Manager Peter Bosz has already left Ajax to join Borussia Dortmund and it’s unlikely he’ll be the only one to depart from the Europa League finalists. However, Veltman is slightly different compared to some of the other players that are rumoured to leave the club. He is “already” 25, has played sixteen times for the Dutch National Team and is probably approaching his peak in the next couple of years. With his contract at the Dutch club running out in 2018, there is a high chance the Defender will leave the club in the summer with Tottenham supposedly being a party that is interested. So, who is he anyway?
Under the reign of Bosz, Veltman has mostly played at right back but he is a centre-back by trade. Thinking about centre-backs at Ajax in the last 5-10 years, two names spring to mind: Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Both of them obviously like the defensive work that naturally comes with that position but they’re at their best with the ball at the feet either running into midfield with it or playing crossfield balls to teammates. Does Veltman fit into the same mould?
When it comes to long range passing he definitely does, and so much so that people were suggesting he should be the one to replace Mats Hummels when he left Dortmund for Bayern. He is able to switch the play across the pitch with accuracy and can thus relieve pressure and make use of space that has opened up on the other side of the pitch due to the opposition shifting over. In general, he is extremely happy to go long when necessary, averaging ten attempted long balls per game with an accuracy of 63%.
Obviously, a high volume of long balls with a good accuracy means nothing in isolation but looking through his collection of long range passing most of the passes do have a distinct purpose. One of these can obviously be relieving pressure:
This is especially useful against teams who like to press high because being able to play it over the press and thus circumvent is is usually easier than trying to play through it because that requires several players with press resistancy. The other sort of game where it can be useful is against a deep block to stretch it vertically by having players who are comfortable with creating from deep positions. The best for this are linebreaking ground passes but only the best players in the world can play these on a consistent basis.
We have now established that Joel Veltman is indeed a ball-playing defender. But obviously, Passing is not the only part of being that. The second most important part – apart from the package of defensive work – is Dribbling. A ball-playing central defender is a good ball-playing central defender when he has the ability to make his way out of sticky situations or to win ground when stepping out of the defensive line.
When Ajax started into the 2016/17 season, they had three centre-backs who were rumoured to be possible starters: Davinson Sanchez, Nick Viergever and Joel Veltman. To know the exact reasons why Veltman got shifted to the right side one would have to ask Peter Bosz, but the aforementioned verticality and his Dribbling abilities might be one of the main reasons for this decisions. With Ajax playing a back four the centre backs gets less options to go forward and step out of the defensive line than he a) gets in a back three and b) gets as a Fullback in a back four. Also, the risk associated with dribbling is lower when you start from a wide position as opposed to starting from a central position.
Another thing that he does well is reading the game. He has a good sense of knowing where the next opposition pass will go. It is something that Bosz really liked about him and it is one of the reasons why he is a good proactive defender be it on right right or in the centre of the defense.
The picture gathered from his strength make it seem like he would be a really good wide defender in a system that plays with three defenders or with a defensive/central midfielder that drops deep to split up the centre backs making the supposed interest from Tottenham seem logical. He can play right back too but he always said he is still learning that role so it is to assume that any team interested in him is interested in the centre-back Veltman. Giving him more space and freedom than you would give to any central defender is certainly not advisable. That being said, it is hard to know how exactly he copes under intense physical pressure in terms of pressing.
That being said, there are some more obvious issues with him that a team that wants to sign him has to be alert to. For most teams he probably wouldn’t be explosive enough as a fullback making him a non-ideal player in transition situations either offensively or defensively. If a team that requires fullbacks to a) be heavily involved in attacking and b) be able to make recovery runs on a consistent basis wants to sign him, they probably shouldn’t be playing the Dutchman at right back.
There are also questions to be asked about his decision making and his ability in tight 1v1 situations. Against Schalke he got booked for persistent fouling in areas where it wasn’t required because he was trying too hard to win the ball and grab the game back that was slipping out of Ajax’s hands. Just ten minutes later he received the second yellow for the incident above. Instead of trying to get on the inside of Bentaleb, who was always going for the one-two with Meyer, he simply blocked Bentaleb’s path and for some time it looked like he would be someone to blame for Ajax being knocked out of the Europa League. In general, doing the reactive part of defending.
There is also some physical growth to be done dependent on which club he decides to join. I am not expert when it comes to the Eredivise but there are leagues that tend to favour more physical central defenders like the Premier League where teams like Arsenal or Tottenham should keep an eye out for Veltman.