COVID-19 cancelled not only matches but a lot of transfers which could have been completed but were not due to financial fragilities. You would imagine, after his stellar first season at SC Heerenveen, Joey Veerman would have been on the shortlist of many European clubs if it were not for the global pandemic.
Capable of playing equally well as a #6, #8, or #10, he is the sui generis of the Eredivisie. At 6’0”, Veerman is a player worthy of that compliment. He has made tremendous growth in the 17 months of playing time at the summit of Dutch football. He has become the fulcrum of a side looking to rise the table.
His mentality cannot be placed under question either. He got a broken bone in his foot in 2018, which manifested itself in other areas of his foot, side-lining him for a longer interval. Heerenveen took advantage of this down period, paying €550,000 for him, much less than his asking price before the injury. In this scout report, we will analyse what value Heerenveen are getting.
Veerman began his footballing career at his local club, FC Volendam, a short distance north-east of Amsterdam. He broke into their first team as a 17-year-old in the Eerste Divisie, after making a wonderful first impression with his well-versed skillset. It was not long until he won the club’s Player of the Year award, in fact, it was that very same season. Eredivisie clubs were quickly made aware of his talents, but Volendam kept him for another season.
As we mentioned, Heerenveen took advantage of a down period, bringing him in for a snip of what he will eventually be sold for. Fans of the club can be very grateful for this decision, as not only is he a fantastic midfielder, but he can be mesmerising to watch on the field too. Veerman glides across the pitch with an elegant poise so reminiscent of some of the very best to come out of the Netherlands over the years. He possesses excellent technical ability with a range of surprises up his sleeve.
Veerman has two outstanding talents: press resistance and passing. As a central midfielder, being press resistant is becoming ever more significant to make it at the highest level, especially in a division such as the EPL, where you are allowed very little time to think on the ball. He regularly scans his vicinity, so much so that it sometimes feels like he has a bird’s eye view on the pitch. It enables the Dutchman to receive possession in any situation and operate with a controlled tempo.
Veerman’s player profile, created by the wonderful Sathish Prasad (@SathishPrasadVT on Twitter).
Veerman’s role in Jansen’s system
As we hinted to earlier, Veerman has played as a #6, #8, and #10 this season for Heerenveen. Though, only once has he played as a pure-bred attacking midfielder (against ADO Den Haag back in November). Most frequently, Veerman will find himself operating as the left central-midfielder in a 4-3-3, with free license to roam up and down the channel. He has the work rate and stamina gauge to do so.
Positioned on the left of a midfield three, Veerman uses his right foot to open up play. He can use his stronger right foot to pass down the channel with a curve on the ball which can take the ball away from a defender. This is how Jansen’s team like to begin their attacks, and Veerman is constantly the author of their progressive endeavours. He is a vital player to Heereveen’s build-up, dropping much deeper than he would last season.
Veerman’s heatmap for the 2019/20 Eredivisie season.
If we compare Veerman’s heatmap from last season to the current one, we can see he has played a much more reserved role in the side. This season, he would look to collect the ball and look to play the vertical pass from a deeper position. He completes the second-most passes in the Heerenveen squad per 90, with 51.2 (Pawel Bochniewicz, centre-back, completes 52.7 per 90).
Even in an advanced attacking situation, Veerman is the least far forward, as he can scan all the options and play the unexpected pass.
He is an all-action midfielder in every sense of the meaning. He ranks second, first, and first, respectively for shots, key passes, and dribbles per 90 in the Heerenveen squad. That is some feat and is emblematic of his importance to Jansen’s side. Chipping in with 3.2 tackles and interceptions for a side who hold just 45% possession is respectable too, and now, we will detail just how he brings his value to the side.
Veerman’s unyielding press resistance
In possession and under pressure, Veerman’s quick-thinking and scanning stay at a high level. He keeps his composure with touches of close control that keep the ball shielded away from his opponent at all times. He is very quick to identify pressure and react accordingly, either by shifting the ball to the other side of his body or freeze his opponent with a couple of intricate touches to take it past them.
What he does best is to not overcomplicate things. Seldom will you see Veerman’s dabble in flicks and tricks which do not help his primary objective; to escape opposition pressure. His smart, small touches create time for him to dictate the game at his pace, helping his team gain a foothold in possession. He attempts a high volume of dribbles, typically down the left half-space, at a commendable 61.11% success rate.
Scatter plot of Eredivisie midfielders’ dribbles per 90 compared with successful dribbles %.
It is not uncommon to see more than two opponents entrench themselves into Veerman’s vicinity, before losing their man as he shifts his body and feet to escape any danger. More often than not, with a positive frame of mind, looking to get out of danger, then position his body to pass forwards and progress play. It helps that he has a modest weak foot, which he uses sparingly to aid him in these tricky scenarios.
Overall, his ability in tight spaces should not go under the radar, as it is one of his best attributes, and one more and more elite clubs are calling out for in the modern game. Talent is sparse in this regard, and this is part of what makes Veerman such a precocious individual. Pressing the deepest midfielder (which Veerman often is in this system) is a common tactical instruction, so being able to avoid the dangers of losing the ball in this area is very useful.
With an opponent applying pressure, Veerman remains composed, swiftly jinks his body, and moves forwards into space.
There is an air of simplicity to this piece of play. He moves forward with the ball, invites pressure, then plays a straightforward one-two to bypass the press.
His first-touch is consistent, and it aids him in receiving the ball and immediately upping the tempo of the match if necessary. He is an elegant ball carrier, as we have discussed, but there is room for improvement certainly. His agility is sometimes left wanting in congested zones, and sometimes he can be too calm under pressure and waits too long to release the ball. Thankfully, this is usually further up the pitch, where the penalty for losing the ball is much less fateful.
