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It Velt like love - Should Arsenal Pursue This Ajax Starlet?

A lot has happened since I last wrote something. Arsenal have played 22 matches, signed Mesut Özil, and our boys in red and white are currently top of the Premier League and top their Champions League group as the bookmakers' favourites to go through. It’s a great time to be a Gooner. Sadly, the international break showed its hideous, boring face again and now we’re already talking about the January transfer window.

The general consensus is that we need another striker, to relieve the pressure on Olivier ‘I’m okay with my body’ Giroud. Whilst I do agree with that, writing about Dutch football is part of my job description. Since there isn’t a good enough Eredivisie striker for us to get excited about, allow me to look at another position Arsenal need strengthening in.

In Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal have 152 matches worth of international experience available at centre back. Naturally, I’m going to tell you a bit about a lovely young man who just received his first call-up for Oranje, after having impressed in both the Eredivisie and in his first Champions League matches, against Celtic.

Veltman looking for the long ball during Ajax’ match against NEC Veltman looking for the long ball during Ajax’ match against NEC

Joël Veltman, 21 years of age, is a typical Ajax defender. Technically solid, comfortable with both feet and -Frank de Boer would be proud – able to launch attacks by either dribbling into midfield or opting for the long ball. Be that as it may, the aforementioned qualities might as well have been attributed to Santi Cazorla, so actual defensive attributes would come in handy as well.

Joël is, as you’d expect from such a friendly looking chap, not an oldschool, skull-and-ankle-crushing monster of a defender. His ways are more subtle, like Arsène Wenger’s cardigan compared to Mourinho’s hoodie. Contrary to what you’d expect from a young, relative experienced defender, the Dutchman oozes calmness.

Committing an average of 0,8 fouls per match, Veltman has the composure to not get drawn into positions in which it’s necessary to make rash decisions. (This does not mean that he doesn’t tackle; his ability to get close to the opposing forward and take the ball from the poor bastard with a well-timed toe-poke gets me a little wet, but I digress.)

More often than not, you see him looking around and waiting for the perfect moment to place his tackle. His best attribute is one that’s hard to teach; the youngster’s reading of the game and thus spotting danger is excellent. Witty as I may be at times, I’m still looking for the Veltman-equivalent of Mertesacker’s ‘Perceptions’.

However, Cruijff’s quote ‘If you have to run, you should’ve started earlier’ is, albeit awfully translated and paraphrased, very much applicable to the latest subject of my affection. Intercepting almost as often as he tackles (respectively 3 and 3.5 per match), Joël is a great addition to Ajax’ (sometimes error-prone) back four. With teams sitting deep and hoping for an opportunity to counter-attack, intelligence is a necessity for Ajax defenders: Joël ticks that box like an aggrieved lady overenthusiastically filling out a survey about her asshole ex-husband’s negative sides.

So considerate: Joël even has something for the ladies. So considerate: Joël even has something for the ladies.

As mentioned before, the boyhood Ajax fan adheres to the club’s principle that every player must have a certain level of technique. Although not perfectly polished yet – Veltman has the occasional loose first touch when he’s not under threat – it’s no surprise that the former VV Ijmuiden boy started out as a forward before joining Ajax as a right back when he was 9. 

His versatility shows when he’s on the ball. Completing over 90% of his passes this season, Veltman is well-suited to Ajax’ possession-based, rotational style of play. He has to be able to fill gaps left by his defensive partner Denswil or right back van Rhijn, and he does this job to good effect, allowing others to contribute to attack while he covers for them. On other occasions, he’s the one who contributes. Choosing his moments carefully, Joël likes to cross the half-way line to either pick a pass or to create the danger himself when opposition players are busy making sure he can’t leave the ball to his teammates.

I’m not the only one that has been pleased with our young centre back. Frank de Boer is very impressed, calling Joël a ‘massive talent’ and dubbing his Champions League performance against Celtic Veltman’s ‘best match he ever played’. Louis van Gaal added to the hype by saying that the 21-year-old was ‘the best man on the pitch’ when de Godenzonen played the Glaswegians, whilst Ajax legend Johan Cruijff ‘always knew he had it in him’.

Veltman himself is taking it day by day. Having only just earned his place in Ajax’ starting XI after Niklas Moisander got injured, he claims to learn something new every day. Manager de Boer and Jaap Stam’s guidance definitely helps: Stam ‘points out small, seemingly insignificant details all the time, that really helps me’, while the influence of Frank de Boer is obvious with every long ball Veltman plays. All that being said, I am also aware that it’s still early days. Who knows, I might sit down and laugh at this in a couple of months.

Veltman is only just playing top-flight football, and he signed a new contract in June, keeping him at Ajax until 2017. What I do know, is that Arsenal could do with a young and talented defender. If it’s not Isaac Hayden, I could see Arsenal growing an interest in my countryman. It doesn’t feel right to not have a nice Dutchman at the club, does it? Having one yet again would make this international break a lot more enjoyable.

Tell us what you think! If you agree, or have a different view, please leave a comment in the comments section or why not write a response or your own article on YouWrite?

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