There appears to be many different players that could fill the Center Back positions for Netherlands at the 2018 World Cup, listed below are what I expect to be some of the top candidates.

  • By Josh Mol
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devrij vlaThe 2014 World Cup is now behind us, but for many football fans the countdown to the 2018 World Cup has already begun.  The Oranje progressed far in the previous two World Cups, but need to be careful not to repeat the mistake made by Spain in this most recent tournament.  Spain’s national team had achieved great success in 2008 through 2012, but they failed to recognize the end of an era.  Spain had young and talented members on their squad, but instead chose to seek continued success from those that were past their prime.  It can be easy to get sentimental and fight change, but change is inevitable and necessary for future success.

Over the next few weeks I will be breaking down each position and listing who I see as the best options at those positions in 2018.  At the end I will list my selection for the starting XI and the entire Dutch roster heading into 2018.  This is an opinion based article and will certainly differ from the actually roster when that time comes.  Much can change in four years time.  Four years ago Daley Blind was booed by the home crowd and seen as a disappointment.  Since then Daley Blind has won four league titles with Ajax, was named as Ajax’s player of the year in 2013, the Dutch player of the year in 2014, and is wanted by many of the top clubs in the world.

The first position that I will discuss is the Center Back position.  Coming into the 2014 World Cup many experts were quick to point to the Dutch defense as an area of weakness.  There were even players in the Dutch squad that agreed with that sentiment prior to the Cup.  Ron Vlaar, the veteran leader of the defense, had this to say when questioned about the defense being the weak part of the squad: “We know that. We work hard to get better as a team and we also know we have our best players up front.”

The Dutch defense was completely retooled after the disappointing performance of the 2012 Euro’s.  It was time to rebuild and add new pieces.  Other than the 29 year old Ron Vlaar, Dirk Kuyt who filled in at LWB, and Paul Verhaegh the backup option at RWB, the Dutch backline was extremely young and inexperienced.  The oldest remaining member of the Dutch backline was Daryl Janmaat who was 24 years old during the World Cup.  Many questioned if the young players from the Eredivisie possessed the necessary talent, confidence, and discipline to compete at the biggest stage of them all.

The much-maligned defense of the Dutch responded to its critics and proved that they belonged on the world’s biggest stage.  The squad’s biggest area of concern formed a strong-knit unit that was capable of handling the challenges that were placed upon it.  In the last three games for the Dutch the defense did not allow a single goal.  I strongly believe that in 2018 the Dutch defense will be seen as an area of strength.  The 2018 squad will see the younger players in this squad continue to develop and gain valuable experience.  There are also several exciting young players that are ready to step up and create an even stronger unit moving forward.

Listed below are the players that I see as the likely options for the Center Back positions in 2018.

vlaar bfjbvdRon Vlaar- 29 years old

The current Center Back for Aston Villa had a tournament to remember.  Ron Vlaar is a strong defender, very good in aerial duels, and is a real leader on the back line.  Vlaar’s main weakness is that he lacks the speed and agility that many of the modern defenders possess.  Arguably the best game in Ron Vlaar’s career was the recent game against Argentina.  In the game versus Argentina, Ron Vlaar won 100% of the aerial battles, won 100% of his tackles, cleared the ball 11times, intercepted the ball 6 times, and had 92% pass accuracy.  Ron Vlaar raised his profile and received much acclaim for his performances.  Will Ron Vlaar still be able to perform at this level at 33?

van dijk celtic aVirgil van Dijk- 23 years old

The former Groningen man joined Celtic F.C. on a transfer on July of 2013.  Van Dijk made an immediate impact and was named the Celtic player of the year.  Van Dijk was part of a defense that went 1,215 minutes without conceding a goal.  Although van Dijk is recognized for his immense talent, he was unable to secure a spot with the Dutch squad in the World Cup in Brazil.  It is widely believed that it was due to the inferior quality of play in the Scottish Premier League that led to van Dijk being excluded from the squad.  Former Netherlands International Giovanni van Bronckhorst had this to say about van Dijk: “Virgil is a very exciting player. I think we are potentially looking at the best central defender in Europe in the next few years.”  Standing at 6’4” (1.93 m) van Dijk is a physically gifted athlete and is exceptional in his aerial defense and on set pieces.  Van Dijk remains composed when handling the ball, is a sound passer, and possesses a dangerous shot from long range.

bruma akdJeffrey Bruma- 22 years old

Jeffrey Bruma’s talent was recognized at a young age.  Bruma was acquired by Chelsea when he was 15 years old and was making appearances for their reserve team by 16.  Although Bruma represented the Netherlands at all youth levels, he had difficulty finding his place at Chelsea.  Bruma spent a loan spell with Leicester City followed by spending two seasons on loan with Hamburger SV.  Bruma wanted regular first team action and a deal was struck between Chelsea and PSV in June of 2013.  Chelsea still realized the ability that Bruma possess and insisted on a buy black clause in the four year contract that Bruma signed with PSV.  Center Backs Jeffrey Bruma and Karim Rekik formed a successful partnership and PSV is working to try and keep both players as the anchor of their defensive line for another season.  Bruma possesses great dribbling skills, is excellent in aerial duels, and is a capable passer.  One area where Bruma could improve is in his crosses.  Bruma can also play as a Right Back, but has struggled with his crossing attempts if asked to provide offensive support up the flanks.

