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As you may have guessed from the title, this is very much a positive piece. And keeping that in mind, you’ll understand why it will therefore include several zestful statements. Therefore it makes sense to start with one…
If Sven Botman was playing for one of the so-called ‘big clubs’, rather than Ligue 1 side Lille, he would be getting a whole lot more attention, appraisals and general shop window interest.
It wouldn’t be a long-shot to suggest that the first time many football fans will have heard of the recently turned 22-year old Dutchman was when he was linked with Newcastle United this January transfer window, as part of their Saudi-Arabian motor (oil) fuelled spending spree to keep them in the Premier League. If rumours are to be believed, Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side would be willing to let him go for £45 million. Although The Athletic has now reported that he will not be sold at any price.
So here is bold statement number two – Botman is simply far too good for a side who could easily be in English football’s second tier next season. He is a naturally left-footed centre half who is dominant in their air, fast across the ground and composure personified on the ball. At first glance he looks like an old-school bruiser of a defender yet blends this with an unexpected silkiness, as if someone in a lab has created a Vinnie Jones / Virgil van Dijk hybrid footballer. Indeed last November, The Oranje was predicting that Botman could be the man to eventually step into the giant shoes of the Netherland’s leader.
It cannot be doubted that Botman is a player who deserves to remain in the Champions League, where he currently is with Lille at least for this season, and who equally deserves to be recognised as one of the best young defenders in European football right now. Will he get that at Newcastle? With all due respect to their brilliant fanbase, the answer is a clear no.
This is a player, who having been plucked from Ajax after only one full season in the Eredivisie on loan at SC Heerenveen, instantly went straight into the heart of the defence of a Lille team that broke the stranglehold of PSG by famously winning the 2020/21 Ligue 1 title. In his debut campaign he only missed one league match. In those 37 appearances, Lille kept a clean sheet on an impressive 20 occasions, including away to a PSG team containing Kylian Mbappé, Angel Di Maria and Neymar. They only lost once all season with him in the team. He was the cement in the Lille defensive brick wall alongside the experienced Captain Jose Fonte.
This season hasn’t so far been as fruitful, with Lille suffering a dramatic fall from grace into mid-table mediocrity. Yet the blame for this shouldn’t be dropped at the door of Botman, who has missed a big chunk of time due to a groin injury. The current domestic problems at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy stadium lie very much elsewhere. In Europe, the man born in Badhoevedorp south west of Amsterdam, returned to help Lille achieve qualification from their Champions League Group – an important achievement not just for the French league but as a reward for the fine efforts of the Lille players last season. If he remains at the club this month, Botman will have a chance to show off his qualities to a wider audience in February, when Lille take on the defending European Champions Chelsea in the next round.
Arguably, through no fault of his own it has been the diminished opportunities to show his talent to a more global audience that have allowed Botman to run slightly under the radar. It is remarkable that he has still yet to receive a first international cap, considering some of the Netherland’s recent struggles. There was genuine surprise when both him and Perr Schuurs were left out of the Dutch Euro 2020 squad in order to play in the U21 tournament, despite the enormous void left by the injured Van Dijk. Could Botman have helped Frank de Boer’s preferred back 3 and prevent their early-round exit? You can guess the opinion of this writer. One would hope that both Botman and Schuurs make it into this winter’s World Cup squad, although new Manager Louis Van Gaal didn’t pick either for their final crucial qualifiers. Perhaps he should take note that the Botman and Schuurs central defensive axis helped the Dutch to the semi-finals of the U21 tournament, where they lost a tight match to eventual Champions Germany.
And so finally we come to bold statement number three – Botman would be a fine addition to many of those mega-European clubs currently stumbling around under the pressure of living up to their past successes – think Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus to name but three. He has all the natural attributes required of a top-level centre back, has significant potential, is a natural leader and has shown he can deliver in high-pressure environments. His transfer value is only going to go up in the coming seasons.
Undervalued and underappreciated? Perhaps. Yet full-scale appreciation of Sven Botman as a top defender is only just around the corner. What will be intriguing in the months to come is finding out which club comes to that conclusion first.