5 talents to keep an eye on in the Eredivisie

Donyell Malen after the Champions League playoff match
Donyell Malen is the man everyone is talking about in the Dutch topflight (Photo by Photo Prestige/Soccrates/Getty Images

From the 60s, when the philosophy of Total Football was refined by Rinus Michaels, to the late 80s, when Cruyff became a manager and practiced the teachings of his master. Ajax was a powerhouse of football in the previous decades but, with the uprising of the billionaire clubs, they often saw their talents taken away.

Not only Ajax but Feyenoord, PSV and other Dutch clubs, have been producing quality talented players for the last decades. Just to name a few who have come up through the ranks of these clubs in the past years we got Arjen Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Currently, Eriksen, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Wijnaldum, Depay. The Eredivisie is definitely a perfect incubator for upcoming talents.

With the international break coming ahead, we step back from analyzing leagues, to focus on individualities. We highlighted 5 players, from 5 different teams, who you should keep your eye this season.

1 – Sergino Dest (Ajax)

The Dutch champions and last season semifinalists of Champions League have a prolific academy that builds amazing players. De Ligt and Frankie de Jong put all major teams in Europe onto a bidding war. In the end, it was Juventus and Barcelona who took the two pearls.

Ajax got their feet on the ground and they started the process of rebuilding immediately after losing those two key players. Now, they are top of the Eredivisie table again, without losing a single game so far and having only conceded 6 goals.

Also, they are topping their Champions League group, with 2 victories in 2 games, both of them clean sheets.

There is plenty of known talent still in the ranks of Ajax, such as Ziyech and Donny van de Beek. Still, we decided to take a look for Sergino Dest, a Dutch-born fullback, whose father is Surinamese-American. Looking at Ajax’s current defensive record, it is worth noticing who they have at right-back.

After losing De Ligt to Juventus, Erik Ten Hag decided to put Veltman in the center back position and promote Jong Ajax academy product Sergino Dest to the right-back place. Dest has made quite an impression and he is already being asked to pledge alliance to either USA or Netherlands. Both nations want the youngster to play on their national teams.

He is just 18 years old and has played regularly as a started for Ajax. Dest registers 1.6 tackles per game and has a passing accuracy of 88.2%. He also seems to be a very discreet defender, as he hasn’t received a single yellow card in either competition.

Dest possesses a blistering pace and makes 1.2 dribbles per match. Do not be surprised if you see him being sold by a ‘gazillion’ euros in the upcoming Summer.

2 – Donyell Malen (PSV)

If you have followed any Eredivisie games of PSV Eindhoven this season, you definitely laid an eye on Donyell Malen. Probably the most upcoming striker of the Dutch topflight, Mallen has so far registered 10 goals in 9 league games.

That is not all, as he also scored 5 goals in 6 games in Europa League games and 1 in their brief playoff route in Champions League. If there was one position that the Netherlands national team was in need was a proper center forward.

Malen developed through the academy of Ajax, before going to England to join Arsenal. The ‘Gunners’ must be regretting have offloaded him back to Eredivisie, especially after he scored 5 – a manita – against Vitesse in September.

It has been a while since a proper heir to Robin Van Persie’s legacy has been seen wearing the Orange colors. Malen is 19 years old, but he has already 2 caps for the Netherlands senior national side and he scored a goal on his debut against Germany.

You might think that Malen is just another Afonso Alves – you might remember him as the most proper example of a one-season wonder. Yet, if Alves was a case study and Middlesbrough paid for it, Malen backs up his goals with solid passing and dribbling stats.

Besides registering 4.3 shots on goal per match, Malen makes 1.5 key passes per game and 1.2 successful dribbles.

3 – Calvin Stengs (AZ Alkmaar)

If Malen is already making headlines and transfer rumors everywhere, a name who might be flying under the radar is Calvin Stengs. Although the young winger has been in AZ Alkmaar’s main squad since 2017, he is only 20 and his performances keep improving.

Just like the 2 previous examples, Stengs also has Surinamese roots. The youngster has never played in Netherlands senior team, but he had made appearances for the U21.

Koeman has said that Stengs is surely going to be called into the Orange national team soon, but he ain’t ready yet. We know that the Netherlands is not lacking players for creative positions, but Stengs seems more than ready to give the step.

