• Tom Abadie


The Dutch first division has always revealed some extremely talented players, from the likes of Dutch superstars such as Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder or Robin Van Persie, but also increasingly players from abroad.

With extremely well-developed scouting networks, the Dutch clubs have been able to recruit some gems throughout the globe, while still keeping very good academies. This is their only way to not only to survive financially, with big yard sales every summer to top European teams, but also enables them to be very competitive in European competitions, on a tighter budget. Although helped by the fact they have six teams engaged in continental competitions this season, the Netherlands are currently toping the charts when it comes to UEFA coefficient points score this season, showing how well the league is doing at the moment, notably with Ajax being one of the best teams in the continent this season. However, while players like Haller, Tadic (Ajax) Madueke (PSV) are usually in the limelight, deservedly so, other players have slipped under the radar and deserve some credit for their good starts to the season.

Cyril Ngonge – 21 years old, FC Groningen

The Belgian youngster has been thriving this season at heart of Groningen’s attack. While his side might be struggling at the bottom of the table, far from their European objectives, Ngonge has certainly delivered some very good performances, enabling his team to stay afloat in the league. In 10 starts, Uccle born striker scored 6 goals, playing an instrumental role in his sides draws against Sparta Rotterdam, Twente and in the derby against Heereveen. However, his moment of the season came this past weekend, as he scored one of the goals of the season against top side AZ Almaar. A cross from teammate El Hankouri from the left was arriving behind him, a few quick movements enabled him to position his body perfectly and a Zlatanesque backheel finish into the top corner saw him become Groningen fans’ hero of the day. Hitting it just as it came, the ex-Club Brugge and PSV player saw him truly hit home his status of star of the club, after arriving this summer from RKC Waalwijk. Playing off the right, he is a technically gifted forward, able to run into space with darting runs. While he can still progress in his decision making and his final passes, having yet to score an assist this season, he is undoubtedly the best player in the northern part of the country. Accompanied by promising midfield Tomas Suslov and Swedish attacker Paulos Abraham, there is certainly hope that the win against AZ will put the club back on track to climb the table in weeks to come.

Cody Gakpo – 22 years old, PSV Eindhoven

Born and raised in the area, the Dutch forward is certainly not unknown to top clubs’ scouts. While Madueke steals the show at times, his association with the Englishman and Mario Götze in the front line of Roger Schmidt’s side has been electric this season. He is amongst Europe’s 99th percentile for shot creating actions, expected assists and 97th percentile for Non-penalty goals and dribbles completed (Source: FBREF). He is a very complete left forward, capable of using his athleticism to run past players at ease but also use his silky technique to get out of tricky situations when glued to the side of the pitch. However, he is much more than that. In his position, he is also amongst the 98th percentile for blocks and 99th for interceptions, with an average 1.94 interceptions per game this season. This not only shows that everyone is implicated in Schmidt’s high pressing plans, but also that he has the physicality to press and still have enough in the tank for attacking runs into the box. Standing at a tall 1m87, he is robust but also incredible mobile and has been able to show that this season, at club and country levels. He currently tops the Eredivisie charts for assists with 7, and has another 3 goals in the league and 2 more in the Europa League. An additional 2 goals came in the 6 qualification games to the Champions League, which PSV eventually lost out to Benfica. This brings him to a total of 14 goal contributions in 18 games, a very good total for a player destined to move on this summer to bigger things if he keeps up these standards. His ankle injury sustained last week however kept him out of the clash against Ajax on the weekend and will keep him on the side-lines for a few weeks, missing key games against Monaco and Twente. With Madueke out with a thigh injury, this could be a real test of PSV’s depth, with Bruma and Zahavi starting ahead of the pair in the 5-0 loss to Ajax.

