Stars missing the WC: Stefan de Vrij

Around this time, there is always talk about great players who won’t be at the tournament. In this case, the likes of Frabegas, Sane, Nainggolan and others come to mind, but we will focus on the Dutch stars missing out.

The first one in the series, is Stefan de Vrij. Probably our best player with the least media exposure.

Here’s a guy who scored at a World Cup, played four seasons in the top of Italy (as a defender) and who was (is?) on many a wishlist for big clubs all across Europe.

He would be “the least likely to succeed” in Feyenoord’s year book if Feyenoord would have a year book…

While the 26 year old gets his top transfer this summer (5 seasons at Inter Milan), our memories go back to 2011, when the anger, despair and frustration seaps from the Feyenoord stands on to the pitch, where a young De Vrij makes his way to the tunnel in tears. Feyenoord loses at home 0-1 vs De Graafschap and is 14th in the Eredivisie. In a period where the club from Rotterdam gets beating after beating, it’s players like Wijnaldum, Fer and Castaignos who symbolise the hope in Rotterdam. But Stefan de Vrij is the ugly duckling. Always needing to swim upstream but drowning on that January night.

De Vrij, born ten kilometers from Rotterdam in Ouderkerk aan den IJssel (basically “Old Church on the river IJssel”). A little village. Where indeed the church rules. On Sunday, the shops are closed, no football club is in action and where Stefan de Vrij grew up a shy lad.

He makes his way to Feyenoord’s youth system. All the experts have seen it. There is a right footed defender now at Feyenoord, who will most likely make it to the first team, make it into the Dutch team and is set for greatness. But they’re not talking about De Vrij, but about the six months younger lad Jeffrey Bruma, signed from Excelsior Bruma is a city kid. Bit mouth, and always ready to win an argument with a fight. A big contrast with the village kid from Ouderkerk: shy and down to Earth.

It’s hard for Stefan. Young Jeffrey is invited to play in the older teams, in place of De Vrij. Bruma is also picked for the different rep teams of their age group, and De Vrij is not. In 2006, Chelsea shows up, with a bag of money and promises.

A young De Vrij in his typical Dutch little village….

Feyenoord is not happy, but for De Vrij, this is good news. But, he still isn’t the go to player for the central defenders role. Feyenoord also has Karim Rekik. He’s also younger than Stefan but has the personality of a leader and draws most of the attention. Luckily for De Vrij, also the attention from Manchester City. So Rekik leaves too and it’s the decisions made by others that will influence Stefan’s career. Still he is a question mark.

Feyenoord protects its big talents with early contracts. The fact that De Vrij gets his first contract when he turns 17 years old is a typical sign. Only months later, he makes his debut in the first team.

In 2014, Lazio Roma pays millions for the defender and at that time, it seems very logical. He played 150 matches for Feyenoord, played 20+ international games, won a bronze World Cup medal, but that De Vrij would become one of Europe’s top defenders…no one could know….

And Stefan now, the cosmopolitan defender in Rome, next stop Milan

In Stefan’s career, it seems the decisions by others were key for him. There were not a lot of coaches who recognised his qualities and said: right! He’s my man! Look at De Vrij’s debut season under Mario Been in 2009.

De Vrij is brought into the squad as the last player that summer. And he would finish the season as starting player. Because right back Dani Fernandez gets a serious injury. His replacement Kelvin Leerdam, gets a serious injury. His replacement Bandjar…you guessed it…gets injured. Been doesn’t get more money to sign another right back, so De Vrij gets the job.

Mario Been uses De Vrij as right back and is quite clear in the media and press conferences, that this is an emergency move. Been also states that if Bruma wouldn’t have gone to Chelsea, he would have had the spot.

De Vrij doesn’t impress as right back. But the criticism is mild, as expectations about him were never high and everyone at Feyenoord knows it’s not his spot.

He does get a chance to play centrally. For the away game vs PSV Eindhoven, Ron Vlaar is injured, so De Vrij gets the spot. Feyenoord loses that match 10-0. The biggest defeat ever and the beginning of the end for Mario Been. The match at home vs De Graafschap is the real low for De Vrij. Feyenoord falls to the 14th spot and De Vrij is crying his heart out in the dressing room. Been made a public call to his management to free up funds for defensive reinforcements. The answer is: No!

Mario Been now: “He was a very quiet and sweet lad. And he struggled against really tough strikers and quick and agile wingers. He’s not a born athlete, he is not a quick mover but when he played centrally, you could see him improve. Centrally, his build up pass and positioning became apparent as strengths. Stefan does see situations earlier than others. That is his strength. And Vlaar was a great mentor for him, he learned a lot from Ron.”