Veerman’s passing ability
Veerman’s calm nature in possession translates well to another side of his game, his passing. He has a range of passing which he can adapt to whatever the situation necessitates. This season, more so than last, he circulates possession in deeper areas, links play across the pitch, and plays long diagonals that find wide attackers. He has built a relationship with young Benjamin Nygren (19 y/o) this term, who is constantly found in space in a wide-right zone.
His weight of passing is something worthy of note too. He can attack teams with a high line through the use of his direct balls over defences, or he can break lines with quick, accurate passes that progress possession. The ingenuity required to pull off these high-speed passes is tough to defend against. This range of passing is enhanced by his expansive style of play; he is a high-risk, high-reward player.
Top 10 ranking for progressive passes in the 2020/21 Eredivisie season so far.
While he is not exactly efficient – you only have to look at his 76.2% pass accuracy this term – he is certainly ambitious and valuable in the right moments. He does not hesitate to attempt to find a teammate between the lines, or an attacker making a run beyond the defensive line. His deep completions per 90 (1.9) rank third in the league for central midfielders with above 450 minutes of playing time, illustrative of his actions on the field.
From inside his half, he carries the ball into space, before spotting the left-winger in space, and finding him ably with a direct, long-ball.
He is the orchestrator of this side, despite never occupying the lone defensive-midfielder role. His regular scanning aids his excellent vision so that he is aware of all of his teammate’s movements further up the pitch. His understanding of different game scenarios, and what they require, is extremely valuable since he can act on those impulses too. Although he is only in his second season with the club, as vice-captain, he can be seen frequently waving his arm to beckon players into position, to complete attacking rotations.
It is quite difficult to show without video, but here, Veerman glances up the pitch, before calling to receive the ball. He does this so he knows his next action before he takes it.
He is one of the most creative midfielders in the Netherlands, and this is thanks to all the fundamentals he lays down before even engaging in the play. He creates time for himself in harried situations and dictates the game at his tempo. He can switch from a sensible passer, who acts as a facilitator pivot in the build-up with quick, short passes, to a roaming-playmaker, who wastes no time in carrying the ball past the press and looks for an opening to break the lines and a variety of chances.
Veerman’s attacking & creativity radar for the 2020/21 Eredivisie season so far.
While his press resistance is his distinctive attribute, his passing and passing range is where he provides the most value on a football pitch. He could feasibly fit into either a possession-based side, with his orchestrator qualities, or a team who rely their attacks upon the counterattack as, when required, he needs very few touches of the ball to gather and release it, often doing so in one fluid motion.
Scatter plot of Eredivisie midfielders’ xA per 90 compared with assists per 90 (above 0 in both categories).
In the final-third, the data backs up our claim that Veerman is the Eredivisie’s single-most creative central midfielder. His 0.29 assists per 90 are just a cut above his 0.25 xA per 90, but both metrics are excellent and lead the league for midfielders. He reads play intelligently and only goes forward when the game necessitates it. Playing for a more dominant side, his final third production could potentially be even higher, and make for a really useful player to have as a left-sided #8 in a 4-3-3, which is commonly needed by a plethora of top sides.
Veerman’s defensive promise
Standing at 6’0”, Veerman’s physicality and speed are of good value in defensive situations. He has a willingness to work hard across all sectors of the pitch and defensively is no exception. It is his application of these assets which sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. His awareness in low blocks is occasionally lacking, and he can switch off in these scenarios, making it sometimes easy to take the ball past him.
What he is aware of is his limitations and thinks rationally in knowing when or when not to go into duels. He will not thrust himself into improbable scenarios, nor will he look to stab at the opponent to get the ball back immediately after losing it. His intelligence does stem across to the defensive phase and frequently exploits a loose touch, if not by winning the ball back but by pushing the opposition backwards.
Veerman’s defensive actions radar in the 2020/21 Eredivisie season so far.
From this radar, we can understand that Veerman is below league average for all but two of the selected defensive metrics for a midfielder. Although, it is nice to know that when he does contend for aerial duels, he is moderately successful at winning them, which is an important asset to have, depending on a team’s goalkeeper distribution style.
Outside of that, it is true that he comes across as a below-average defender in the statistics. A lack of awareness in these situations though can be improved upon with more game time at the top level. Just a quick reminder that he is only in his second season of Eredivisie football at 22 years old. He is an excellent technician, and there is a potential for this to be carried over into his defensive intensity.
Veerman does the right thing here by not letting his man get goal side, but his lack of pace means he cannot prevent the cross into a dangerous area.
Here, Veerman spots the sluggishly-placed pass and quickly acts on it by intercepting the ball before it can reach the intended target.
Overall, there is promise in his defensive application. He manipulates his body well in defensive situations and is not overly clumsy in the tackle. He has a basic understanding of which way to face an opponent when defending in his team’s defensive third and pushing his opponent away from the goal is his primary objective in these situations (typically down the channels). What he does need to work on is his defensive positioning and awareness, as sometimes he can be found napping, leaving his side more vulnerable than it needs to be.
Forecast for the future
Since he has been given the chance to play at the top level by Heerenveen, Veerman has not looked back. He has burst onto the scene with an appetite to impress that remains, irrespective of his side’s dips in form, which happens fairly frequently in a mid-table team. He is irrepressible in his determination to assert his authority on a football match, and some of these mental attributes will make him a great leader sometime in the future.
The big question persists; is he ready for the Premier League? Strong links to Southampton have returned from the previous transfer window, and only time will tell if Heerenveen are willing to let their vice-captain (recently tied down to a new contract) halfway through the season. A thought lingers that Veerman’s calm nature might not suit English shores, and maybe a side in Serie A would get better value out of him, where the football is played at a slightly slower tempo overall. One thing is for sure, he has outgrown the Abe Lenstra.