Vincent van Goal: A profile of Tottenham-bound striker Vincent Janssen
After a typically dramatic transfer saga, Vincent Janssen’s move to Tottenham has finally taken a step towards completion. AZ stand to earn more than an astounding 40 times the rumoured €500k they paid Almere City for the striker just last year, with the Premier League side expected to cough up €22 million for him. In the end, Janssen gets his dream move, AZ get their dream fee and Spurs get a more than decent striker to take some burden off of Harry Kane’s shoulders.
This time last year, not too many people in the Netherlands — let alone Europe — were aware of Vincent Janssen. To say one could predict his incredible rise this time last summer would be a pretty blatant lie.
A few years back, Janssen joined the ’94-95 batch at Feyenoord’s Varkenoord academy, which included the likes of Tonny Vilhena, Karim Rekik, Jean-Paul Boëtius, Terence Kongolo, Nathan Aké and Kyle Ebecilio. The move to Rotterdam itself was not easy for the then-15-year-old. He never really settled in, neither at school nor at Feyenoord, and to prevent his parents from worrying incessantly about him, would internalise his frustration and sorrow, as he would recount later. In his youth team days, he was never hyped the same way some of his aforementioned teammates were, but he understood that you can go through different phases in football. As his family told Helden magazine, it did not come as a big surprise that when Janssen turned 19, the club chose to not to retain his services.
His coach at Feyenoord, Gaston Taument, admitted to Voetbal International that he looks at Janssen with great admiration now. “There has not been a day that Janssen has not used optimally. That shows his character: he is a fighter, a hardy spirit. It is too easy for me to now say Feyenoord made a mistake in letting Vincent go, but I look at it positively: I think it’s incredible that Vincent fought in the second tier and bounced back.”
Optimism has always been Janssen’s attitude; as his family detailed, his go-to expression is ‘Komt goed’, which is something like ‘it’ll be alright’, akin to the Kendrick Lamar track.
After being released, Janssen took his time to weigh his options. A few Eredivisie clubs showed interest, but could not assure him playing time, naturally, and so he lowered his sights to the Jupiler League, where Almere City presented a good opportunity. Apparently, after a few conversations with Almere coach Fred Grim, the then-teenager asked for some time to reflect on holiday before making a decision and, as if fate had played a brilliant hand, on holiday, while sauntering down the streets in Albufeira, Janssen ran into who else, but Fred Grim.
Of the decision, Janssen said, “I was willing to invest. I had to deal with so much crap at Feyenoord, so I wanted a club where I could develop myself in peace, where I got confidence from people, and could raise myself. My goal was to make a step-up to the first division after two years.”
Over the course of two seasons in Almere City, Janssen netted 32 goals in 74 games for the Zwarte Schapen; a prolific return, but his real work came away from the stadium. As most coaches and observers agree, Janssen’s work ethic is his standout character quality; Grim recognised and encouraged this.
Indeed, in his own time, Janssen would study other strikers. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who also took a step down to the second tier before rocketing up again, was a closely-studied subject, in how he functioned when in space, or after loss of possession. Luuk de Jong (who scored 50% of his goals last season from headers) was the vicarious instructor in heading, as Janssen keenly observed howhe runs into the box to meet crosses. Following this, Janssen would attempt to apply his newly-acquired knowledge on the training ground, guided by Grim.
And then from the training ground, the Heesch-born striker would attempt to further apply his skills during matches. This showed, as although he remained reliant on his left foot, between his first and second season in Almere, the positions of his shots changed and he was willing to try more with his right, as well as being more involved in the build-up of the attack, as opposed to a lone-standing finisher up top. Just as his goal tally almost doubled, the number of assists (and pre-assists) he provided increased too, and he linked up well with Ricardo Kip — an intriguing case of a Feyenoord reject and an Ajax reject combining well.
As the 2014-15 season drew to a close and Almere had a mid table finish in the bag, scouts started turning up to watch Janssen. An invitation from Heerenveen’s honorary president and adviser Riemer van der Velde for lunch, and casual conversations with FC Utrecht were all on the agenda. But AZ seemed just the right fit.
