By Stefan Coerts
Netherlands are by no means renowned for the great defenders they have produced over the years - indeed the Euro 1988 winners are generally associated with gifted attackers such as Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp.
However, Oranje have boasted plenty of defensive talent since Dutch football started challenging the big guns in the late 1960s. Think Ruud Krol in the 1970s, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman in the following decade, and then Jaap Stam in the 90s and the noughties.
Ever since the latter's international retirement after Euro 2004, Holland have been struggling to find adequate replacements in defence, though, most notably in the two centre-back positions. Players such as John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen have collected over 80 caps in the past eight years, but neither of the pair join the great Dutch defenders of the past.
Eight years after Stam's last game for Oranje, Netherlands finally seem to have located a worthy successor: Feyenoord defender Bruno Martins Indi.
|PLAYER STATISTICS | Bruno Martins Indi (Feyenoord & Netherlands)
Attributes: Heading, tackling, strength
|Height||Weight||Place of Birth|| Date of Birth
|1.83 m||76 kg
||Barreiro, Portugal||February 8, '92||Spartaan '20|
The 20-year-old was born in the Portuguese city of Barreiro, but moved to Rotterdam when he was only three months old, and has opted to represent Netherlands at international level rather than Portugal.
That Martins Indi has already made it into Holland's senior side at such a tender age comes as a bit of a surprise to most observers of the game. The left-footed defender joined the Feyenoord academy at the age of 13, but initially was not regarded as one of the club's biggest defensive talents, with the likes of Jeffrey Bruma, Stefan de Vrij and Bart Schenkeveld held in higher esteem.
Martins Indi rapidly developed into one of the top prospects at Varkenoord, though, and he was handed his official first team debut in the Europa League match against Gent two years ago. The youngster immediately impressed with a fine display at centre-back, and he would only continue to improve from there on. Martins Indi was a key part of the Feyenoord squad that surprisingly finished second in the Eredivisie table last term, and he is now one of the first names on head coach Ronald Koeman's team-sheet.
The Feyenoord trainer is not the only coach who has recognized the immense potential of 'BMI'. Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal saw the centre-back shine for his club in the Champions League qualifier against Dynamo Kiev, and did not hesitate to call him up for the friendly against Belgium back in August.
Martins Indi has not missed a single game for Oranje since, and he particularly impressed with stellar performances against Hungary and Romania, much to the delight of his club coach.
"I'm proud of the way Bruno presents himself. His progress doesn't surprise me. And he still has room for improvement. He could be Oranje's first-choice left-back for the next 10 years. It's only logical that big clubs are after him," Koeman commented.
|He could be Oranje's first-choice left-back for the next 10 years. It's only logical that big clubs are after him
Feyenoord coach Ronald Koeman
The former defender's praise further illustrates that Martins Indi is held in very high esteem in Netherlands, and the hype appears to be more than justified.
The 20-year-old might be 'only' 1.83m, but he rarely loses an aerial challenge, while he is an excellent tackler, too. His strength in the duels make him a very difficult opponent for any attacker, and Martins Indi holds the advantage that he can make amends with his pace in case he does get beaten by an opponent. Furthermore, he is comfortable in possession and can build play from the back.
Martins Indi is certainly not the finished article just yet and still has a few imperfections in his game. His positioning can occasionally be suspect, while he also tends to lack ruthlessness in certain situations.
However, his first flaw can partially be put down to the fact that he switches back and forth between the positions of centre-back and left-back at Feyenoord. Martins Indi himself remains calm under all the media attention, and realises that he cannot afford to rest on his laurels if he wants to fulfil his dream of becoming a world-class defender.
"Playing for Oranje is one of the biggest things you can achieve as a footballer. I'm only 20 and I have already achieved just that. It keeps me alert. I once said that I want to become one of the best defenders in the world. I'm not there yet, but I'm on the right path," he stated.
Indeed, there's little doubt that Martins Indi is on the right path, although there is obviously no guarantee that he will indeed reach the same level of players such as Rijkaard and Stam.
At the tender age of 20, he has already impressed at international level, and Wednesday's match versus Germany will be another opportunity for the defender to present himself to the world.
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