Joël Veltman- 22 years old

The Ajax Center Back enjoyed a breakout season in 2013.  Veltman began the season playing for Jong Ajax (the Ajax reserves) and it wasn’t until the injury to first choice Center Back Niklas Moisander that Veltman got a chance to prove his worth with the first team.  Veltman made the most of the opportunity and not only became a full time starter with Ajax, but also earned a spot on the World Cup squad in Brazil.  Veltman follows total football ideology, and is oftentimes seemingly as active on the offensive end as he is on the defensive end.  Veltman possesses great control of the ball and is an effective passer, but at times he can push too hard to dribble past pressing opponents instead of seeking the simple and safe pass.  Veltman’s name has been repeatedly mentioned in transfer rumors but Marc Overmars, the director of Ajax had this to say: “We are constantly working on a puzzle and every time you have it almost complete, it can fall apart, because a piece is snapped up…But I will lie in front of the gate when they come for Joel Veltman.”

de vrij fjbStefan de Vrij- 22 years old

The former Center Back for Feyenoord proved his quality in the World Cup and was destined for a move to a club outside of the Eredivisie. Italian Serie A side SS Lazio have announced the signing of de Vrij.  Stefano de Martino, SS Lazio’s communication’s director stated the following when announcing the signing of de Vrij: “We welcome with joy the best defender at the World Cup. He is an international-level signing” In the World Cup de Vrij led his team in tackles, interceptions, and tied Ron Vlaar for most aerial duels won.  Stefan de Vrij combines great size, good field vision, and solid ball skills.  At only 22 years of age de Vrij could be a key piece in the Oranje defense for years to come.

indi martBruno Martins Indi- 22 years old

Bruno Martins Indi graduated from the Feyenoord youth academy and has made 120 league appearances for Feyenoord.  The left footed Martins Indi has 22 international caps so far for the Oranje.  Although not universally revered as highly as his teammate Stefan de Vrij, Martins Indi has gained some acclaim and recently secured a transfer to FC Porto.  The versatile Martins Indi is able to play Center Back and Left Back.  Martins Indi is a physical presence inside, a capable aerial defender, but must work on his tackling technique to reach elite defender status.

densStefano Denswil- 21 years old

Stefano Denswil currently plays for Ajax and is a product of the Ajax youth system.  Denswil has also represented the Netherlands at all youth levels.  Denswil has a love for kickboxing.  Denswil has toned down his kickboxing training to avoid injury, but still practices kickboxing to help his conditioning and footwork on the pitch.  Denswil is a talented defender, including possessing great positional awareness and is a skilled tackler.  Denswil is also skilled moving forward on the pitch.  Denswil has a high football IQ and is capable of making passes throughout all areas of the pitch.  Denswil has proven himself to be dangerous in aerial duels from set pieces, but most improve his aerial duels on the defensive end to take his game to the next level

kongolo orTerence Kongolo- 20 years old

While few would question the talent of Kongolo it was his lack of experience that people questioned when he was included in the Dutch 23 man roster for the World Cup.  Although Kongolo saw very little game time in Brazil, being included in the squad is a great indicator of his potential.  Kongolo recently signed an extension to remain at Feyenoord.  With Feyenoord losing Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij, and Daryl Janmaat this offseason, Kongolo will play an increasingly important role on the Feyenoord defensive line.  Kongolo possesses many of the qualities sought for in a defender.  Kongolo is tall, athletic, fast, and intelligent.  Kongolo is versatile and can play both Center Back and Left Back.  One key weakness for Kongolo is that he lacks quality in aerial duels.  Obtaining more first team experience and adding some strength too his slender frame could help Kongolo become an elite level defender.

rekik adeKarim Rekik- 19 years old

Rekik joined Manchester City in 2011, but with several talented senior members ahead of him, he has struggled to find playing time with Manchester City.  Rekik has had loans spells with Portsmouth, Blackburn, and in the 2013/2014 season with PSV.  Rekik is fighting for a chance to earn a spot with the senior team of Manchester City, but has stated that he would rather go on loan for an additional season if he cannot play a minimum of twenty games with Manchester City.  Rekik is an extremely talented young player and recognizes the need for quality playing time to continue his development.  Rekik was a key member of the Dutch U-17 team that won the European Championship in 2011 and was named Captain of the U-19 team.  Patrick Viera, former France International and current Manchester City Football Development Executive had this to say about Rekik: “Karim has the natural air of a central defender. This boy has so much talent, if he doesn’t make it, it will be a big failure for us.”

Josh Mol (12 Posts)

My name is Josh. I am an American with Dutch roots. I have always felt a connection with all things Dutch especially Dutch football. I love the strong rich history of total football and am a loyal supporter of the Oranje. My grandfather was from Rotterdam and for that reason I am also a big Feyenoord supporter. I don’t just love the game for its enjoyment factor, but I also love to study the tactical side of the game. I love watching the future generation and see the unproven players reach their potential.