Those who criticise the state of modern defending obviously aren’t watching Serie A.
Italy’s top tier is filled with quality centre-backs – Kalidou Koulibaly dominates at Napoli; Juventus star Giorgio Chiellini continues to ruffle the feathers of opposition strikers; and Leonardo Bonucci remains one of the most gifted all-round players in his position, despite a tricky few months at AC Milan.
Right up among that grizzled trident is Lazio’s Stefan de Vrij. The Dutchman, who moved to Rome in 2014 after an outstanding series of displays at that summer’s World Cup, has excelled this season, helping his side to a surprisingly lofty position in the league table and attracting covetous glances from abroad.
Barcelona have been persistently linked, however, Premier League sides such as Chelsea and Liverpool have also been talked of as a potential destination for the 25-year-old. Indeed, despite signing Virgil van Dijk, the Reds have again been linked with a move for de Vrij, alongside Manchester United.
The Dutchman is one of the finest central defenders in the world today, possessing many of the attributes most top European clubs would need. And, with his contract at Lazio up at the end of this season, the rising level of interest in his services is perfectly understandable.
Here, we at Football Whispers assess his career, strengths and weaknesses, style of play, statistics and potential before considering where he could, and should, end up.
WHO IS DE VRIJ?
De Vrij couldn’t have asked for a much better grounding in football. At the age of ten, he joined Feyenoord, a club with a reputation for developing exceptional young talent.
Recent graduates from the Dutch side’s academy include former Manchester United and Arsenal legend Robin van Persie, solid Premier League players such as Georginio Wijnaldum, Leroy Fer, Daryl Janmaat, Bruno Martins Indi, former Tottenham Hotspur striker Vincent Janssen and Roma right-back Ricky Karsdorp.
Coming through at a time when Feyenoord at a time when the club had severe financial problems and simply had to rely upon promoting from within, de Vrij didn’t have to wait long for opportunities in the first team. He made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2009, and soon earned a regular place in the line-up.
Over five seasons, he made over 150 appearances across all competitions. This led to a call-up and caps with the senior Holland national team, for whom he starred at the 2014 World Cup. Under the auspices of Louis van Gaal, he often took on the right-sided central defensive role in a back three, helping his country to a semi-final spot.
Having impressed for club and country, de Vrij was a wanted man. But, despite rumours of him following van Gaal to Old Trafford, he made the move to Italy, the land of great defenders, with Lazio. There he has impressed, overcoming serious injury and leading from the back under the guidance of both Stefano Pioli and Simone Inzaghi.
This season, alongside a host of talented youngsters and late developers including Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Felipe Anderson, Thomas Strakosha and Luis Alberto, he has aided the club to a secure top six position.
DE VRIJ’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Perhaps the most noticeable trait in de Vrij’s game is his comfort on the ball. The large majority of central defenders in the Italian top flight possess a degree of composure many elsewhere would frown upon, with a staunch commitment to circulating possession and building effective attacking moves from the back. The Dutchman is one of the masters in this particular aspect of the game.
Standing at 6ft 2in, he is physically commanding and looks slightly cumbersome at first. However, his size and strength don’t get in the way of his ability to progress possession. He is comfortable driving into midfield with the ball at his feet, while he also has the technique, range and vision to play startlingly accurate direct balls to either flank.
From a purely defensive standpoint, de Vrij is aerially forceful. He is also an astute reader of the game, meaning he is rarely caught out. He isn’t particularly aggressive, but is faster than his build would indicate. Despite this, however, he – like so many ball-playing centre-backs – can be susceptible to balls in behind or over the top.
HOW MUCH WOULD DE VRIJ COST?
De Vrij’s contract is up next summer, so potentially he could soon be signed for free.
Lazio were hopeful he would sign a new contract though, with a release clause of just £22million, so the Serie A side will get some money for him.
For a player of his class, that would be a real bargain, but there is still a strong possibility he will leave on a free transfer which would be one of the best free transfers in recent memory.