There appears to be many different players that could fill the Attacking Midfielder positions in 2018, listed below are who I expect to be some of the top candidates.

  • By Josh Mol
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klaassen aja123In my previous article I discussed how the position of defensive midfielder is quite possibly the most underappreciated and overlooked position on the pitch.  The position of attacking Midfielder is quite the opposite.  The Attacking Midfielder, also known as the classic “number 10” is an incredibly important position which is oftentimes reserved for the best “playmaker” on the team.   The attacking midfielder controls the pace of the game and acts as a facilitator between the defensive and offensive players.  A team can have gifted strikers, but without the proper facilitator these players will be underutilized and mostly ineffective.  The ideal attacking midfielder would be a master of football fundamentals, play with great intelligence, be an undisputed leader, have great vision, possess a wide range of passing skills,  remain composed on the ball at all times, and have the ability to score goals when the opportunity presents itself.

In the previous two World Cup campaigns the Netherlands had different coaches and used different formations, but both squads played with two Defensive Midfielders and one Central Attacking Midfielder.  For the past eight years the Netherlands have had two world class options at central attacking midfielder.  These players are Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart.  Sneijder and van der Vaart have both had impressive club careers in addition to over 100 appearances for the Netherlands senior team.  Prior to the 2014 World Cup van der Vaart suffered a calf injury in training which led to him withdrawing from the team and Sneijder remained the first team option at attacking midfielder.  Although Sneijder and van der Vaart are world class talents it appears unlikely that either player will be able to duplicate the form that they showed while in their prime.

Although the departure of Sneijder and van der Vaart would be a significant loss the Netherlands are not without options at this position moving forward.   There are many different players that could step up and fill the void left in 2018.

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

de jong siem nufcSiem de Jong – 25 years old

Siem de Jong was born in Switzerland to Dutch parents, and returned to the Netherlands when he was six years old.  De Jong joined the Ajax youth academy in 2005 and made his first team debut with Ajax on September 26, 2007.  Siem de Jong was a key member of the Ajax team that won four consecutive Eredivisie titles from 2010 to 2014.  In the summer of 2012 de Jong was named the Ajax Captain after the departure of the previous captain, Jan Vertonghen.  During his time in Ajax, de Jong showcased his versatility and was able to play both attacking midfielder and striker.  On July 1, 2014 de Jong signed a six year deal with Premier League side Newcastle United.  De Jong instantly impressed Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew, who named de Jong vice-captain.  In a Sky Sports News interview Pardew praised his new vice-captain: “I have been lucky enough in my career to manager some great players and I think he could be one of the best.” Early in September de Jong suffered a groin tear and could miss up to four months of action while he recovers from the injury.  De Jong is not as technically gifted as some of the other players on this list, but his work rate and intelligence on the pitch make him an effective player.  De Jong is a versatile player that possesses a dangerous long range shot, is a proven leader, and is able to find space in the box.  If de Jong can stay healthy after returning to fitness and prove himself in the Premier League he may contend for a spot on the Netherlands 2018 World Cup roster.


fer adLeroy Fer – 24 years old

Leroy Fer was a member of the Feyenoord youth academy and made his first team debut on December 2, 2007.  Fer was known for his physical presence and was even nicknamed De Uitsmijter (the bouncer) by Feyenoord youth coach Jean-Paul van Gastel.  Although Fer’s talent was noted he was forced to play in various different positions on the pitch including attacking midfielder, defensive midfielder, striker, and right back.  Fer found his place as a defensive midfielder and was named vice-captain of the squad for the 2010-11 season.  In August of 2011, Fer signed a deal with the Eredivisie side FC Twente.  Fer played two seasons with FC Twente before joining Premier League side Nowich on a four year deal in July of 2013.  Fer showed signs of his potential with Norwich and was named their player of the month in November.  On August 20, 2014 Fer signed a three year deal with newly promoted Premier League side Queens Park Rangers.  Fer represented the Netherlands at all youth levels and was the captain of the Netherlands Under-17 team.  Fer made the Netherlands 2014 World Cup roster and was able to score a goal in the game versus Chile after replacing Wesley Sneijder.  Fer is a physically gifted player that is an aerial threat, posses a great work rate, and has developed into a true box to box midfielder.  If Fer can continue to develop and maintain regular first team action he could once again be a member of the Netherlands World Cup roster in 2018.


