Over the years, the Dutch have produced many fantastic attacking talents, but defending has always been seen as a weakness for them. In recent years however, this has changed, with the Eredivisie, and Feyenoord in particular, producing defensive talents such as Daryl Janmaat, Stefan De Vrij and Bruno Martins-Indi. These three left the Rotterdam based club at the end of last season, and De Vrij in particular has excelled, plying his trade at Lazio. Understandibly, Feyenoord fans feared the worst when he left. However, another young Dutchman has stepped up to replace him: Sven van Beek.
Who is Sven van Beek?
Originally from the city of Gouda, in the south of the Netherlands, van Beek moved to Sparta Rotterdam at the age of ten, where he played alongside fellow Dutch starlet Memphis Depay. However, after not very long, fellow Rotterdam side Feyenoord came sniffing and he joined the Dutch giants. Here, he started making his way through the ranks, alongside current defensive partner Terence Kongolo and fellow central defenders Karim Rekik and Nathan Ake.
Van Beek actually started his career as a more attacking player, but was deployed at right back for the youth team, a position he did not enjoy. His career stalled hugely in 2009, when he was kept in the U16’s for a further year whilst players he had come through with moved up to the U17’s. Usually in the Feyenoord, if you are held back a year to stay in the U16’s, it’s hugely unlikely that you’ll ever make it to the top. It got to the point where van Beek considered quitting professional football altogether. However, after two years in the U16’s, he impressed in pre-season games for the U18’s and was soon made captain.
He then moved up to the U19’s and after Karim Rekik and Nathan Ake moved to Manchester City and Chelsea respectfully, he moved across to centre-back and hugely impressed. It was also a position he enjoyed far more. Along with Terence Kongolo, he became the standout young central defender in the youth system at Feyenoord. After continuing to impress for the under 19’s, van Beek was given his first professional contract in 2012. He made his first team debut for the club against PSV in the KNVB Cup, on the 30th of January, 2013, and started his first league game in “De Klassieker” against Ajax on the 18th of August. He went on to make 15 appearances in total in the 13/14 season but struggled to get ahead of De Vrij, Martins-Indi and Mathijsen in the pecking order. This all changed in the summer of 2014, when there was a huge overhaul at the club.
Manager Ronald Koeman left for Southampton, and defenders Martins-Indi, De Vrij and Janmaat followed him out the door. This opened up an opportunity for Van Beek, and he quickly grasped it with both hands. This season he has established himself as a key player in the heart of a Feyenoord backline that boasts the third best defensive record in the Eredivisie, forming a strong partnership with Terence Kongolo.
The Feyenoord defender was named in Outside of the Boot’s 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2015 feature, coming in at #10 in the list of defenders, he also finished 2nd in the Defender Rankings 2014-15. Most importantly, Van Beek was part of the 2014-15 Talent Radar Team of the Season (see all Talent Radar Awards here).
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
Van Beek has often been compared with the man he replaced, Stefan De Vrij, and with good reason too. He always plays it out from the back instead of aimlessly clearing it, and occasionally pushes forward with the ball at his feet. This is largely due to the league and nation he plays in, with ball playing defenders more common in Dutch football than nations like England, although there are of course exceptions in both cases. As he plays for Feyenoord, one of the stronger teams in the league, he can afford to be more expressive against the majority of teams, and often attempts long passes to his forwards.
However, like De Vrij, he can also be very physical in the challenge, taking advantage of his stature. The main difference between the two comes in their mentality, with van Beek being more ruthless and aggressive, once claiming that he wants to eat all his opponents.
Standing at 6’3, it is unsurprising that van Beek is excellent in the air, shown by the fact that over the course of the Eredivisie season, he was won 93 out of 148 aerial challenges. This impressive physicality will bode well for him should he ever play in more physical leagues, such as England or Germany.
Something that may seem more surprising considering his stature, is his skill with the ball at his feet. Van Beek is extremely comfortable with the ball at his feet, completing 88.5% of his passes this season. These are not just short passes to his fellow defenders either, shown by the fact that he completes an average of 8.1 accurate long passes per game.
These statistics show his usually excellent composure, as he rarely panics and clears it, but instead always looks to play his way out of trouble, helping the team retain the ball and launch attacks. While some may see this as a dangerous trait, it is very beneficial in the Dutch game and will likely earn him a starting place in the Oranje sooner rather than later, who always prioritise ball playing defenders.
Discipline is always a crucial part of a centre backs game, and van Beek is also strong this area, picking up only six yellow cards and no red cards over the season, averaging only one foul per game, despite the fact that he is extremely strong in the challenge.
Van Beek was never going to be the quickest of defenders standing at 6’3, but his pace is impressive for a man of his height, and allows him to push higher up as he usually has enough pace to recover should he make a mistake.
At 20, every player still has their weaknesses, and van Beek is no exception, although he has very few. As shown, his composure is usually excellent. However, he is still prone to mistakes and lapses in concentration, shown by his crucial error in a 2-1 defeat to Besiktas in a Champions League qualifier. However, this is something that should improve as he gets older.
With a tendency to push so high up the pitch, both with and without the ball, van Beek can usually recover if he makes a mistake due to his adequate pace and reading of the game, but can sometimes get caught out, with players exploiting the space he leaves behind him. Although he usually gets away with it at the moment, it is something that could be more damaging if he plays in a stronger league.
At the age of 20, Van Beek will most likely stay and develop at Feyenoord for another year or two, rather than make the same mistake as many Dutch talents and move to a big club too early. If he continues to develop at the same speed, he will then surely be on the wishlist of many of Europe’s biggest clubs. He has the physicality to play in England or Germany, but is also comfortable enough with the ball at his feet to potentially excel in Spain. In regards to the national team, he was called up to the preliminary squad for the recent matches against Turkey and Spain, and with Ron Vlaar now 30 years of age, there is likely to be a place in the central defence alongside Stefan De Vrij up for grabs by Euro 2016. Van Beek will have to compete with the likes of Kongolo, Martins-Indi and Veltman for that place, but who’s to say he can’t claim it for his own in the same manner that he did at Feyenoord? He has overcome many obstacles to get to where he is, and now he’s there, there’s no reason that he can’t go even further.
Written by Finley Crebolder
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