Lisandro Martinez – 23 years old, Ajax Amsterdam

Not the tallest of centre-backs, the Argentinian has certainly been one of the most consistent players in Ten Haag’s team in the past few months. Moved to left-back or central defensive midfielder at times, he excels wherever his manager asks him to play. While not being the strongest defender, he does however compensate with his pure grit and willingness to gain the ball in order to win aerial duels. His South American roots do show when he goes in for a tackle, but he does mostly use his brain and always finds the right place to be in, and the right timing to make an interception. More importantly than his defending, Martinez always shows a will to go forward, whatever position he is in. He obviously has more freedom as a left back, but even in the middle of the park, you do tend to see him carry the ball out from the back and break the first line of press. This is crucial in Ten Haag’s team; it enables Ajax to be on the front foot as soon as they gain possession and explode on the counter. He is not only a great at holding the ball and moving it forward, but also able to make great passes after skipping past one or two players. He stays cool and can deliver a great ball over the top to his wingers and increasingly towards the main target man, Sébastien Haller. He is in the top 99th percentile in terms of passes attempted, trying over 88 per game, and averaging a 91.2% completion rate, which is very good for a centre-back (Source: FBREF). Contributing to 3 assists in 9 league games, this season definitely feel like the confirmation season, after showing huge promises in his first two season in the Netherlands. Arriving from Argentinian side Defensa in the summer of 2019, he was also part of the national squad that won the Copa America for the first time since 1993. He played the full game against Bolivia but stayed on the bench for the rest of the tournament. In competition with 30-year-old Betis defender Pezzela for a starting spot, he should be arriving in the team very soon. A bright future ahead for the Argentinian, who could be leave Amsterdam in the years to come for a top European side. In the meantime, he can continue enjoying his football in the Johan Cruijff ArenA, playing his best football.

Luis Sinisterra – 22 years old, Feyenoord

Speedy and technical South American wingers have come and gone over the years, many of whom seem to just crash after very promising debuts in their home country and a disastrous move to Europe. From Colombia, many forwards seem to be flourishing at the moment, with Muriel and Zapata combining at Atalanta, while Bacca and Borré are doing well for Granada and Frankfurt respectively. However, another player who is part of this new crop of players integrating the Colombian national team is Luis Sinisterra, Feyenoord’s left winger. Arriving in Rotterdam in the summer of 2018 from home club Once Caldas, he slowly started making his mark on the Dutch league. Featuring in just 5 games in his first season, he bumped up to 27 and 21 games in his following two. Averaging just under 10 goal contributions a season in these last two, he is already on 6 this season, showing a good progression in the final third. However, with Sinisterra, it is a lot more than just the end stats. While starting on the left flank, he does float throughout the pitch and brings danger from the whole front of the Feyenoord attack. Always available in space, his quick decision making and slick technique enables him to create chances for his teammates throughout games. You will find him less often picking up the ball and running at defences, preferring a sweet through ball into space, showing a real maturity at 22 already. While his team is struggling this year to piece it together, currently standing in 8th, he has definitely delivered the goods. He played an integral part last week in his team’s win in the Conference League against Union Berlin, scoring the final of 3 goals to clinch a crucial win on the road to qualification. The progressive development of the Colombian has not gone unnoticed, with clubs in Spain scouting him closely. However, another season in the Netherlands could be good for him, unless he hits double figures in goal contributions early on into the season, then he can truly feel he has confirmed his level. Until then, there is no doubt hard work and dedication to doing well will be his key mottos in the months to come.

Joey Veerman – 22 years old, Heerenveen

This young Dutch central midfielder definitely has something special. Not playing for a top team in the Netherlands limits your exposure to a broader audience, but Veerman does not care about that in the least, as he carries on playing his best football. Spending most of his career in hometown Volendam, with the professional club currently in the Dutch second division, he moved to the Eredivisie in late August 2019, joining northern club Heerenveen. Playing as a deep-lying playmaker, the 22-year-old has a great eye for a pass, particularly in the back of the defence for his wingers, or in the feet of target man Siem De Jong. Deployed either as the deepest player in midfield, he is more often playing as an 8 on the left of a 3-man midfield, enabling him to move inside and use his right boot to switch play. Standing tall on 1m85, he is technically gifted and can get out of any situation. Often dropping off to pick up the ball deep into his half, he can skip past players at ease, using his physicality and technique to dribble past opponents, before unleashing a wicked ball to a teammate. While playing for a mid-table team, he certainly hasn’t been shy of the top of the table when it comes to statistics. Scoring 7 last season, he was especially renowned for his 10 assists in 2020-2021, finishing 4th in the rankings for top assists in the league that season. Already scoring once and getting 4 assists this season, he does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. With a goal contribution every other game, he is certainly on the cards for another great season. Whether he can push for much higher is another question, being the star of the show in a mid-table team does come with its own issues, but he is certainly amongst the top performers in Eredivisie this season and will help his club push for a top of the table finish. At 22, he still has time to fully develop and why not push for a side fighting for Europe in his home country or moving to Germany, where his quick thinking and technique will most definitely come in handy in a counter attacking league.