By Mohamed Moallim
Sometimes you know when a player is playing at the top of his game, at ease with it, totally comfortable with what he is asked to do on the football pitch – Jan Vertonghen has come on leaps and bounds cementing himself as one of the most versatile players in the game and a definite star in the making.
Okay he is 23, but age is no matter, different players take time to mature and be comfortable with their surroundings, Vertonghen has been a mainstay in this current Ajax side for the past 4 seasons in that time he’s developed into one of the more reliable members of the squad. What makes him so good, well for starters he isn’t restricted (pigeonholed) into one position, his versatility makes him a comfortable in defence and midfield – a trait not lost on the legendary Johan Cruijff, who on more than one occasion has dubbed him one of his favourite players currently active in the game – another example being Cruijff has been rumoured to have recommended him to Pep Guardiola.
For club he is a steady centre-half, whose not afraid to get stuck in with the tackle (something that has got him into some bother, but not deterring his inner-warrior), a exemplary passer (two footed who can spray the ball short or long) and what’s most impressive is his drive, starting attacks with his runs from deep – maybe in a deferent generation he could have excelled as a libero. Another growing trademark is his dead-ball ability, smashing in free-kicks from anywhere outside the box, a bonus of the highest order. It might sound like a cliché but his left-foot is a magic wand. He’s also made a habit of scoring from set-pieces, expecially from corners.
In the past he’s deputised and often played as a utility man capable of deputising in any role between defence and midfield but with the departure of fellow countryman and central-defender Thomas Vermaelen to Arsenal in the summer of 2009 he filled in and has made the role his own. Vertonghen spent his youth career at VK Tielrode and Germinal Beerschot both in his native Belgium, Germinal Beerschot being affiliated with Ajax, Vertonghen joined the Ajax academy at the age of 16 in 2003. From there he worked his way up to the senior team making his debut on 23 August 2003 in the disappointing Champions League 3rd qualifying round tie against F.C. Copenhagen.
With his country, Belgium’s ‘Rode Duivels’ you will find him in the heart of their midfield, linking his sides play with the attack but with his defensive institution he’s capable of stopping attacks as starting them. He's also capable of filling in as a deep-lying playmaker, again a role that plays to his strengths. One notable game was his sides defeat to Spain in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers – a game which he only played for half an hour before leaving due to injury, but prior to he was the lynch pinch of Belgium’s positive play, often denying the side who would go on to win the World Cup time and space, it was clear the Spaniards were getting frustrated – the score was 0-0 as he departed, without him his side crumbled to a 5-0 defeat. Maybe it was inevitable that Belgium were to lose, but I sincerely believe it wouldn’t be with that margin. With him and an array of young talents in what looks to be a golden generation, Belgium could very well have a bright future on the international scene. It’s up to them to come to the fore with Vertonghen as a key component.
This season he tasted his first Champions League game for Ajax in the home draw with AC Milan a game which he described as an opportunity to show his and his teammates class and truth be told he spoke as captain material in the post-match press conference, signs of his maturity and love for the club.
It’s now that his name has been linked with clubs such as Arsenal and Barça a testament to his recent form, but hopefully Vertonghen will stay for a few more years as part of Ajax’s success.