One to watch – Joey Veerman, the heartbeat of Heerenveen

“That boy gives balls that you do not expect…It is not a matter of seeing, but feeling where your fellow players are. Veerman has that feeling.”

“When he touches the ball, something special always comes out of his feet.”

“I really think he is the best player in the Eredivisie. Football players such as Veerman are of a dying breed.”

All of the above are recent quotes given by Rafel van der Vaart, on a young player few outside of the Netherlands will have heard of – Joey Veerman.

Some former players can only make you wince when they provide assessments on their old profession but when the ex-Real Madrid, Ajax and Tottenham Hotspur player and international centurion speaks, people tend to listen. Not only did van der Vaart have a stellar career but he has also shown himself to be an erudite pundit in his home country. 

And his glowing appraisals of Veerman are fully justified. In the Eredivisie, much of the wider focus naturally ends up being on the big boys of the division, meaning that Veerman, playing for perennial mid-table finisher Heerenveen, has arguably not had the level of recognition he deserves. Right now he is one of the most talented midfielders in the Netherlands. 

Photo credit: Voetball International

At just 22 years of age and in only his second year in the Eredivisie, he has become the heartbeat of Heerenveen. Despite his relative lack of experience and naturally being a defensive midfielder, he leads the way for number of assists in the team and is second for goals behind his namesake, free scoring forward Henk Veerman. He has already surpassed his total from his impressive debut Eredivisie campaign with approximately a third of this one still to go. 

The influence of Veerman is clearly being felt in the Dutch KNVB beker too, the Netherland’s main cup competition. Heerenveen have just reached the semi-finals following a thrilling 4-3 win over Feyenoord, with Veerman directly contributing to a third of their goals in the tournament (2 goals, one assist). If they can get through an ominous tie against Ajax, they will fancy their chances in the final against either Vitesse or VVV. Even though they recently turned 100 years old, Heerenveen only have a single Dutch Cup in their trophy cabinet – Veerman could therefore be inspiring history for his club as well as new admirers. 

Photo credit: Goal.com

Originally signed from second tier FC Voldendam in August 2019 as a future prospect to break up play and lay the foundations for his more attack-minded colleagues, it has become quickly apparent that Veerman offers a whole lot more. He has been described as a traditional Dutch midfielder in the mould of Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong. 

As is clear from the van der Vaart quotes, Veerman is a natural on the ball and is at his most effective as a box-to-box midfielder who can do as much damage in the final third as he can preventing it in his own. According to data taken from before gameweek 24, for midfielders per match across the division, he is currently 2nd for successful dribbles (2.7), 1st for accurate long passes (6.8), and 2nd for shots outside the box (1.7). His short and long range passing is of a high quality, enabling him to play in tight areas or quickly launch attacks to Heerenveen’s pacey wide players such as Benjamin Nygren, exploiting the high defensive lines normally seen in the Eredivisie. A combination of being extremely technical and having a good vision and understanding of the game means Veerman can play in multiple positions, most recently to the left of an attacking front three. Such versatility is rare for a player with so few top-level games under his belt. 

Photo credit: Omrop Fryslan

Another feather to Veerman’s cap is that he looks, without tempting fate, like someone who is not injury-prone. Since he arrived at the Abe Lenstra Stadium, he has started 43 out of 46 Eredivisie games, coming off the bench for two and missing just one through injury. From the 23 games he has begun this campaign he’s only failed to play the full 90 minutes on four occasions – and each of the times he was substituted came in the final ten minutes. That is remarkable durability, even if he is young.

To ask why there hasn’t been more noise about Veerman is a valid question and could well be down to who he is playing for and the fact he isn’t showcasing his talents in European competition. He is currently contracted to 2024 but is valued at less than £10 million pounds, meaning interest this summer is surely incoming. He will need to improve in certain areas if he is to thrive in one of the “big” European leagues where there is traditionally less time on the ball, and there is an argument that he could do with a couple more years in the Eredivisie, which seems ideal for him at present. However, he could dominate the midfield for a whole host of sides and it would not be surprising if he wasn’t wearing Heernveen’s distinctive blue and white kit next season. 

Photo credit: Leeuwarder Courant

It’s also notable that the man born in Purmerend, north of Amsterdam, has yet to represent his country other than a single Under-19 appearance. One would think that would change for the World Cup qualifiers this month, a crucial round of fixtures for those such as Veerman wanting to make a late push for the European Championship squad. 

Down the years Heerenveen has acted as an important stepping stone for players who have gone on to have fine careers. Think Ruud van Nistelrooy, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jon Dahl Tomasson. Judging from Veerman’s performances this year, his natural ability and substantial potential, there could soon be another name to add to that list. 

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