1. Davy Propper (PSV)
The 2016/17 season was one to forget for PSV, who barely threatened to defend their title. One of the saving graces was Davy Propper, whose valiant performances continued even as his partners in midfield were continually rotated. Amidst the inconsistency and underperformance of his team-mates, it often fell to the former Vitesse man to make the difference and he stepped up to the plate. Propper scored or assisted PSV’s opening goal in 12 games in all competitions. This comes in spite of him often playing as the deepest, most defensive midfielder.
The 25-year-old was nearly sold to Zenit Saint Petersburg in January 2017, but ultimately the Russian club did not offer a high enough fee and talks broke down. This had no negative impact on Propper, who went on to score or assist eight goals in nine league games from mid-January to mid-March.
For the last few seasons, Davy Propper has been one of the best passing midfielders in the Eredivisie and it might be time for the Dutchman to test himself at a higher level.
2. Joel Veltman (Ajax)
At just 25, Joel Veltman was one of the old heads in an ultra-youthful Ajax squad last season. While he's neither particularly fast, nor a notable tackler, Veltman is a highly intelligent player; he is an adept reader of the game and proactive in his defending, unafraid to press high to snuff out a threat. Until Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s goal in the Europa League final, no left winger had been able to score vs Ajax in a game where Veltman started as right-back.
The Dutch international is also very skilled on the ball, regularly foraying forward into the opponent’s half with his mazy dribbles. He also possesses an expansive passing range, incredibly useful to any side built around a possession-based approach.
With the player himself signalling that he is ready for a move this summer despite talks of a contract extension at Ajax - and the fact that he is on his final year of contract - Crystal Palace and former manager Frank de Boer are rumoured to be interested.
3. Sam Larsson (Heerenveen)
That Heerenveen managed to survive the last January window without losing their prized possession, Swedish winger Sam Larsson, is quite a feat.
Affectionately known as Samba Sam, Larsson has exquisite skills and yet is the antithesis of a Brazilian footballer. He plays with no emotion. If Ajax's prized Dane Kasper Dolberg can appear nonchalant, Larsson looks absolutely insouciant at times. For all the joy he evokes among fans with his dribbles and nutmegs, Larsson is a reserved person. At times, this body language is interpreted on field to be of a lack of interest about the team, especially if Heerenveen are losing.
It's difficult to definitively say whether Larsson has outgrown the Eredivisie, but the freckled attacker is definitely getting there. While a move to one of the traditional top three can be very beneficial in terms of gaining experience and developing your game, the likes of Dusan Tadic and Vincent Janssen have earned themselves transfers to England without playing for Ajax, Feyenoord or PSV.
Larsson does not have a lot of recognition outside the Eredivisie yet, but if clubs are smart with their scouting, they might be able to identify the talent that the 24-year-old possesses. He could turn out to be a bargain buy this summer.
4. Mimoun Mahi (Groningen)
Mimoun Mahi scored 17 goals from 30 Eredivisie starts in 2016/17
Groningen is a fertile breeding ground for talented players, despite their relatively small stature. The likes of Arjen Robben, Luis Suarez, Dusan Tadic and Virgil van Dijk all turned out in the white-and-green before taking a higher step in their career.
When Mimoun Mahi arrived at Groningen in the summer of 2014 from Sparta Rotterdam, he was considered one of the greatest talents of Belgium's Jupiler League. Mahi’s first two seasons in Erwin van de Looi’s 4-3-3 saw a stalling in his progression.
This season, with Ernest Faber in charge, Groningen have been more expansive and open, which has enabled the likes of Mahi and Bryan Linssen to flourish at the other end of the pitch. Mahi, in particular, has been able to showcase his ability to play anywhere along the front-line, as he has been used on the left wing, but truly thrived in a central role.
The 23-year-old has shown a deadly ability to score from close-range this season, but also scored a sumptuous goal against Zwolle, where he curved the ball into the far top corner from outside the box.
Mahi has improved on his ability to twist and turn away from defenders, being equally comfortable on either foot now - although he does rely on his right more when shooting.
The player agreed to extend his contract with Groningen until 2019 in March, but has been outspoken about his desire to leave the club this summer. When enquired about a move by Voetbal International, Mahi said he would not mind a move to one of the traditional top three, but was also open to moves abroad. “Spain plays my kind of football, but I think I would fit well in England too."
5. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ)
AZ’s flying right winger first appeared in Holland as a relatively obscure signing made by NEC Nijmegen in 2013. The Iranian had been recommended on the basis of some excellent performances for his club Damash Gilan, as well as the Iran U19 side.
In the summer of 2015, Brighton were very interested in signing NEC’s star player and even had a bid accepted, but Jahanbakhsh could not agree personal terms. He did not believe himself to be well-suited to Championship football at the time and also rejected German and Swiss clubs, wanting to advance his skills in the Eredivisie. AZ Alkmaar swooped in and convinced Jahanbakhsh to sign for them, where he replaced the Watford-bound Steven Berghuis.
As much as he provides goals from the right wing, Jahanbakhsh also possesses exceptional play-making abilities in finding his teammates with his through-balls. The 23-year-old has remarkable footwork and, at times, is reminiscent of a young Angel Di Maria. Before getting injured in the first leg of a Europa League play-off versus Utrecht, Jahanbakhsh had scored or assisted a goal in seven of his last nine appearances for AZ.
English media have linked Watford, Bournemouth and Burnley with Jahanbakhsh and, if a move does materialise, one would hope he finds more success in England than other AZ exports have recently.
6. Kenny Tete (Ajax)
It's a peculiar situation in Amsterdam currently that Ajax could start the season with neither of last season's right-backs still at the club. Despite being cast aside by Peter Bosz in favour of Joel Veltman, Tete chose not to follow Anwar El Ghazi and Riechedly Bazoer out of the club, despite having Mino Raiola as his agent and having already been offered to Juventus last summer.
The 21-year-old waited for his chance and proved crucial in the latter stages of Ajax’s Europa League run, when his solid tackling and interceptions allowed the young Dutch side to hold on to precarious aggregate leads, especially away from home.
Even if Veltman won the battle for Bosz’s favour, Kenny Tete would probably suit English footballer better. The Dutch international is physical, but knows how to use his strength, and is one of the finest pure tacklers in Dutch football.
While sporting director Marc Overmars did note in April that Tete did not see a future for himself at Ajax, Bosz’s departure and the potential of Veltman’s departure might open the door for Tete to stay. Yet given Tete’s contract - like Veltman’s - runs out in 2018, it weakens Ajax’s negotiating position and clubs may be able to get either defender for an extremely reasonable price.
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