Vitesse continue to move forward under Peter Bosz
Since Merab Jordania took Vitesse over in 2010, the club have been looking to evolve into one capable of not only challenging the perennial Eredivisie powerhouses to the title, but of actually being crowned champions of the Netherlands themselves. As the Georgian’s plan was to win the league within three years, they are a bit behind schedule, but the progress thus far speaks for itself.
The explosive and dynamic side sporting the gold and black of the Arnhem club last season elevated Vitesse to a new level. The partnership of the remarkable goal machine Wilfried Bony (31 goals in 30 games) and the exhilarating Marco van Ginkel steered FC Hollywood on the Rhine towards the top of the league. Unexpectedly, they drew level with, and often outperformed, the giants of the Netherlands as they challenged for the title until the dying weeks of the campaign. It was quite the step up under coach Fred Rutten. Although it is the level they aspire to reach, the progression of the club up until that point suggested that it had come much earlier than a realistic timeframe, which differs from the projection and expectation of Jordania, suggested. It was, arguably, a freak season – the somewhat coincidental gathering of some exceptional players. While the recruitment of each talented player by a more than apt coach fitting into a system which culminated in entertaining and effective football was obviously intentional, there was no way it could last very long. A step back was always imminent.
As with any Dutch team, including those at the very top, there are other factors at play when it comes to keeping their players together. Talent and technique is nurtured in the Eredivisie, but it eventually flees to join the world’s elite of the sport. Bony and Van Ginkel’s moves to the Premier League were inevitable and thus the heart of an auspicious and blossoming Vitesse team was removed. Despite the retaining of Chelsea loanee Patrick van Aanholt, Gael Kakuta, Theo Janssen, Jonathan Reis and Mike Havenaar, the lack of recruitment and youth structure at the club means the Eastern Netherlands side don’t have the required system to replenish the first-team when key components like Van Ginkel and Bony depart. The fallout between Jordania and Rutten halfway through last season made clear that the long-term goals would not be reached under the coach’s guardianship. The relationship between owner and coach could not be repaired and, like his predecessor John van den Brom, Rutten left after only one season in charge. In each case, it is only a 12 month contribution to this promising journey, but the contribution itself was very significant. A new step. A new layer on which they could build.
The new coach had to be one which fulfilled the required criteria to ensure Vitesse’s expedition continued unhindered. That criterion essentially sounds like a list of newly formed clichés in world football. Someone to keep Vitesse on the road to playing more positive, attacking football, to essentially ingrain their own philosophy into the club, to take a holistic approach to managing the club and to carry on the project. It all culminates in making the system bigger than the talents involved through youth, recruitment and the coach’s own tactical acumen (much in the style of Ronald Koeman, Frank de Boer and Jurgen Klopp). And so, Peter Bosz was recruited from Heracles to guide the club through this new chapter.Bosz instilled into Heracles an admirable, albeit somewhat naïve, uncompromising attacking football. His values and desire to play attacking football, his ability to get the best out of limited resources and his belief in youth made him the ideal candidate for the job. Assuming his traits translated onto a bigger stage, it would wield success.
The early stages are very promising as Bosz’s men have picked up 11 points from the first six games. Victories over his previous club as well as Twente and PEC Zwolle (who were top of the league at the time) are the highlights of his first six league matches, while draws against Roda and AZ after a defeat to RKC mark the low points thus far. The club’s close connection to Chelsea, which has seen them take on as many as six players on loan from the London club this season, has come under scrutiny and criticism in the Netherlands. However, only two of those players have had any great influence in the team so far this term. Van Aanholt, who has been at the Gelredome for two and a half years, is the undisputed left-back and a stalwart for the club with his pace, skill and crosses. Lucas Piazon, who joined from the Blues this summer, has proved to be an electrifying left winger and was the star player in the 3-0 win over Zwolle last week, scoring two of his side’s goals. Gael Kakuta is another such player who impressed last season, but injury has seen him play just four minutes of Vitesse’s first six games.
While the understanding and fluidity of the side is still being formed, the key players in Bosz’s Vitesse team are all but settled. The goalkeeper and three out of four of the defence are settled on. The right-back remains the only area of mystery. Kelvin Leerdam is a player who can play either in that position or in the centre of midfield, so far he has varied between the two. It seems Bosz sees Leerdam as the more stable option than Frank van der Struijk, who has played there when the former Feyenoord man has been moved into midfield. Interestingly, though, Leerdam is his side’s top goalscorer, having scored three in five league appearances. That Davy Pröpper is making a name for himself again in Arnhem is a major factor in the utilisation of Leerdam as a full-back. Having shown potential throughout the last three and a half years, Pröpper hasn’t fulfilled it as of yet, but with a fresh start under a new coach who seems to rate him highly, he has the opportunity to develop further and finally flourish at Vitesse. The 22-year-old operates alongside veteran Theo Janssen. The 32-year-old, who will most likely retire at the end of the season, drops very deep and pulls the strings with his long passes and set piece deliveries, while Pröpper does the running around as the box-to-box midfielder. It is a balanced partnership which does well to protect the back line while linking up to those in advanced areas.
Following Bony’s departure, Japan international Mike Havenaar is the new first-choice striker, with Jonathan Reis watching from the bench. With only one goal and assist, he hasn’t blossomed into the clinical frontman as his predecessor, but that was expected. Havenaar’s link up play with wingers Renato Ibarra and Piazon and attacking midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili has been decent, but it is an understanding between a frontline which is in the formative period in its development. Whereas Bony and Van Ginkel were the heart and soul of the team last year, the current Vitesse side is somewhat more diverse when it comes to goals. Leerdam, Piazon, Qazaishvili, Havenaar, Reis and Ibarra have all found the net so far.
There is no one player or partnership around which this team revolves. It is a very balanced and well-rounded squad. That only goes to show that Bosz’s minor changes are resulting in a team which relies on no individual, but each component of it. While that’s not to say that they are better off without Bony – that’s something to be looked at later – the quality is more evenly spread throughout Vitesse now. It is also a very young squad – Janssen at 32 is the oldest, followed by Van der Struijk at 28, everyone else is 26 or under. Despite the abundance of players brought in on loan from Chelsea, Bosz has chosen to field only those he thinks fit his team and are of the calibre required for the starting XI. He is staying true to his ideals, working with the young players at his disposal and ensuring they play the attacking football he likes to see (albeit with more stability than his Heracles team). Then, as his system develops, there will be enough depth to Vitesse to see them challenge the top teams of the league more consistently as the departing stars can be replaced easier with those who fit the style and the progress of the side can then be sustained. Of course, it will take time, but they must look at the long-term under Bosz and not run by the short-term unrealistic goals of Jordania.
While they won’t challenge the top teams of the league to the title this season, the Europa League playoffs are the goal and the level this time. Considering the heights they reached last term, it may feel like a step backwards for Vitesse, but it’s a step which would have been taken either way as the sale of their two stars was imminent. With Bosz at the helm and his seemingly amicable relationship with the owner and his ambitions which fit those of the club, there is no reason to believe that Vitesse can’t develop further as the season goes on and continue to move forward. Dedication to the club’s objective by Jordania and Bosz is required as well as some luck as they look to keep improving. The steps they have already taken in the period in which Jordania has been the owner provides a platform on which they can build. Now they have to keep moving.