According to widespread reports, Heerenveen goalkeeper Andries Noppert will start for the Netherlands against Senegal at the World Cup. Sam Matthews Boehmer takes a look at the stopper’s rise to the national team.

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In April of this year, Andries Noppert was asked whether he thought he was close to a call-up to the Dutch National Team squad. After yet another impressive performance for his then-team Go Ahead Eagles, Noppert laughed in disbelief, answering ‘do you mean the Frisian team?’

Seven months down the line, not only has Noppert been called up, but it increasingly looks like he will start for the Netherlands in their first World Cup game against Senegal, the culmination of a career that has accelerated beyond all of Noppert and anyone else’s dreams and expectations in the last year.

Noppert’s career really kicked off when he joined Go Ahead, after years of relative obscurity as a second-choice keeper up and down the Dutch pyramid and beyond. Go onto his Wikipedia page, and whereas most national team players have paragraphs of information detailing their career and playing style, Noppert’s profile is limited to a couple of lines, equivalent to many National League players in England.

He came through the academy at Heerenveen, a solid, if unspectacular keeper, standing out more for his incredible size than his promising goalkeeping skills. At 2.03m, he is the tallest player at the World Cup.

In 2014 he was released by Heerenveen, having made no senior appearances, rocking up at NAC Breda, at that point in the lower reaches of the Eredivisie. Even so, Noppert made no appearances for the senior squad, as they got relegated from the division, and Noppert and NAC headed down into the Jupiler League. It was here that Noppert finally made his first senior appearance, deputising for the experienced Jelle ten Rouwelaar at the age of 21.

He did not hold down his spot though, and, after only a couple more league and cup appearances in the next two seasons as NAC got promoted back to the Eredivisie, the feeling of sitting on the bench was becoming all too comfortable for Noppert.

Seemingly dissatisfied with the prospects on offer in the Netherlands, in 2017 Noppert then opted for a change of scenery, heading off to Foggia in Italy’s Serie B. Foggia are based in Southern Italy, relatively close to Rome, and had just secured promotion back to Serie B after years in the Italian footballing wilderness.

You can see why Noppert opted for the ‘Rossoneri’. A team on the rise, they were aiming to build a squad capable of challenging in the upper reaches of the division. Unfortunately for Noppert, though, that team had no place for him as a starting goalkeeper, with his role once again limited to a bit-part bench player. He spent two years in Italy, making only eight appearances in Serie B in that time, and the prospects were beginning to look grim.

He went back to the Netherlands, to Dordrecht, and had one of the lowest periods of his unspectacular career to date, making two appearances in the second division, before being released after only one year. For six months, from July 2020 to January 2021, Noppert was without a club.

A goalkeeper needs games to prove his worth, and in a senior career that had spanned six years, Noppert had no chance to do that. Over six seasons, he had only made 17 senior appearances and seemed set for a career flitting around as a second-choice keeper in the Dutch second division.

Finally, though, Noppert caught his big break, though it did not seem like it initially. With Go Ahead Eagles in desperate need of a goalkeeper, he signed in January 2021 but proceeded not to make an appearance for the rest of the season. And so it proved for the start of the next season as well, as Go Ahead acclimatised to the Eredivisie after promotion.

With first choice Warner Hahn ill, and soon to be heading for the exit door, Noppert was thrown in against Heracles Almelo, on the 23rd of January 2021. And this was the point at which Noppert’s career truly began, as, for the first time in his career, he had a run of first-team games, as Hahn headed to Gothenburg.

It was by no means plain sailing to start off with, as Go Ahead fought against relegation. Noppert needed time to bed in and did not keep a clean sheet for seven games before a 3-0 win over Cambuur began a streak of three consecutive games where no goals were conceded. With Noppert impressing in goal, these three wins were enough to keep Go Ahead just above the trap door, and Noppert had finally had the chance to prove himself to the world.

With his shot-stopping and handling particularly impressing, though his distribution still needs a little work, Noppert had done enough to secure a €750,000 move back to his boyhood club, Heerenveen, who were after a (first-choice) goalkeeper. And Noppert very quickly picked up where he had left off at Go Ahead.

Keeping clean sheets in his first three Eredivisie games, he was called up by Louis van Gaal for the Netherland’s set of Autumn internationals, something Noppert described as a ‘dream’. It was Remko Pasveer, though, who made his debut for Oranje against Poland and then started against Belgium a few days later, with Noppert relegated to his old home on the bench, which has left many scratching their heads as to why it is Noppert that will be starting against Senegal.

Ultimately, though, this is a man who has faced many challenges in his career, with a period of unemployment two years ago threatening his entire career. This game, however big the stage or the spectacle, is just another challenge, one that Noppert, who has immense confidence in his own ability, is sure to overcome.

Sam Matthews Boehmer (5 Posts)