In the current season, Stengs has 5 goals and 5 assists in 14 appearances and he is one of the keys to AZ Alkmaar’s stable season start. Stengs makes 2.4 shots per game, 1.8 successful dribbles and 1.9 key passes per game. He has also quite some success in through balls, sending 2.7 successful long passes.

A versatile player, Stengs can play in most attacking positions, including right and left wings and even play in midfield.

However, if you think your team will have it easy to get a winger like Stengs, be aware that he renovated in April his contract with AZ until 2023.

4 – Luis Sinisterra (Feyenoord)

The first player not born in the Netherlands from our list is right-winger Luis Sinisterra. Born in Colombia, Sinisterra came through the ranks of Once Caldas where he played for 2 seasons, making over 45 appearances.

In 2018, Feyenoord Rotterdam came calling and the Colombian signed a 3-year contract with the club. It is fair to say that Feyenoord is not having the best season start so far, being in the 9th position, with a goal difference of just 1.

However, Sinisterra qualities should not be overshone by his current team’s performances. The recent call to the Colombia main team it’s a reward for the 20-year-old performances.

Luis is able to play both as right-winger or right-back and even as a forward, where he has been used regularly by Jaap Stam. Still, if Sinisterra only scored 1 goal and made 2 assists this season, his defensive record is impressive for a player who acts mostly is in the attacking positions.

He averages 1.6 tackles per game and has a passing accuracy of 81%. Besides, he registers 3.3 successful dribbles per match and is only dispossessed 1.6 times in each.

In a team that is having an underwhelming campaign, besides their positive Europa League run, where they have beaten Porto, Sinisterra might be one of the few worth keeping an eye on.

5 – Sven Botman (Heerenveen)

Heerenveen is in the 9th place and having a discreet season start (they are 8th), but their defensive record jumps on sight. They are the only team outside the top 3 who have less than 10 goals conceded so far in the 9 matches played.

Their duo of centrebacks is constituted of two under 23 players. One is Ibrahim Dresevic, who is born in Sweden, but has pledged alliance to Kosovo national team. The other one is just 19, and it’s Sven Botman.

Botman is another product of the Jong Ajax, the academy of Ajax. Without having a chance for the main team, the youngster was loaned to fellow Eredivisie side Heerenveen and he is making quite an impression.

The Dutch defender played all the minutes of the 9 Eredivisie games so far, having made already an assist. Plus, he averages 5.4 tackles per game and 1.3 interceptions. Botman also is rarely dispossessed, showing a maturity in defense that is rare for his age.

With an 84.2% pass accuracy and 2.8 successful long balls, he seems not only to be able to defend, but also build the attack. It is a safe bet that Ajax will rescue their player in the upcoming season, but we will be eager to see if another team anticipates the move and ‘steals’ the talent.

One thing is for sure: if Van Dijk and De Ligt are the most likely partnership in the Dutch team for the next years, Koeman can rely on Botman to be another future option for the center of defense.

Honorable mentions

We might only have highlighted 5 players, but the Eredivisie is stacked with talent. Nigerian striker Ejuke, also from Heerenveen, has 4 goals in 9 games and he was already named in the team of the week more than once.

Mauro Junior, a Brazilian winger that PSV loaned to Heracles, is also making a mark. 3 goals so far and 1 assist, at just 20 years of age.

Also worth mentioning is Vangelis Pavlidis, who is 20 too, and has 6 goals in 8 games for Willem II. Since Willem has only scored 11 goals, Pavlidis has scored more than half of his team’s goals.

You might have also noticed we missed Mohamed Ihattaren, but we opted for picking one player from each team only. Ihattaren is just 17 years old, but he is one of the brightest talents in the Netherlands, being part of the winning under 17 team that won the Euro Cup in 2018.

He is an attacking midfielder, who has already racked 2 assists in 5 games this season.

Who else did we miss in our list? Who would you add? Keep track of the Eredivisie schedule and do not miss a match.

About Jorge Costa 117 Articles
Jorge Costa is a freelance journalist, with a Masters Degree in Journalism and Communication, through the University of Coimbra, Portugal. He specializes in sports and soccer in particular.

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