Georginio Wijnaldum – 23 years old

On April 8, 2007 Wijnaldum became the youngest player to ever play for Feyenoord’s first team; at the time Wijnaldum was only 16 years old.  Wijnaldum stayed at Feyeboord for four seasons before transferring to PSV on June 29, 2011.  Wijnaldum immediately established himself as a first team selection for PSV and was named the captain of PSV for the 2013-14 season following the retirement of Mark van Bommel and the transfer of Kevin Strootman.  Wijnaldum struggled with a back injury for much of the 2013-14 season, but was able to recover in time to play for the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup.  In his club career Wijnaldum has played primarily as an attacking midfielder or winger.  In the World Cup it was as a defensive midfielder that Wijnaldum was employed.  Although Wijnaldum was not accustomed to playing as a defensive midfielder; he proved to be a very capable box to box midfielder.  Wijnaldum is a highly gifted athlete that is a great dribbler, an effective passer, possesses great pace, and has a high work rate.  Although Wijnaldum has been utilized as a defensive midfielder for the Oranje; it is as an attacking midfielder that he will likely be utilized at most frequently following the international retirement of Sneijder and the return to fitness for Kevin Strootman.


van ginkMarco van Ginkel – 21 years old

Marco van Ginkel rose through the Vitesse youth ranks before ultimately making his senior appearance for the club on April 9, 2010, when he was seventeen years old.  Van Ginkel quickly impressed and was given the Johan Cruyff award for the 2012-13 season, which is given every year to the best player in the Eredivisie under 21 years old.  On July 3, of 2013, Premier League club Chelsea announced the transfer of van Ginkel from Vitesse.  Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho had this to say in regards to van Ginkel: “Marco is one of the best prospects in European football right now.”  Mourinho continued in his praise of van Ginkel and stated: “I have been following him for a long time.  He has great potential.”  On September 24, 2013 van Ginkel suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury which halted his ascension up the Chelsea ranks.  Van Ginkel has returned to fitness and was fighting for first team opportunities with Chelsea, before ultimately signing with AC Milan on loan for the 2014-15 season.  Van Ginkel made his Netherlands first team debut on November 14, 2012 when he came on as a substitute in a friendly versus Germany.  Van Ginkel is the current captain for the Netherlands Under-21 squad.  Van Ginkel is a true box to box midfielder that plays with maturity, remains composed on the ball, possesses superior passing skills, has a dangerous long range shot, and covers a great deal of ground.  Van Ginkel has all the tools necessary to be a future superstar, he just needs regular first team action to continue his development.  Although van Ginkel has played extensively as a defensive midfielder he does possess the necessary skills to also play in an attacking role.


klaassen aDavy Klaassen – 21 years old

Davy Klaassen rose through the ranks of Ajax’s youth academy and made his senior team debut on November 22, 2011 in the UEFA Champions League group stage.  Klaassen looked poised to make the 2012-13 season a breakout campaign, but a serious groin strain ended his season early and temporarily halted his development.  Klaassen returned to fitness and displayed his talent for Ajax and Jong Ajax during the 2013-14 season.  Klaassen has solidified himself as a key play for Ajax moving forward.  Ajax’s director of football Marc Overmars insisted that Klaassen and Ajax Centre Back Joël Veltman are crucial pieces for Ajax moving forward: “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’m going to the gate and lie in front of it when they come for Joël Veltman or Davy Klaassen.  I love Ajax being attractive for a transfer, but these guys do not get out of here.”  Klaassen’s skill set, versatility, and ability to command the space between the midfield and attack has seen him compared to Netherland’s legend Dennis Bergkamp.  Klaassen can be utilized as an attacking midfielder and as a centre forward.  Klaassen is player that has great pace, plays with intelligence, possesses great ball control, is a gifted passer, and his effective runs makes him a goal scoring threat from the midfield.  If Klaassen’s development continues he will certainly be an important piece for the Oranje moving forward.


