For the past 20 years or so, the Dutch have always produced a solid deep midfielder who has cemented his place at the top of World Football. Riijkaard, Seedorf, Cocu, Van Bommel to name a few, have all occupied that position in the Dutch side after coming through from one of the academies back in Netherlands. Kevin Strootman is this generations Dutch midfield enforcer with a good 10 years still ahead of him at the national team, if his predecessors are anything to go by.
Born in Ridderkerk, South Holland, Kevin Strootman started of his footballing career at VV Rijsord before signing a contract at Netherlands’ oldest professional football club, Sparta Rotterdam. He made his debut in the 2007/08 Eredivisie season, making a mere 3 appearances. It was only the following season that Strootman established himself. Still only 18 years old, Strootman made 25 appearances for Sparta, starting each game. 28 appearances followed in the 09/10 campaign, which ended in relegation for Sparta Rotterdam. It seemed dull and gloom in the Eerste division for the Dutchman; but in the 2011 January transfer window, FC Utrecht from the Eredivisie came calling and Strootman was back.
He was so impressive at Utrecht that it took PSV Eindhoven just 6 months to be convinced of Strootman’s prowess. He made his move to the Dutch giants in 2011, in a double-deal that also saw Dries Mertens join him at the Philips Stadion. The 23-year-old has made 62 appearances in the Eredivisie for PSV in his two seasons at the club, starting all those games and missing just 6 so far.
Not really known for his scoring, the Dutch International has found the back of the net 7 times for PSV, most of which have been convincing victories for the Eindhoven club. His first goal for Utrecht came in a 3-2 loss at home to Den Haag before scoring 2 weeks later in a 4-2 victory over Vitesse. It took Kevin Strootman 10 starts before he scored his first for PSV, it was a 7-1 rout at home against Roda JC. He scored 5 other goals that campaign, including his first for the Dutch national team against Finland in the European Championship qualifiers; Strootman also scored an 87th minute equaliser against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Europa League, his one and only continental goal so far in his club career. This past campaign Strootman bettered his tally, scoring 6 goals including his first brace as he scored 2 goals in the space of 11 minutes to help PSV Eindhoven come back from 2 goals down against Willem II to take a 3-2 victory.
Being a defensive midfielder, and having Van Bommel as a team-mate, is bound to get you a few bookings. Strootman has picked up 42 yellow cards throughout his career, with a minimum of 5 in every full league season at a club. Not an impressive record to boast. His solitary red card proved to be costly for PSV back in 2011, with his side 2-1 up against Twente, Strootman was sent off in the 72nd minute before Leroy Fer took advantage, equalising just 6 minutes later.
He has made 18 appearances for the Dutch national team since his debut in 2011, even captaining the side in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Romania and Andorra. Kevin Strootman also became the first PSV Eindhoven player, since Mark Van Bommel in 2000, to captain the Dutch U-21 side into a European Championship. The Dutch boasted of a talented group which impressively reached the semi-finals, before losing out to a Fabio Borini goal against Italy.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
Kevin Strootman is best deployed as a defensive midfielder, positioned in between the defence and advanced midfielders. Having played alongside Van Bommel at PSV Eindhoven, Strootman has developed into a solid defensive minded player. There is a large misconception in the the football fraternity as to Strootman’s style of play, many have labelled him a box-to-box midfielder, but from my inference, Kevin isn’t suited for such a role.
His strengths lie in his natural physical stature; being 6’1″ he’s a giant in midfield with the ability to enforce play and bully the opposition off the ball. He has been gifted with a strong upper body strength which allows him to not only hold off the opposing players, but also to win possession for his team. Van Bommel has made an exceptional impression on Strootman’s career, allowing him to become a solid defensive midfielder. Despite having a poor disciplinary record (another trait he may have acquired from Van Bommel), Strootman is extremely effective with his tackling. He doesn’t unnecessarily leave the ground, rather opting to play a more cautious game. His reading of the game allows him to make tons of interceptions in dangerous areas, thus proving to be an important security to the defenders behind him; he sees the game quicker than most other players when it comes to the defensive phase of the game.
Strootman further complements his defence, moving into their defensive positions when a gap is left to fill. His defensive intelligence is showcased here, as rarely would you see a defensive midfielder drop as deep as a centre back or as wide as a full-back.
He can be effective in marking an attacking player out of the game; he’s cautious in this area as well, rather than sticking to his marker he chooses to hover around him, giving his opponent some space before closing down when he’s on the ball. This allows the midfielder to make more of a contribution in the other parts of the pitch.
