The new Stefan de Vrij, or even better? Feyenoord’s Sven van Beek has a very bright future
He was never the most likely to make it to the first team. As a 16-year-old, Sven van Beek almost decided to quit professional football and move back to his amateur team VV Donk. After yet another disappointing season for him in the Feyenoord Academy, the centre-back had to deal with further disappointment: whereas all his team mates moved to the U17 team, Van Beek had to stay in the U16 for another year. What’s the point of football if you don’t progress?
But here he is now, in the pre-selection of the Dutch national team and a weekly starter in Feyenoord’s first team. Still only 20-years-old, Van Beek has shaken off all low expectations, all criticism and all people saying he wouldn’t make it to the senior squad. Together with Terence Kongolo, he forms the heart of the future of Feyenoord.
It hasn’t always been like this. As a kid, Van Beek went to a talent day at the academy of Sparta Rotterdam, the other red and white team from Rotterdam. Together with a friend he signed up, and after some test training sessions he got an offer to stay and play in the U10 team. There, he met Memphis Depay. With Memphis on the left and Van Beek on the right, they formed the front of a talented generation of Sparta youngsters.
But then the money stream to the Academy ended and both Depay and Van Beek had to leave. Both spoke with Feyenoord, and where Depay decided to make a move to the PSV academy, Van Beek was happy to sign at the other side of the Meuze, where a talented generation of 11-year-olds was shaking things up, or so he had heard. Anass Achahbar, Jean-Paul Boetius, Kyle Ebicilio, Terence Kongolo and Karim Rekik were leading their team to glory. Not just once, but every week and every season.
It was these players who made it to the national teams together every time. Later on, in the U15 team, Nathan Aké joined them from ADO Den Haag and Tonny Vilhena jumped one generation ahead into their team, and interest in this talented group was growing. Winning the league every year, expectations to take over in De Kuip grew quickly.
But not for Van Beek. Transformed from a forward into a right-back, he felt uncomfortable and unsure about his future. Being raised as a a quick attacker, he missed the times he could burst forward and become a threat. Why defend when you are an attacker? Why stay at Feyenoord at all if you are not a starter, not a big talent and everybody keeps telling you that you won’t make it to the first-team?
Why? Because sometimes you eventually do.
After staying in the U16 team for two years, a big disappointment, Van Beek impressed in the pre-season games in the U18 team, where he soon became captain. Then, in the summer of 2012, he was reunited with his friends in the U19 team, the flagship of the Academy. Where Anass Achahbar and Tonny Vilhena had already made the step to the first team and Rekik, Ebicilio and Aké had left for spells in England, Van Beek felt the confidence he needed from coach Damien Hertog. With Rekik and Aké in England, his new favorite spot in the team was finally available: centre back.
It was here that the impressed everybody at Feyenoord so much that only six months later he found himself in the dressing room of the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven, preparing for his first team debut – in the quarter final of the Dutch Cup, against rivals PSV, quite a start. That morning, coach Ronald Koeman asked him inside his office for a minute. Daryl Janmaat, the usual right back, was sick at home and well, there was nobody left to play there expect Van Beek. Just two-and-a-half years after almost quiting football, Van Beek had reached a height no one expected him to: Feyenoord’s first team.
It took another six months before making his league debut. And once again, the opponent of that day wasn’t just another team. It was Ajax, in their own Amsterdam ArenA, where he faced Viktor Fischer, the Ajax youngster rated highly as the next big thing in Amsterdam. But that day, the Dane barely passed by Van Beek, who impressed with his stable, ruthless defending. Still though, last season, with Daryl Janmaat as right back and Stefan de Vrij in the centre, playing chances weren’t that big for Van Beek. He play most games with the reserves, which the captained to winning the league.
And then, after a thrilling World Cup for the Netherlands, De Vrij and Janmaat left Feyenoord. Some months before, Van Beek had signed a new contract, speaking out his dream of one day being a starter for Feyenoord and getting a lot of confidence from football director Martin van Geel. And now, with the two defenders in front of him in hierarchy leaving, his chance was finally there.
So there he is. After some fatal mistakes in the Champions League qualifiers against Besiktas and some mistakes which were worrying, yet not fatal, Van Beek impressed against Ajax on Sunday, when he finally partnered Terence Kongolo in the centre of defence. Sending pinpoint passes across the entire length of the field Boetius, perfect interceptions and a passing accuracy rate of 85%, Van Beek played like he has been a starter for years now. It was still only his 16th league game for Feyenoord.
Where will this end? Van Beek is the replacement of Stefan de Vrij, but can he get even better than the 22-year old, now playing at SS Lazio? Thomas Bosman, editor of Feyenoordpings.nl thinks so. “He is ruthless, more than De Vrij was, and his passing capabilities are even better. He once told me that he wants to eat all his opponents. Van Beek has the right mentality because he fought so hard to get here. I think he’ll get better than De Vrij will ever be.”
The expectations are higher now for Van Beek than they ever have been. To reach this level, he has defied all odds and managed to impress all of the important figures who had no confidence in him. With a debut in the Dutch national team already looming for him and his rapid development in the last years from an almost academy-dropout to a stable first team starter in mind, there might not be a limit to what Van Beek can do.