De Vrij started to work on himself, more and more. So much so that Koeman took his captains band, when he found out Stefan was in the gym without the consent of the Feyenoord medical staff. He kept on searching to better himself and develop, mentally, physically, mentally. He studied Neurolinguistic programming for instance, to focus better and even worked with renowned guru Wim Hof, the Iceman, to learn about the health benefits of ice-baths and breating techniques. And to this day, he analysis every match he plays via FaceTime with the tactical analysis company Your Tactical Analyst.

No more Mr Nice Guy

De Vrij as the symbol of a club, almost dead. In every aspect. In a sports-sense and financially. But also the symbol of the resurrection. Ronald Koeman comes and he uses De Vrij centrally, first next to mentor Vlaar and later next to Joris Mathijsen. Koeman gives him the #3 jersey and gives him confidence. In the 2013/14 season, he plays centrally with his mate Bruno Martins Indi, a lad he played with in all his youth teams and a close friend.

Feyenoord is back at the top, and finishes just 4 points behind Ajax. De Vrij plays a strong World Cup under Van Gaal and bang: his move to Rome is there.

And now, after 4 seasons there, he will make his next step in a career propulsed forward by coincidence and circumstance. De Vrij’s character and personality pulled him through. He didn’t get swimming lessons, or training wheels, he was just pushed in and told to fake it until he made it. And he made it.

And it was Feyenoord’s bad spell that create this top defender. In any other club, De Vrij would have been replaced. Feyenoord had to use him and grew, because he was allowed to fail. He learned and developed as a result of all his mistakes.

And this made him a top defender. He’s not the strongest, not the quickest, but he reads the game ever so well, and is strong positionally. And he is able to place the ball on your necktie over 50 yards. He’s hardly ever in panic and never got a red card in his career.

This season, he also was the most scoring defender in the Serie A and was #3 in the list of top ball retainers, behind Torreira and his new colleague at Inter Skriniar.

There might be a lesson to be learned from his career trajectory. Let’s see how El Ghazi, Adam Maher, Bazoer and others go in the years to come…

That goal!

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  1. I wouldn’t say De Vrij is great but he is definitely a very good defender in my opinion. Bad move by going to Inter. Inter is a black hole. Ugly club, ugly soccer. I like Lazio much better. The only upgrade in Italy would have been Juve. Glad he got his payday though.

    1. I would have agreed with you two seasons back that Inter is a black hole, ugly club and play ugly soccer. After the chinese took over from erick thohir, inter have gone through massive overhaul and this has also come with appointment of spalletti as the new coach. Them qualifying for champions league or if not the qualifers , had the format didnt change also signifies their resurgence.

      How can his move be a bad move when inter is in CL.I would say it will be a step up for him and an opportunity to reach his absolutely peakplaying at the biggest stage in europe. His move from feyenoord did help him improve at lazio and should he he take another step up at Inter, well good for NT.

      1. With wolfburg surving the relegation in bundasliga.the backline should be focused around De ligt, Bruma, De Vrij and Van Dijk should koeman decide to go with 4 man defense.Ake and Riedewald as further backup.

  2. My Mind is still thinking about how can we form a balancing complementing team..
    I do have still doubts on koeman He had selected Blind who was not playing for long time…Just to give some match time…..
    Why didnt he he gave same chance to Bazoer???where infact we clearly lack a purefootballing holding DM..???
    Vilhena—-Vanginkel—–Frenkie dejong—

    1. Unimpressive French side gets a lucky pk. As always.

      The aussie touches the ball first and moves it out of reach before the French trips on his legs. How can that be a foul?

        1. Vanfadly Antony Martial is far more productive than Ousmane dembele…Its s sin sin to drop such players…
          You cannot omit productive players and win a tournament,,or vene Qualify
          Klassen VS Propper..
          France might reach semi ,i dont see them winning teh trophy…..

  3. i want Arjentina to pack their bags sooner…Too much Messi fans….They dont care about Macherano,who still their key player…if not him Iceland would have won the game….

  4. France had a lucky escape, very soft penalty, the Aussies did much better than I thought they would, not too defensive either.
    Argentina will be kicking themselves, poor pen by Messi and a couple of real close shots, Iceland continue to overachieve well done to them!
    The unluckiest so far has to be Peru, man they had so many chances to score , Casper Schmicel deserves a medal for his performance.

