By Stefan Coerts
In general, it's not a good sign when Ajax decide to farm a young player out on loan in order for him to gain experience. The club's best talents tend to break into the first team at a young age, while those who leave Amsterdam on a temporary basis rarely succeed after returning to the club. Nevertheless, Jan Vertonghen is one of the few exceptions who benefited from a loan spell at another Eredivisie side.
The Belgium international joined Ajax at the age of 16, and made his official first-team debut three years later in August 2006. However, Vertonghen struggled to secure regular first-team action at the Amsterdam ArenA and was shipped out on loan to RKC halfway through the season, a decision that would come back to haunt the Godenzonen. The defender scored for the Waalwijk side against his parent club to help them to a 2-2 draw, and Ajax would eventually miss out on the Eredivisie title on goal difference.
Despite the fact that his goal had cost Ajax the league crown in 2007, the current Dutch champions were very pleased to see Vertonghen return to Amsterdam at the start of the new season. His spell in Waalwijk had clearly done the youngster a world of good both physically and mentally, and he would quickly become an important first team member at Ajax.
|CAREER STATISTICS | Jan Vertonghen (Ajax & Belgium)
Attributes: Heading, passing, tackling
|Height||Club||Weight||Place of Birth||Former clubs|
||Germinal Beerschot, RKC
Vertonghen featured as a left midfielder, a holding midfielder and a left-back in his first two seasons after his return to Ajax, making 57 Eredivisie appearances in the process before being shifted into the position of centre-back after the departure of compatriot and friend Thomas Vermaelen to Arsenal in the summer of 2009.
And it's in this position that Vertonghen has developed into one of the most sought after players in the Eredivisie. After an impressive 2010-11 campaign, the Belgian was linked with clubs such as Arsenal, Barcelona, Inter and Tottenham Hotspur, but a transfer never took place last summer.
Nevertheless, with the winter transfer window approaching, interest in Vertonghen is starting to heat up again. Spurs in particular seem to be desperate to add the defender to their squad in January, and it's clear to see why they rate the former Germinal Beerschot man so highly.
Vertonghen boasts an excellent reading of the game and has even been likened to German legend Franz Beckenbauer because of his elegant style of play. His abilities on the ball and his impressive rushes forward make him a real asset in possession, while the centre-back is very strong in direct personal duels too.
Vertonghen will undoubtedly be aware of this one big flaw in his game and will realise that he needs to be more consistent in order to succeed at the highest level
One weakness Vertonghen possesses, though, is that he still struggles to stay focused for the full 90 minutes game after game. The 24-year-old can put in world-class performances, such as this season's Champions League clash away against Olympique Lyonnais, and then turn in a Martin Demichelis-esque display strewn with errors the very next game.
In the Eredivisie, Vertonghen often escapes with his nonchalance due to the lack of serious opposition, but there's little doubt that opponents in La Liga, Premier League or Serie A will be less merciful if the Belgian slips up.
Vertonghen will be aware of this one big flaw in his game and will realise that he needs to be more consistent in order to succeed at the highest level.
However, it's questionable whether the Eredivisie is still a challenging enough surrounding for him to make that final step. A transfer to a bigger league could therefore very well be just what the defender needs to fulfil his potential.
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