ziyech kdmdkdmHakim Ziyech – 21 years old

Hakim Ziyech worked his way up the youth ranks of SC Heerenveen and ultimately made his senior team debut on August 2, 2012 in the third qualification round of UEFA Europa League.  Ten days later Ziyech made his Eredivisie debut.  The 2013-14 season was Ziyech’s breakout season, and led to him being courted by many top teams in the Eredivisie.  SC Heerenveen had Alfred Finnbogason, who led the Eredivisie is goals during the 2013-14 season, but it was Ziyech that won the club’s player of the year award.  Following the 2013-14 season Ziyech had to choose between transferring to either Feyenoord or FC Twente.  The move to Feyenoord would have been more financially rewarding, but Feyenoord could not guarantee Ziyech the opportunity to play the No. 10 role.  Ziyech is versatile and can play either as an attacking midfielder or as a winger, but Ziyech prefers playing as an attacking midfielder.  FC Twente promised Ziyech the opportunity to play as their attacking midfielder behind centre striker Luc Castaignos.  Ziyech is a creative playmaker with great pace, effective long range passing, superior pitch awareness, sound ball control, and is extremely dangerous in taking set pieces.


maher 123psvAdam Maher – 21 years old

Adam Maher is a midfielder that currently plays for PSV.  Maher began his professional debut with AZ Alkmaar on December 15, 2010 in a 2010-2011 UEFA Europa League game where he scored a goal in his debut.  Maher became the youngest player on a Dutch football club to ever score a goal in the Europa League.  It didn’t take long for Maher to impress and attract attention from major clubs all over the world.  Maher was named the Dutch Talent of the Year for the 2011-12 season.  Despite reported interest from clubs outside of the Eredivisie, Maher decided to stay in the Netherlands and signed a five year deal with PSV on July 1, 2013.  Maher is not physically intimidating, but possess an impressive array of offensive skills similar to Wesley Sneijder.  Maher has frequently been compared to Sneijder and AZ Alkmaar assistant coach Martin Haar also compared Maher to Spain International Cesc Fabregas.  Although Maher is extremely gifted on the offensive side he is a liability on the defensive end.  Maher is small, lacks physicality, and his desire to push forward can lead to him not fulfilling his defensive responsibilities.  Maher’s natural position is as an attacking midfielder, but PSV currently has Georginio Wijnaldum filling those duties.  Maher has been forced to play more as a defensive midfielder which does not best utilize his abilities and at times has limited his time on the pitch.  Wijnaldum seems destined for a move to a bigger club following the 2014-15 season, which could lead to Maher getting a chance to play his natural position.  Maher has all of the necessary skills to thrive, but must be put in the positions that best utilizes his skills.  Maher excels in tight spaces, is technically gifted, proficient with both feet, remains composed on the ball, is a great passer, and is a threat shooting from the outside.


VILHENA AAAFEYTonny Vilhena – 19 years old

Tonny Vilhena is a product of the famous Feyenoord youth academy.  Vilhena made his debut for the Feyenoord senior team on January 23, 2012.  Vilhena quickly became a regular starter for Feyenoord.  Vilhena has excelled for the Netherlands youth teams.  Vilhena was a key member of the Netherlands U-17 team that won the UEFA European Under-17 Football Championship in 2011; where he was the joint top scorer with three goals.  Vilhena was also a key member of the team that won the UEFA European Under-17 Championship a year later.  Vilhena is very gifted on the offensive side of the ball, but also possesses the necessary defensive qualities to be a true box to box midfielder.  Although Vilhena does not currently play in the no. 10 role for Feyenoord I believe that is where he is best suited in the future.  Vilhena is technically gifted, remains composed on the ball, places well timed through balls, makes effective runs into the box, and possesses a deadly left foot.  Vilhena is very accomplished 19 year old and if his development continues he could very well be a key member of the Oranje moving forward.


karsdorpRick Karsdorp – 19 years old

Rick Karsdorp is a current player for Feyenoord that typically plays as an attacking midfielder, but is also capable of playing Right Back.  Last year Karsdorp played for Feyenoord A1, who won the cup, and Karsdorp was voted the best A junior in the Eredvisie.  Karsdorp practiced with Feyenoord’s first team several times during the 2013/14 season and seems destined to receive some first team action this season.  Karsdorp is seen as the next big thing to come through Feyenoord’s youth academy and if he is able to duplicate his success at the youth levels he could contend for a spot on the 2018 World Cup roster.

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.