Netherlands academy’s may be famed for constantly producing world class attacking footballers while the national teams defence struggles, but there are are a number of talented centre backs coming through who are looking to buck that trend.

  • By Michael Bell
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kongvanbeSince Frank de Boer and Jaap Stam commanded the Oranje back four in the ninety’s Netherlands have struggled to develop a world-class partnership at the back, which has often proved fatal in major tournaments.

However the future finally looks bright for the centre of Netherlands defence with current national team pairing Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi making great impressions at both Lazio and Porto, while Joel Veltman and Virgil van Dijk are earning rave reviews at Ajax and Celtic.

There are also a number of youngsters coming through in the Eredivisie ready to challenge for the national team, and below are five centre backs, all under 21, who are set to have big futures in club football and more importantly the Dutch national team.


Terence Kongolo

Comfortable playing along the backline, Feyenoord employed Kongolo at left-back for most of last season, but its in the centre where the 20-year-old has excelled and he quickly ousted the ageing Joris Mathijsen from the starting eleven under new boss Fred Rutten. Kongolo was the youngest member of Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands team at the World Cup in Brazil and tasted action briefly in the 2-0 win over Chile.

Tall, fast and with excellent technique, Kongolo has everything a modern footballer needs, and he isn’t without his admirers as Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton all look admirably at the defender. At the moment Kongolo is part of the 2nd tightest defence in the Eredivisie, having conceded only 16 goals this season, and if his rapid development continues he has the capabilities to become one of the best centre halves in Europe.

Key Stat: Kongolo has won 68& of his duels this season, a 65% success rate in the air.

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Sven van Beek

The task of replacing both Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij was set to be a tough ask for new Feyenoord boss Fred Rutten, but the nations best academy churned out another top talent in Sven van Beek. Built in the same form as De Vrij, Van Beek has formed an excellent partnership with Kongolo in a defence which has been crowned the ‘wall of Feyenoord’ due to its solidity this season.

It all could have been so different for the twenty-year-old who almost quit professional football when he was held back a year in the academy, but Van Beek is now showing potential that many believe will see him develop into a better player than his predecessor Stefan de Vrij. Tall, strong and tenacious, Van Beek shows a great determination to tackle and beat his opponents, while he also has a passing range able to pick out a teammate from anywhere on the pitch. Van Beek is yet to make his national team debut, but with his rapid development this season, that first cap surely won’t be too far away

Key Stat: Van Beek has an 90% pass completion this season.

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Karim Rekik

Rekik made the big decision to leave Feyenoord’s academy to join Manchester City at the age of 17, and after loan spells with Portsmouth and Blackburn he returned to Netherlands to gain first team football at PSV. The move has been excellent for the youngster, who has formed a solid partnership with Jeffrey Bruma, and after 31 matches he returned to Manchester last summer.

Manchester City were keen to keep him in the first team squad, but Rekik wanted to play and it was agreed a second year in Eindhoven was better for his development. So far this season Rekik and Bruma have the tightest defence in the league and PSV are six points ahead of Ajax in the race for the title. Strength is Rekik’s main attribute, but he is also excellent in the air and loves to fly into tackles, which can sometimes lead to the odd foul. The 20-year-old made his Netherlands debut, and so far only appearance, last year in a loss against France, but was named in the provisional World Cup squad.

This year Rekik has been brilliant for PSV, and he certainly has the capability to challenge for a starting spot in the Premier League next season. Playing against the worlds best attackers for Manchester City will only improve Rekik and that could lead him to becoming first choice for Netherlands.

Key stat: Rekik has made 20 blocks this season, ten more than Kongolo and Van Beek have made together.

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Joost van Aken

Heerenveen’s academy is becoming one of the most prolific in the country and although most of the talk this season has been about midfielder Daley Sinkgraven, Joost van Aken is a defender also capable of reaching the national team. Van Aken made his debut for the first team in 2013, and has been a regular this season, impressing with his calmness in possession and impeccably timed tackles.

The 20-year-old is tall at 6ft 4 but also has good pace, which means he is rarely in trouble with balls over the top. Van Aken has two caps for Netherlands U21 and isn’t as close to the full squad as the likes of Kongolo or Rekik, but if he continues to develop in Friesland, a place in the Oranje eleven is a possibility.

Key stat: Van Aken has made 42 interceptions this season. Most on this list

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Wesley Hoedt

A product of the AZ Alkmaar youth academy, Hoedt made his first team debut last season in the Europa League match against P.A.O.K before being promoted to the first team this season. After starting on the bench Hoedt has slowly broken into the first team, and has played 13 of the last 14 league matches for the club, in which AZ only suffered one defeat.

Hoedt, like Kongolo has all the attributes a modern footballer needs, and is particularly strong in the air, while his positional sense is exceptional. With his contract up in the summer, AZ were unable to convince Hoedt to stay, and Lazio have swooped ahead of Ajax and Celtic to snare the young talent. It remains to be seen whether it is the right choice to leave Netherlands at only 20-years-old but Hoedt will undoubtedly learn a lot from playing against some of the best teams in Europe.

Key stat: Hoedt makes on average 9.5 clearances per game this season, more than any player on this list.

Four more to watch:

Jerry st-Juste: Another Heerenveen talent, recently made his first team debut at age of 18

Calvin Verdonk: 17-year-old Feyenoord defender who was one of the stars for Netherlands during the run to European U17 championships last summer

Timothy Fosu Mensah: Hugely talented defender, who was poached from the Ajax academy by Manchester United. Only 17.

Damien van Bruggen: 18-year-old defender who has starred for Ajax in the UEFA Youth league this season and is currently impressing in the Eerste Divisie for Jong Ajax.

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