Being most comfortable in his own half, Kevin Strootman constantly asks for the ball in that zone, attempting to play it out and start an attack. His vision in terms of passing is decent, but not overly impressive. Rarely would you see him attempting a defence splitting long-ball, he prefers a cautious approach in the passing factor as well. Shorter balls to attacking players to get the ball rolling is the major feature of Strootman’s passing ability. When he finds himself in possession in the attacking zone, Strootman is effective in playing nifty little through balls to the striker; this is where he receives the plaudits for his vision.
Having captained his national team and U-21 side, Strootman is bound to possess leadership qualities. He has the experience to lead and inspire his team-mates, and any side would benefit with a player of that sort. This characteristic has also allowed Strootman the authority to organise his team, he’s often seen getting his defenders into position while asking his attackers to fill the gaps as well. His footballing intelligence is further reiterated here.
The former Sparta & Utrecht midfielder possesses a lethal left foot, with the ability to take ‘bullets’ from long range, when he does venture forward. He can be a beast in attack when running at the defence, shrugging off the opposition. His superior left-foot consequently makes him ‘handicapped’ as he rarely opts to utilise his right foot. Given his height, Strootman is an incredible asset for aerial duels both in defence and in attack. His height combined with his physical strength allows him to significantly deal with crosses & set-pieces.
The primary factor that prevents Strootman from being an effective box-to-box man is his lack of pace. He’s slow in both his speed off-the-ball and with his movement while having possession. Even with the ball at his feet, Strootman doesn’t look very comfortable and rarely will he be able to take on a man in 1-on-1 situation (unless of course he shrugs him off). Owing to his lack of pace and inability in possession, Strootman naturally isn’t seen advancing forward. Even after winning back possession, there is no urgency in his play to get forward and support the attack. Given his height, Strootman would be extremely effective in making late runs into the box, going unmarked and getting under crosses from the wings.
His cautiousness in defence is a positive for the team, but that same cautiousness that restrains him from getting forward restricts his development as a player. Due to his lack of pace, Strootman is slow even getting back into his defensive duties after he has moved into an advanced role.
A lot has been said about Strootman over the last few months, comparisons have been drawn with the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Yaya Toure (he interestingly shares the same sports management agency with him). But Strootman isn’t a playmaker in the Pirlo-esque form, neither does he have the stamina and speed to play as a box-to-box midfielder. He is, though, a solid defensive midfielder reminiscent of Phillip Cocu, and his mentor Mark Van Bommel. He has the right ingredients to be a solid force in an attacking sense, but doesn’t do so often enough. He will however, be the perfect partner for a box-to-box midfielder.
You can also read our Tactical Player Report on Strootman’s performance at the U21 European Championship against Germany here.
“Strootman is an example, on and off the pitch, especially inside the lines. Off the pitch he has to learn some things, like speaking up. As a captain you have to be able to do that. That has to do with character, but you can also learn this. Maybe that’s his weakness. On the pitch you see that he stands up for his team, outside the pitch this can improve.”
—Louis Van Gaal, Dutch national team boss, as told to Goal.com
“For PSV it would be good if he stays, but for Strootman himself it’s better to leave. This guy fits everywhere. He’s a fantastic player because he knows exactly what his qualities are. Strootman is nothing less than Gareth Barry. He’s a very useful player for every team. Especially when he’s surrounded by better players.”
—Dick Advocaat, ex-PSV Eindhoven manager, quoted by De Telegraaf (via Goal.com)
“Strootman is the leader of the new generation, someone who can still further develop as captain. He regularly speaks up on the pitch, both at PSV and with Netherlands. He will now get the chance to become more dominant off the pitch as well with Oranje. This benefits his development and it is a reward for his good performances”
—Dirk Kuyt, Dutch national team-mate, exclusive interview to Goal.com
For the better part of the 2012/13 season, Kevin Strootman has been linked with a move to defending Premier League champions Manchester United. Many see him as a replacement for Paul Scholes, while also showing hints of Roy Keane in his football (my personal opinion is the latter). United look the most likely destination for Strootman, however, Napoli have also shown their interest according to his agent, Chiel Dekker. Some unconfirmed reports have also paired Strootman with a move to the red half of Milan, as the Rossoneri aim to tighten their defence with the loss of Ambrosini.
It’s interesting to note that Strootman is a client of Firsteleven ISM (Sports Management Agency), who own most of the young Dutch stars such as Adam Maher, Bruno Martins Indi & Gregory van der Wiel. Firsteleven ISM are the same agency that engineered Eden Hazard and Demba Ba’s moves to Chelsea.
A move looks imminent for Kevin Strootman, with the U-21 Championship also complete, one expects his future to be resolved soon.
UPDATE: Kevin Strootman joined AS Roma.
View his SoccerWiki profile
Co-founder and Chief Editor here. Obsessed with tactics. Keen follower of young players. Creator of #TalentRadar. Appeared in A Football Report's list of "Best in Football Writing 2012".
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