Micky van de Ven: A ‘Cruyffian’ talent, a ‘fighter’ & set for the Premier League?

There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed Micky van de Ven was surplus to requirements at a club in the Dutch second division.

That the 22-year-old Wolfsburg defender is now being touted with a move to the Premier League, with Tottenham heavily linked, speaks volumes of the player and the project that enabled the talented defender to flourish.

Van de Ven earned his breakthrough at Volendam following Wim Jonk’s appointment in April 2019, with the new regime implementing the same ‘Plan Cruyff’ principles that proved successful at Ajax.

The teenager had been told by the previous management he was down the pecking order and free to look for another club, but was immediately handed a contract by Jonk’s staff, who spotted a “raw diamond” in their under-19s.

Van de Ven quickly grew in stature at a club focused on playing attractive football, creating a performance culture and developing young players through bespoke individual programmes.

Within six months he was a regular starter in the first team in the Dutch second tier.

“We look differently,” explains Volendam director Ruben Jongkind, the former head of talent development at Ajax who was responsible for writing and implementing Plan Cruyff.

“We have a lot of experience with youngsters. We look at strengths and we saw a Cruyffian defender – a lot of risk taking, incredible speed, I have never seen something like that.

“We also saw defensively he was a little bit weak, especially in agility, one-on-one defending, heading, some things in the tactical area. They are things we could work on.

“His special weapon was already there. I worked at Ajax with fast players, but this was incredible.”

That pace was tested in a 60m dash.

“He ran seven seconds flat,” laughs Jongkind, who has a background in athletics. “After a training session, with a standing start!”

Van de Ven’s development in Volendam, a fishing village 18 miles north of Amsterdam, was swift. He racked up 48 appearances over two seasons and captained the ‘The Other Orange’.

“We absolutely believed in his abilities,” adds Jongkind. “We have worked with Matthijs de Ligt, Noussair Mazraoui, Sergino Dest, Toby Alderweireld, Sven Botman, good defenders.

“We knew the level he could reach potentially. That is basically the same trick we did at Ajax between 2010 and 2016 – to see the strength of the players, the potential and help them develop in the right environment.

“We worked a lot on him. He gained 10kg, tactically he became much stronger. Mentally he was already strong but he gained a top-sport mindset, training hard and taking care of himself. His heading improved a lot, technically he improved.”

A landmark transfer ruling

Without the financial resources of Ajax, however, Volendam operate a sustainable transfer policy based on discovering “high-potential talents” and eventually selling them on.

Van de Ven had interest from top clubs in Spain and elsewhere, but it was Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg who signed the defender for £3.15m two years ago in a transfer that was consequential for Dutch football.

After Volendam rejected initial bids from Wolfsburg and Marseille, the player and his agent at the time, Mino Raiola, took the club to court seeking a dissolution of his contract on the grounds of an “irreparably disrupted working relationship”.

They argued a move would significantly improve his sporting and financial position.

The Arbitration Committee of the KNVB (Royal Dutch Football Association) ruled in Volendam’s favour and the club held out for a higher fee, as well as a healthy sell-on percentage of his next transfer.

Jongkind, who believed the player would one day be worth about 50m euros, says it set a precedent for clubs in the Netherlands, whose young prospects could otherwise be picked off on the cheap.

A ‘great boy’ with ‘extreme speed’

Van de Ven had to be patient during his first season in Germany, not helped by a hamstring injury, but played 90 minutes in all but one Bundesliga game as Wolfsburg finished eighth last term.

The Dutchman’s pace, now the subject of a viral online clip in which he runs the length of the pitch to make a goalline clearance, saw him clocked as the quickest centre-back in the league, registering a top speed of 22.3mph.

“Left foot, extreme speed, plays every second,” is how Wolfsburg’s managing director for sport Marcel Schafer summed him up, adding he has shown “incredible development”.

Standing at almost 6ft4in and predominantly featuring as a central defender, the versatile youngster also started six of 36 appearances in all competitions at left-back.

Compared to other centre-backs in Europe’s top five leagues, according to fbref.com, he ranked highly for progressive carries and successful take-ons and above average for pass completion (87.7%) and progressive passes, but lower on tackles, clearances, interceptions and aerial duels.

“Micky is a great boy, a really good footballer,” added Wolfsburg boss Niko Kovac.

‘He is such a winner, a fighter’

Van de Ven was called up to the Netherlands’ preliminary World Cup squad last year but is yet to make his senior debut, instead captaining the under-21s during an ultimately unsuccessful Euros campaign in Georgia this summer.

“He is such a winner, a fighter, he doesn’t want to lose, never, he will give everything,” explains Jongkind. “Off the pitch, he is growing as well.

“He was very young when he was with us and also needed to develop his personality off the pitch, you need that when you play in the Premier League.”

If that is to be at Tottenham, he appears to fit the mould for an Ange Postecoglou side looking for a left-sided centre-back expected to play expressive, attacking football.

But Van de Ven has also been linked with Liverpool, who appointed former Wolfsburg sporting director Jorg Schmadtke in January.

Either way, a Premier League move will both benefit Volendam financially and prove validation for the work taking place at the Eredivisie club.

“He is the kind of player who needs the challenge,” adds Jongkind, who always believed the youngster was destined for the top. “He fought hard to get where he had to be.

“We have tracked everything very carefully because these kinds of transfers will help Volendam enormously.

“For such a small club, something in the formula must be right – it is inspired and stimulated by Johan Cruyff, so it must be good!”

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