The man who scouted Janssen for AZ was Earnest Stewart, whose sister Joyce, Janssen’s mother Annemarie knew from her swimming days.
[Oh yes, his mother is a legendary Dutch athlete; a swimmer who won three Olympic medals, a gold at the World Championships, and the prestigious Jaap Eden Trophy for Dutch Sportswoman of the Year in 1982.]
Stewart sat in the stands with Janssen’s mother that day and went back with a glowing report. AZ, of course, had also just hired Billy Beane as an advisor and were starting to combine traditional scouting with the American’s Moneyball methods. Soon, AZ finalised his transfer, for €500k.
The imminent loss of Aron Jóhannsson and Steven Berghuis meant there were vacancies available in the AZ attack and John van de Brom, who had personally called Janssen multiple times a day to convince him to sign, was not hesitant in fulfilling his promise and giving Janssen a main role.
Expected goals (ExpG) is a concept that assesses a team or player’s performance through the quality of chances/shots they create. The ‘quality’ is measured by the probability of said chance to be converted (for example, a penalty has 0.79 ExpG because 79% is statistically the probability of a player scoring a penalty) and this probability is influenced by things like shot location, shot type and even assist type. So, typically, a shot off a throughball, from 10 yards out, will have a higher ExpG per shot than a long-range shot from 40 yards. This system, albeit not perfect, is a great way to lend some objectivity to scouting players.
At the time, Janssen’s expected goals per 90 minutes was an impressive 0.541, despite him not yet having a single goal to his name. IJtsma flagged the striker for a likely improvement in his actual goal tally sooner than later.
And as expected, Janssen soon began finding the back of the net, starting with a double against Twente, of which one was a great looping header. Just less than a year previously, he was playing against the U21 sides of clubs like Twente and Ajax. It was after the winter break though, that Janssen truly exploded onto the scene (Janssen became the first player for 52 years to score 20 goals in the 2nd half of an Eredivisie season.).
Six goals in the first three matches of the year, including a fairytale hat trick against Feyenoord, followed by a streak of scoring in seven consecutive matches, leading to a well-deserved call-up to the national team. Since making his international debut, where De Jong and Bas Dost have thus far failed to fill the void left by the declining Robin van Persie and Huntelaar, Janssen has risen as a source of great hope.
The typical characteristics scouts generally look out for in strikers is “quickness, finishing, teamwork, passing, and dribbling” and over the course of this season, Janssen has proven himself in every single one of these categories. Janssen has the qualities of a modern centre forward. He possesses the speed, skill and willingness to put in the hard work, but without a great deal of flash and pizzazz. Janssen embodies his ethos of hard work on pitch, often chasing down defenders and trying to create spaces and invoke defensive errors for his team to capitalise on.
His ambidexterity is something that has only come to fruition over the last season at AZ; in his last season at Almere, 15 of his 19 league goals came from his left foot and while he scored 15 goals with his left foot agains in 2015-16 for AZ, he scored 10 with his right too, quite a leap from just 3 in the previous season. Overall, Janssen scored 27 goals in the Eredivisie last season, ending the season as the league’s top scorer and winning the Johan Cruijff Talent of the Year award – and deservedly.
One of the improvements that Janssen made over the course of last season was to fine-tune his awareness of where and how to receive the ball and then think and act quickly. His goal against Vitesse last season is the best example for this; Janssen received a long, overhead pass from Joris van Overeem with his back to the goal and surrounded by 3-4 Vitesse players. He judged the bounce better than Yeini and Kashia and only had to take a step back to let the bounce itself and carry the ball away from his opponents. He used his instep to delicately lift the ball over Kruiswijk and into a clear path for goal, and with just another touch, he sent the ball on a trajectory just above Eloy Room and into the back of the net. In many matches, he receives the ball and plays it to an oncoming teammate (Henriksen, van Overeem, Dabney dos Santos, etc) and then receives the ball in the box and ideal for him to take a shot at goal.
With the likes of Eriksen and Alli to provide the creativity and link-up quotient at Spurs, Janssen should not have an awfully difficult time settling in. The timing of his movement can still improve and it may be nice to see him expand his shooting range a bit more and score from long-range, but he is still young.
