There appears to be many different players that could fill the Left Back position 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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nedwillFour years ago the Netherlands had an easy choice to make when it came to who would be their Left Back for the 2010 World Cup.  The answer was simple; it was their captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Giovanni van Bronckhorst was a leader that had played football at the highest level and had over 100 international caps with the Oranje.  Following the defeat to Spain in 2010 van Bronckhorst retired.

Finding someone to replace van Bronckhorst was no easy task.  Leading up to the 2012 European Championship it seemed as though Erik Pieters was the man destined to replace van Bronckhorst as the first choice option at Left Back for the Oranje.  On April 11, 2012 Erik Pieters broke a metatarsal bone in his right foot, which would not recover in time for the tournament.  With Pieters being injured, the Oranje turned to Jetro Willems to fill that void.  Jetro Willems was a young and inexperienced teenager that had only made 20 appearances with his club team PSV.  Willems became the youngest player to ever make an appearance in the European Championship.  Willems appearance in the Euro’s came 17 days after his 18th birthday.  The entire tournament was a disaster for the Oranje.  Although the talent of Willems was clear, his lack of experience was more abundantly clear.

Jetro Willems was unable to maintain his starting position with the Oranje when a knee ligament injury suffered in April ended his hopes of playing in the tournament.  Although Willems may not have been a first team selection, he still likely would have been on the World Cup roster.  In the 2014 World Cup the position of LB/LWB was filled by several different players.  Dirk Kuyt, Daley Blind, Bruno Martins Indi, and Terence Kongolo all saw playing time at the LB/LWB position.

In 2010 the Left Back selection was simple, in 2014 the selection was varied, and in 2018 I envision it being a difficult decision.  I consider the selection of the starting Left Back in 2018 being a difficult decision not because of a lack of quality, but rather the exact opposite.  There are several worthwhile candidates that could fill the Left Back position and several candidates that possess a great deal of versatility.  Several players on this list have the capability of filling other positions on the pitch.  The future coach will have plenty of pieces to choose from, but will have to find a way to best utilize the players at his disposal.

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

blind oraDaley Blind- 24 years old

Four years ago Daley Blind was not good enough to be considered for the 2010 World Cup roster; in fact the majority of Ajax fans did not even consider him good enough to be on the Ajax roster either.  Being booed and jeered by the home crowd was tough for Blind initially: “The most painful feeling is when your own supporters are against you.”  These experiences toughened Blind and motivated him to become a better player.  Daley Blind also endured a tough training regimen which helped strengthen him and add muscle to his slender frame.  Since then Daley Blind has won four league titles with Ajax, was named as Ajax’s player of the year in 2013, and the Dutch player of the year in 2014.  Daley Blind is a leader that plays with intelligence, is a capable defender, and is an excellent passer.  In 2013 Louis van Gaal recognized the talent of Blind and made him his first choice at LB/LWB, even though Blind played as a defensive midfielder for Ajax during the 2013-14 season.   Blind’s passing expertise was evident in the World Cup opener against Spain where the Netherlands won 5 to 1.  Blind was responsible for the pass late in the first half that led to Persie’s phenomenal header and in the second half had an additional assist from a wonderfully placed ball to Robben.  Although Blind can play left back it is apparent his natural position is as a defensive midfielder.  Blind possess great conditioning, but lacks the pace of many of the elite left backs.  It’s clear that Daley Blind is an important piece of the Oranje moving forward, but future coaches need to decide how to best utilize his skill set.

van aanholt bPatrick van Aanholt- 23 years old

Patrick van Aanholt signed with Chelsea in 2009, but had difficulty breaking into Chelsea’s first team.  Van Aanholt had only two appearances for Chelsea’s first team before being loaned out to Coventry City, Newcastle, Leicester City, Wigan Athletic, and most recently Vitesse.  Van Aanholt had one remaining year on his Chelsea contract, but did not wish to be loaned out again.  Van Aanholt recently signed a four year deal with Sunderland.  Van Aanholt had offers outside of the Premier League, but van Aanholt preferred to stay in the Premier League and prove that he belongs.  Van Aanholt is a talented player, but his inability to stay in one spot has limited his development.  Van Aanholt is not the best defender in this group, but possesses elite level pace and can be dangerous on the offensive end.  Many saw van Aanholt as a surprise omission from the 2014 World Cup roster.  Although van Aanholt can be dangerous on the offensive end, he can also sometimes be caught out of position, which can be too risky when facing the world’s best talent.  If van Aanholt is able to secure regular first team action with Sunderland it would raise his stock considerably and van Aanholt could once again see himself as an option for the Oranje at Left Back.

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.

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 Centre 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.

willems aJetro Willems- 20 years old

Jetro Willems made a name for himself with his stellar performance for the Oranje Under-17 team in the 2011 UEFA European Under 17 tournament.  Willems was part of a backline that that did not concede a single goal on the way to the Final where the Netherlands defeated Germany 5-2 in the championship game.    Willems was thrust into the spotlight when he became the youngest player to ever appear in the European Championship in 2012.  Although it was a disappointing tournament for Willems it was experience that he could learn from.  Willems looked destined for a spot on the Netherlands roster for the 2014 World Cup before a knee injury forced him to miss the tournament.  Willems is a dynamic two way player.  He is a capable defender that possesses the necessary stamina, pace, ball control, and crossing ability to be a threat on the offensive end.  Willems may be a favorable selection if the future coaching staff prefers to continue using Left Wing Backs.  If Willems can recover from his knee injury fully and continue his development he will be a player to watch.

woudenbergLucas Woudenberg- 20 years old

Lucas Woundenberg currently plays at Feyenoord and is competing with Terence Kongolo for playing time at Left Back.  For the 2013-14 season Woundenberg was put on loan to S.B.V. Excelsior.  Feyenoord was unwilling to loan Woundenberg for the upcoming season; especially due to the departure of the defenders Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij, and Daryl Janmaat.  Woundenberg impressed during last year’s UEFA Under-19 Championship.  A group of reporters had Woundenberg on their “Ten Under-19 talents to watch” list.  This is what the reporters had to say about Woundenberg: “An attacking full-back who covered plenty of ground during his nation’s group campaign.  The left-sided defender boasts strength and pace – now prerequisites for a player in his position – while he displayed a keen ability to track opposing wingers and put in expertly timed tackles.”  Woundenberg has a long way to go before he can be considered a first choice selection for the Oranje at Left Back, but if he continues to develop and is able to duplicate his performances at the youth level he can’t be ruled out.

ake bNathan Aké-19 years old

Nathan Aké is a very important piece for the Oranje moving forward and has already proven that he is a winner.   Aké won the UEFA European Under-17 Championship twice and was the captain of the team the second time.  Aké left Feyenoord to join Chelsea’s youth system in 2011.  On December 26th, 2012 Aké made his premier appearance in the Premier League as a 17 year old when he replaced Juan Mata in the final stages of the game against Norwich City.  Aké was named Chelsea’s young player of the year in the 2012-2013 season.   Aké is currently practicing with Chelsea’s first team and is working hard to capture additional first team action.  Aké is an immensely talented player with true versatility.  Aké is able to fill multiple positions on the pitch including Centre Back, Left Back, and Defensive Midfielder.  Aké is an intelligent player that possesses a great motor, remains composed on the ball, is a talented passer, and is a valuable asset pushing forward.  Although Aké possesses the adequate defensive qualities to be a Centre Back I don’t believe that is where his skill set would be best utilized.  Aké is better suited for the positions of Left Back and Defensive Midfielder where he can utilize his defensive capabilities, but also be an asset in the open field pushing forward.

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.