Ajax’s Kenneth Vermeer: Too good for a benchwarmer

“He is the best goalkeeper in the Netherlands. I don’t understand why he is the second choice goalkeeper here,” said Vitesse forward Zakaria Labyad of Ajax goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer after the Amsterdam giants had beaten the Arnhem side 4-1 in the opening day of the new season.

While the scoreboard suggests there was a sizeable gap between the Eredivisie champions of each of the past four seasons and the team who have been looking to challenge them for each one, there wasn’t a great deal between them on the field.

Ajax were clinical and took their chances, they weren’t particularly dominant, electrifying or excellent. Vitesse, on the other hand, will be devastated at not at least getting a point out of the match.

Not only did Vitesse have more possession than the hosts, they hit more shots than them, with 14 attempts to Ajax’s 11, and they registered one more on target, eight to their opponents’ seven.

With the game fairly even, if not slightly in favour of the visitors, it was a surprise to see Vitesse trail so heavily on the scoreboard. However, there was one key factor between the two sides which tipped the game – Ajax had Vermeer, Vitesse didn’t.


Vermeer showed he is a quality goalkeeper

The 28-year-old was in impeccable form for the Dutch giants, frustrating Peter Bosz’s men time and time again as they looked to continue their excellent form against Frank de Boer’s side in the Amsterdam ArenA. Labyad, Kelvin Leerdam, Valeri Qazaishvili, Bertrand Traore and Uros Djurdjevic were all denied by Vermeer, who was excellent in preventing the Arnhem club from taking the lead and, subsequent to Nick Viergever putting Ajax ahead after 40 minutes, keeping them in front of the challengers.

While his Vitesse counterpart Piet Velthuizen was letting simple free kick shots down the middle skip into the net, the Netherlands international was stopping everything that came at him. Velthuizen made two saves in the 90 minutes, Vermeer made seven, more than any other goalkeeper in the opening weekend. Only one of Vitesse’s shots got beyond him – Mike van der Hoorn allowed Marko Vejinovic to move past him far too easily and a simple side-foot shot saw the midfielder hit the back of the net to make it 3-1.

Vermeer’s overall game was superb. His great shot stopping ability was on display, but he showed that he has good distribution of the ball and with his composure on it and willingness to move forward to outside his box to help Ajax’s circulation of possession as they look to build from the back.

None of this, though, has really ever been in contention when it comes to Vermeer. Having been with the club since he was 13-years-old, Vermeer had played second fiddle to Maarten Stekelenburg, but eventually showed that he was capable of taking over from him, filling in well during his compatriot’s injury spell and finishing the season as first choice. His displays made it easy for Ajax to sell the World Cup runner-up to Roma, giving Vermeer two seasons as the undisputed No.1 keeper for the Eredivisie powerhouse. While he had a reputation of being error-prone and sloppy, he always had the makings of a very good goalkeeper and kept his place ahead of Jasper Cillessen.

However, Cillessen’s patience began to run thin as he watched Vermeer from the sidelines for two years, despite having already
spent a full season in the Dutch top flight with NEC and making a €3 million move to the capital. When Cillessen insisted he wanted more time on the field or to be sold, Frank de Boer had no choice. After fumbling a header from close range to allow FC Groningen to equalise after he flapped at a corner to concede a goal to AZ in the first weeks of the campaign, Vermeer was one error away from being sent to the bench.

The Amsterdam-native, though, had become a much more secure goalkeeper overall. He developed into a more reliable, confident and sure shot stopper. The competition for a place in the team Cillessen provided had, it seemed, turned him into a more consistent goalkeeper. Gone were the days of performances like that infamous 6-4 defeat at the hands of Utrecht in 2011.

Like with all goalkeepers, though, that capacity for an error was still there and it broke through eventually, when Ajax lined up in the Philips Stadion against PSV in the seventh week of the season. With the game level at 0-0, Memphis Depay sent a cross in which Vermeer looked certain to deal with, he failed to get a solid grip on it though and merely diverted it into the path of Tim Matavz as he fell to the ground. The Slovenian tapped it into the empty net and opened the scoring and, with it, the floodgates. The Eindhoven side went on to win 4-0 in a humiliating defeat for De Boer’s team.

Just like that, Vermeer’s time in goal was over. He would play just three more games in the league as Ajax marched to the title. While Cillessen went from playing in the second tier of Dutch football to being the main goalkeeper for club and country in the space of ten months, Vermeer went the opposite way in a similarly short space of time.

As Cillessen was given a break in the first week of the season following his excellent displays at the World Cup where he earned a bronze medal, Vermeer, left home over the summer, took his chance to show that he has what it takes to be a safe pair of hands for the Amsterdam club.

Vermeer has been linked to a move away from Ajax since he lost his spot in the starting XI last season and as it remains unlikely that he will be given it back, it would be wise of him to look for a new club. Labyad’s claim that he is the best in the country is debatable, but one thing is for sure; Vermeer’s talents are wasted as a benchwarmer.

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