When a club loses as important a player as Matthijs de Ligt, the impact is sure to be felt. The character, ability and swagger that the youngster brought was rightly hailed to become one of the best. While Ajax were bound to miss him, they are the only club that can replace him without much fuss. In fact, in Joel Veltman, they had a replacement sorted already.
Veltman’s been around the Dutch footballing scene for a while now. A versatile defender, the 27-year-old has been at the Amsterdam Arena since he was a child – way back in 2001. He has grown through the ranks and is someone who is just embedded in the Ajax culture for a long while now.
Since breaking into the 2012/13 campaign, Veltman has been climbing up the ladder consistently. Last season, he was a crucial part of the Ajax side that has likely caught the attention of many. He wasn’t a young player, but like De Ligt and many others in that side, he knows how the club approaches the 4-3-3 shape.
That system is part of the culture at Ajax since the Cruyff days. Having grown up in that, he knows what it is better than most. But in the 2017/18 season, Veltman was recovering from a serious ACL injury in the first few months of the campaign. On his return, he became a regular in the right-back position in the Champions League, appearing in nine games in 2018/19.
Being a centre-back originally, Veltman was meant to add defensive security to that area. And he did the job very well. It wasn’t a position he has never played in, but in an attacking system and at the highest level, it is a different ball-game.
De Ligt was always being expected to leave. But since his departure, Veltman has stepped into his preferred role at centre-back. This has happened after many years since Veltman had been playing right-back to accommodate upcoming defenders like Davinson Sanchez and De Ligt into the side.
Playing centrally, Veltman has been one of Ajax’s best players in the Eredivisie. He has played in that role 14 times this season, partnering Daley Blind. For players who have been regulars, he has won the most number of tackles per game – 3.1. He has made the fourth-highest number of interceptions as well, tied with Edson Alvarez – 1.2 per game.
He is also at the top for the most number of clearances per game, making 3.3 of them. Passing was one of De Ligt’s main attributes and Veltman hasn’t let anyone down. He has a passing accuracy of 89.3% – the second highest out of those who have started six games or more. He has also been playing the second-highest number of passes per game – 76.3, only behind Blind.
Since he knows the system inside-out, Veltman knows exactly what he has to do. That is always a massive help to any Ajax player and also why the club doesn’t miss too many players, no matter how well they did play in the previous season.
They have done it again. Despite having sold such a talent to Juventus in the summer. They had the players in the pipeline who are technically and positionally good enough to make sure that the club doesn’t miss De Ligt. Veltman has gone a long way in doing that.