    It really sucks without Holland when you have so many footballing minnows in the tournament, one thing I have noticed is that no team so far that I have seen has played a slow back passing style of play like we have been doing for the past couple of years, it has been fast paced with lots of goals and shots thus far, very entertaining to watch. Koeman take note!

    Looking forward to watching England play, I expect big things from them this time, especially with 5 Spurs in the team.

  5. Is it jus me or others also think Joachim low as made the same mistake as what Bert Van Mawijk did in 2012. Ozil and Khedira are done. Gundagon and Sane were in better form at City. I wonder if his A#s scratched this time or no. Big mistake not selecting sane who I would say his was in better form than both Reus and Muller. Boeteng is also a question after his injury return. Sweden like Iceland for Argentina wont be a walk over team.

    1. @Wilson, I was thinking the same watching the Germany-Mexico match…not about Van Mar’s selections, but whether Loew was relying too heavily on that generation of players. In the 1st half, the work rate wasn’t there, and it led to gaps between the defensive and the mf which Mexico exploited, ruthlessly. Second half, Germany was better, so not sure. I do wonder whether, now in their 3rd WC, Muller, Ozil, Kroos, Khedira still have it in them over the month. If Mexico stays ahead of Germany, and Brazil wins its group (though Serbia could give Brazil problems), Germany and Brazil will play in the round of 16, if I’m not mistaken…and that, as you say, is even if Germany quaifies. Sweden won’t give anything away, that is for sure.

        1. No…De Jong was not done….He was done at 2015…Aftert 2014Wc…Bommel selection was biased over strootman…i feel sympathy for strootman…the guy was in terrific form but sat on bench for Bommel…so cruel bias by stubborn bert…Our Dark 4 years with stubborn coach and some excellent players..
          Hardly he changed playing 11 …Even in Frinedly he never gave chance to new comers ,when given there was injury..or last 10 minutes..then next game they dont play…He cot us 2010WC by playing kuyt as winger and benching Vaart …..that was a sin….He got paid…Next time he made too much mistekaes he got humiliated in 2012..
          Under him we got a name from totalfootball nations to football thugs…

          1. Tiju, sorry but let me correct some facts:

            Final 2010: Possession was 45-55 during the 90 mins… we are the only team that didn’t get dominated. Germany was like 70-30 in the semi.

            Strootman was part of the 4-2-3-1 during the attrocious friendly versus Germany Nov 2011 BEFORE the EK. He was terrible a complete headless chicken

            Thugs: See Sergio Ramos. See Argentina 78. Our guys know how the latinos (no offense here truly just stating the fact) behave so they gave it to them before they give to us.

            Every team goes through ascend, peak and descent. See Germany now. All of a sudden Low is not loved like before. Pull out thousands of posts from this board that make a God out of him, the german development system etc etc

          2. Jus for your info. Strootman did feature in the Euro qualifiers and he did start over De Jong and in some games over van bommel. To say that strootman was in better form than either of Van Bommel and De Dong at that time is totally unjustifiable. Milan had a very good season both in Serie A and in champions league while man city also won the EPL prior to the Euros that season. How on earth could a coach overlook players who were in their absolute prime. Also regarding been biased, again for you info he subbed van bommel for van der vaart vs germany and vs Portgual vaart played full 90. Van der vaart was always a cover up for de jong and van bommel. Now dont you tell me that strooman was also better than van der vaart. What you are talking about is some of your made up crap jus to baseline your prediction.and lineups which you always shit every time. Even schaars was on the bench as further backup to either and who never got to play.

            Though bert learned it the hard way but still club performance always gives players the edge over others especially when it comes selection time.

            This is why I always say before you write GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT.

  6. Poll from AD:

    Wat heb je liever?

    Je favoriete club wint de Champions League(29%)
    Nederland wint het WK (71%)

    I think no translation is necessary LOL … Aaargh… when ????

    so far the only game I enjoyed was Mexico-Germany…

  7. I was just thinking if NT would have qualified, what would have been the lineup and how would they fared up looking at the games that have finished.

    1. We have one of the best defensive lines out there and IMO perhaps the best duo of CBs of all times with Van Dijk and De Ligt. Obviously the big powers are tired from the many games and they are vulnerable. I think Belgium and Sweden are our proxies, watch how these do that could have been us … What a pity not to be there, just some quirks of fate on top of many mistakes but it was still possible.

      I think the 8 were possible. And even if not the experienced gathered would be tremedously valuable.

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