Bologna midfielder Jerdy Schouten could make his Netherlands debut in the clash against Belgium on Friday. Sam Boehmer takes a look at the former Excelsior star’s rise to the national team.

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When Jerdy Schouten was released by ADO Den Haag in 2017, a call-up to the Dutch National Team would have seemed thousands of miles away.

A number 10, who occasionally played upfront, Schouten was leaving the club he’d been at since the age of eight, undoubtedly a huge blow, with the reward for 12 years of grueling, daily training in the Hague manifesting itself only in two first-team appearances. The future looked bleak, with a typical career of trawling the lower divisions of Dutch seemingly the uninviting prospect.

However, after five years, via Telstar, Excelsior, and Bologna, Schouten on Monday the 30th of May found himself entering the Dutch National Team training complex at Zeist.

How he got there, from warming the bench at ADO to rubbing shoulders with the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Frenkie De Jong is an unconventional story, but one that would provide hope for young, up-and-coming Dutch players, developed outside of the ‘big three’ clubs.

Having been released by Den Haag, Schouten wound up at Telstar, in the second division of Dutch football, with his brief appearances for ADO hardly providing the opportunity to prove his worth in the Eredivisie. Any doubts he may have had about his own ability, though, were dashed when he soon got bedded in his new club. Telstar provided the perfect springboard for Schouten, off which he could prove his value at any level of Dutch football.

Telstar, even by Eerste Divisie standards, are a small club. Based in Velsen-Zuid, a tiny town of around 1000 people just north of Amsterdam, they have a relatively small fanbase, and were used to finishing in and around 16th place in the division, as they did in the 2016/17 season just prior to Schouten’s arrival. At such a small club, the pressure was very much off for Schouten, with the added bonus of the arrival of a new manager, Mike Snoei, meaning this was a completely clean slate for the 20-year-old.

Snoei was the perfect choice for Telstar. As a protégé of the experienced and tactically adept Henk ten Cate, he had traveled the world with his mentor, moving from Panathinaikos in Greece, all the way to China as assistant manager, undoubtedly picking up a lot from ten Cate along the way. When he arrived back in the Netherlands following a further spell in India, he was very much ready to take the reigns at a club the size of Telstar, and his skillful tactical mind revealed itself with the development of Schouten.

As mentioned previously, when he arrived in Velsen-Zuid, Schouten was an attacking midfielder, and that was where he played in his first few games under Snoei. But, as Snoei got increasingly familiar with his team, he saw something about Schouten that made him want to experiment with the lanky Dutchman’s position.

Calm on the ball, tall, and immensely intelligent in choosing where to pass and find space, Snoei, while primarily playing Schouten in his more advanced position, began to move him around, occasionally playing him as a defensive midfielder, from where he could dictate the tempo and pace of the game.

Such examples of similar tactical intelligence on the behalf of Snoei aided the team’s 6th place finish, an immense improvement on where they had been the previous season. Though they eventually missed out, losing to De Graafschap in the promotion play-off, Schouten’s performances, in particular, were drawing admiring glances from teams further up the food chain.

Eventually, in 2018, only one year after being released by ADO, Schouten was on the move again, earning a transfer to Excelsior, for what was a snip at £270,000, with the prospect of proving himself in the Eredivisie finally on the horizon.

Excelsior also had a new coach, with Adrie Poldervaart replacing the now-Manchester United assistant manager Mitchell van der Gaag, who had led Rotterdam’s third-biggest team to a respectable 11th place the previous season.

Poldervaart immediately saw in Schouten the potential in the more withdrawn role that Snoei had begun to notice, consistently playing him in a defensive midfield position that completely suited his skill set.

Excelling in this new position, and standing out against his team’s generally poor performance, Schouten was soon a crowd favourite, with Football Oranje deeming him the ‘Frenkie de Jong of Kralingen’. Adding the vital skill of strength in tackling to his already extensive toolbox, a particular performance against neighbours Feyenoord, where Excelsior came away with a surprising 2-1 victory, aided by Schouten’s nine key passes, led the Netherland’s top clubs to start circling.

Controlling games, creating chances, and breaking up opposition attacks, Schouten had very much proved his worth in the Eredivise, despite Excelsior’s immanent relegation, and hinted at a potential that could take him to the top.

Only 17 games into the season, Poldevaart had recognised that they wouldn’t be able to hold onto their unexpected star man for long, as Excelsior looked set to break their previous record sale, which stood at only €650,000. A typical move to Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord seemed on the cards, which left many surprised when Schouten instead moved, for €1.8 million, to Bologna in Italy at the end of the season.

Despite its unexpectedness, once again, this proved to be a very intelligent move. After only one year each at Telstar and Excelsior, Bologna, a solid mid-table Serie A side, was a place for Schouten to embed some roots, and prove his worth in one of Europe’s top five leagues.

A well-trodden route for Dutch footballers, the slow style of Italian football was adapted perfectly for Schouten’s style of play. Though he started initially on the bench for incumbent coach Miroslav Tanjga, this allowed Schouten time to bed into a new league and a new country, adapting to a new lifestyle, meaning he was prepared when new manager Sinisa Mihajlovic arrived.

A natural leader, Mihajlovic has had one of the biggest impacts on Schouten’s career to date. Steadily giving the Dutchman more and more minutes throughout this 2019/20 campaign, by December he was trusted by Mihajlovic as Bologna’s starting central-midfielder, dictating and breaking-up play, and helping guide the team to (yet another) mid-table finish.

A virtual ever-present in the COVID-19 afflicted season of 2020/21 season, he struggled with injuries at the start of this most recent campaign, but has come back and arguably played to his highest levels to date.

While not necessarily prolific, in virtually all other areas he has excelled. He has averaged 1.5 tackles, two interceptions and 1.6 clearances per game, while also recording an 84.4% pass success rate, very impressive statistics for a mid-table team. Mihajlovic has also increasingly seen him as one of the ‘leaders’ in his side, a testament to the calm, experienced head on his still youthful 25-year-old shoulders. Rumours have abounded, as in the Excelsior days, of a potential move to the Premier League, with West Ham United most closely linked, stories which will only increase in intensity with Schouten’s call-up to the national team.

On arrival in Zeist, he described himself as ‘very happy’, with Louis van Gaal’s call being a ‘dream’. For Schouten, this is not a dream that has appeared out of nowhere. This is something that has been crafted throughout an unconventional route to the national team.

While De Jong, van Dijk, and De Ligt were playing in the latter stages of the Champions League, Schouten was playing for Telstar and Excelsior, but now he is deservedly in the same team as these giants. This is down to his hard work, and the underappreciated skills of otherwise unheard of managers, managing his skillset into forming a perfectly well-rounded player. You can expect to hear his name in and around the national team set-up for many years to come.

Sam Matthews Boehmer (5 Posts)