Five Eredivisie midfield starlets destined for greatness – and who they'd suit
The Eredivisie is a well-known talent factory in Europe. While its clubs possess some great scouts scanning for talent on five continents, they also have a brilliant record of producing their own top players, born and bred in the Netherlands. So much so that the Dutch World Cup squad that finished third in 2014 had 10 players plying their trade in their home country at the time – seven of them playing major roles in Brazil, and a separate seven featuring for the Netherlands in the Under-21 European Championship just a year before.
Holland's top flight has a habit of producing some fine midfielders in particular. Here's a quintet who've shone so far...
Klaassen broke the internet last season with his Bergkamp-esque finish from Niklas Moisander’s De Boer-esque long pass, but there is much more to this exciting midfielder. His development as a player over the last two seasons has been something like Georginio Wijnaldum’s on fast forward.
Standing tall as Ajax searched for a Christian Eriksen replacement, Klaassen’s ascent has been imperious and extraordinary. Having played furthest forward in midfield last season, the 21-year-old built up an excellent understanding with Lasse Schone and Ricardo van Rhijn, showing wonderful finishing ability as well as endurance to chase opponents.
This season he’s embraced bigger responsibility as a senior member of the squad and vice-captain, and grown in great measures. The Hilversum-born midfielder has exhibited a greater ability to set up his team-mates for chances and assumes a slightly deeper position in midfield.
Klaassen, whose career was nearly ended prematurely because of a serious hamstring issue, brings an air of calmness when on the ball, and understandably Ajax seem to be best coordinated when he dictates the game.
Schone and Lucas Andersen have fancy skills up their sleeve but they're only able to show them off because of the solid foundation in midfield that Klaassen provides, with his passing, movement and ability to immediately position himself correctly for impending attacks when Ajax lose possession.
Compared to Toni Kroos and Xavi by Johan Cruyff, a controlling midfield role may be something Klaassen and his coach consider in the future, but at the moment he has too much attacking potential to be sacrificed.
Potential suitors: Arsenal, Juventus, Chelsea.
The lanky, attacking midfielder named Mark Matic played for AZ under Louis van Gaal – and even had the audacity to demand more playing time from the Manchester United chief.
Vejinovic was impressive in flashes, but in truth didn't seem such a fantastic player. Fast forward a few years and the same man now features in Vitesse colours as Marko Vejinovic, having adopted his father’s surname, and is arguably the best player of the Eredivisie season so far.
Like his ex-namesake Nemanja Matic (on loan at Vitesse for a season in 2010/11), Vejinovic was pushed back into a defensive midfield role from an attacking one after team-mate Theo Janssen tore knee ligaments. Since then the midfielder has gone from strength to strength, becoming a mainstay in the Vitesse first XI.
A rather strong man of good physique, Vejinovic has enjoyed a more all-round role this season playing alongside another defensive midfielder in Kelvin Leerdam.
Afforded freedom, the Dutchman of Balkan origins is Vitesse’s top scorer and leading assist maker this season. Vejinovic is truly at the heart of everything Vitesse do, and has proved equally adept at recovering the ball and giving opponents a hard time.
He’s won 70% of his aerial duels this season, while 49% of his tackles have been successful. He’s no mediocre player with the ball at his feet either, winning 66% of his take-ons and topping the league for key passes.
Whenever Vejinovic is on the ball, Vitesse look more upbeat and likely to fashion chances. He has not been scouted extensively by major clubs, though that will change soon if he continues to impress.
Potential suitors: Hertha BSC, Villarreal, Southampton (Morgan Schneiderlin replacement), West Ham.
Heavily linked to Manchester United and Fiorentina, and having almost joined Porto, Clasie ultimately opted against leaving Feyenoord in the summer. It's proved a fine decision for both player and club, who had already lost regular starters in Graziano Pelle, Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij and Daryl Janmaat.
The 23-year-old, who had already been given the club captaincy by Ronald Koeman towards the end of the now-Southampton boss's tenure, has been a shining light for Feyenoord this season under Fred Rutten.
While he functioned as a single pivot last season with Tonny Vilhena typically playing slightly ahead of him, Clasie has been part of a defensive midfield pairing this season with the returning Karim El Ahmadi.
He has found this an opportunity to refine his attacking skills, functioning as a box-to-box all-round midfielder. The Haarlem-born man's appearance can be deceptive. Stocky and under 5ft 7in tall, Clasie has deceived many onlookers while coming through the ranks. They said he was too small to be a defensive midfielder, and when his name pops up in rumour mills again, no doubt many fans will be wary of this.
Rest assured, while he may not win too many aerial duels, Clasie is stronger than his diminutive frame suggests, and possesses ample strength to go shoulder-to-shoulder (or shoulder-to-midriff in some cases) with bigger players. He has great stamina, and while he looks like Scrappy Doo in certain battles, he does have a resilient way of pressurising opponents and recovering possession.
Clasie has previously been referred to as the ‘Dutch Xavi’. Too far fetched? Yes. But the Feyenoord captain possesses a great understanding of the game and has the vision and technical skill to execute his ideas.
Potential suitors: Southampton (a chance to link up with Pelle and Koeman again, and could be a possible replacement should Schneiderlin leave), Arsenal.