Ajax
This young Danish playmaker didn’t catch many headlines in the past season, often being labelled as one of Ajax’s biggest disappointments this year. But don’t believe everything they say, as this past round has proved to be Eriksen’s most productive assist-season in his career. Forming an excellent tandem with Siem de Jong, he compensated his lack of goals with an overflow of assists.
But Eriksen’s not just an asset on the pitch, he’s also a fine persona to have in the dressing room; a consummate professional, he demands the best of himself and his teammates. He has his feet set firmly on the ground, works hard and tries to put his mark down on the side through his one-touch balls and intricate, lofty crosses. Despite indicating he’s not ready to leave Ajax yet and probably costing a hefty fee, Wenger will do good to consider this young Dane as a possible addition.