Naturally, being developed in the Netherlands, 22-year-old plays as the lone striker in a 4-3-3 but his adaptability to other formations, such working with a partner striker (ie, Kane), will be interesting to note if the situation arises.
Janssen is a lot like Kane, to be fair, and likewise, a player that Pochettino may really like. As John van de Brom said, ”Every coach likes a Janssen-type player. He puts an incredible amount of energy into every game, is a real team player, two-footed, and scores. And perhaps most importantly, he always has both feet on the ground.”
With Pochettino a manager who seems to acknowledge the quality of his players and Tottenham Hotspur a team that has a hunger to be even more dominant than his current side AZ, Vincent Janssen seems more of a natural fit than previous ill-conceived transfers between the Eredivisie and the Premier League, such as Afonso Alves to Middlesbrough. And the numbers seem to back him up as being all but a lucky, one-season wonder.
Sander IJtsma had him leading the Eredivisie expected non-penalty goals per 90 minutes chart, at 0.646, while scoring 0.707 non-penalty goals (both numbers as of 7/5/15) which is a good indicator of the fact that he is consistently creating very good goalscoring chances and eliminates some of the fortuitousness that may accompany a one-off out-of-character extraordinary season.
— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) April 19, 2016
Voetbal International writer and friend of Benefoot, Pieter Zwart also analysed Janssen’s season and found that over the season, the Opta Sports model expected Janssen to finish with 23.3 non-penalty goals based on the quality of chances/shots he created. Since he finished in reality with 22 non-penalty goals, he was actually ‘under-performing’ by -1.3, which is mighty impressive, since most strikers tend to ‘over-perform’ and then find themselves unable to replicate that form the following season, while having a higher ExpG is generally indicative of a player showing the quality to be a great goalscorer, even if he is not firing on all cylinders at the moment. So, if he doesn’t score immediately, we hope Spurs fans will remember to remind themselves, ‘komt goed’ and wait for Vincent to shine.
A move to a new team in a more competitive league may cause this number to regress slightly but in general, it offers optimism for Janssen’s future. And so it does for Spurs, who are arguably the hottest young team in England now and have plenty of former Eredivisie players that stand testament to the fact that you can’t dismiss a player simply based on ‘oh, it’s only the Eredivisie’.
When asked about what he perceived his ‘ceiling’ to be in late May, Janssen replied confidently: “On the one hand, I do not know where my ceiling is, but I know where I’m going for. And that is the absolute top. I take no pleasure in anything less than that. I mean, when you’re at Wembley and you score for the Dutch team, you are playing at the very top. That game, that experience has done a lot to me. At that moment, I realized: now, this is somewhere. I’m somewhere. Playing your debut for the Oranje is a milestone. You have reached a certain point in your career. Then, I thought immediately: I would like to play well, against such opponents every week. In such matches I can develop myself even more.” Indeed, after the way Janssen terrorised him in the friendly, John Stones will not look forward to facing him in the Premier League.
In recent weeks, AZ’s intransigence in not yielding for anything less than €20m for their prized striker has been met with an equal intransigence from Janssen about not even considering any club other than Spurs, with whom he has already held talks and visited White Hart Lane as well. And in hindsight, the aforementioned interview lends some insight into his decision-making process, before segueing into a rather profound, universal statement that perhaps shines light on his general intelligence and down-to-earth persona:
“You always have to have fun in what you do. That is the most important part. If you go somewhere reluctantly, you will never achieve one hundred percent. Enjoy what you do and keep yourself above everything, that is not unimportant. I am now perhaps drawing a weird comparison, but there are plenty of people in this world who can only dream of what we have. Sometimes there is too little of the realisation that we have it awfully good here in the Western world. That you have a roof over your head, you have something to eat every night… That is not the ‘normal’ everywhere. I’m thankful every day for that.”
The name Vincent, comes from the Roman name Vincentius, which was from Latin vincere “to conquer”. And that’s precisely what he sets out to do: “Yes. I’m ready to conquer the world!”