Thomas Vermaelen was born and raised in Kapellen, Belgium. The defender’s huge potential didn’t go unnoticed by the scouts of Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen and Vermaelen joined the club’s illustrious youth academy at young age.
At GBA, Vermaelen quickly developed into one of the more promising youngsters and a great future at Germinal was predicted for the centre-back. However, in the end, he would never represent the Jupiler League side at senior level. His Belgian club started collaborating with Amsterdam giants Ajax in May 1999 and Vermaelen was the first player to move from GBA to parent club Ajax only two months later at the age of 15.
The Belgian international had a difficult start to life at Ajax. Being somewhat shy, Vermaelen had trouble coping with the resourceful team-mates surrounding him all of a sudden and the defender reportedly considered returning to Belgium, at least momentarily.
Nevertheless, the former GBA starlet was determined to succeed at the Amsterdam outfit and was quickly considered a future Ajax star. With the Dutch powerhouse in desperate need of some defensive talent, it was only a matter of time before Vermaelen broke in to the first team.
From Youngster To Skipper
He made his official Ajax debut in the away match against Volendam on February 15 2004 and helped his side to a 2-0 victory by keeping a clean sheet. At the end of the season, the match against Volendam appeared to be Vermaelen’s only appearance for the senior side, but he still had a good reason to celebrate as Ajax picked up the league title.
After having made a good impression in his debut match, Vermaelen was keen to prove his worth in the 2004-05 season and become a first team regular. However, Ajax opted to farm him out to RKC Waalwijk instead, where he impressed after the winter break and eventually scored two goals in 13 league appearances.
Ajax coach Danny Blind opted to recall Vermaelen at the end of the season and the versatile defender quickly developed in to an important first team member. He made 24 league appearances, most of those as a replacement for injured left back Maxwell, and found the net on three occasions. Despite being just under 6 ft, Vermaelen proved to be strong in the air as well as an excellent man-marker in his first full season in Ajax’s senior side.
In the next two seasons, Vermaelen was expected to become an absolute key player at Ajax. He was partnered by the illustrious Jaap Stam and the former Manchester United star was quick to acknowledge the obvious potential of the defender. Stam touted the youngster among Europe’s best young defenders and predicted a career at a European powerhouse for the Belgian starlet.
OutStamding: Jaap predicts big things for Vermaelen
Vermaelen had by then already made his first international appearance for Belgium, but his definite breakthrough at Ajax was still to come. He had missed 25 league matches due to injury and suspensions in the two campaigns after his first full season at Ajax and Vermaelen was desperate to make an impact throughout the entire season in the 2008-09 campaign.
Marco van Basten held Vermaelen in high regard and the Belgian international paid off his coach’s confidence with a number of outstanding performances. He was even appointed as Ajax skipper after the departure of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the demotion to back-up goalie of Maarten Stekelenburg. Despite his best efforts, Vermaelen was unable to guide his team to Eredivisie glory in the end, much to his frustration.
Vermaelen attracted the interest of Aston Villa and Arsenal with his good performances for Ajax and the left-footed defender initially appeared to be on his way to the Birmingham outfit. Nevertheless, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger beat the Villans to Vermaelen’s signature by tabling a €12 million offer for the sought after defender.
Contract negotiations between Ajax and Vermaelen didn’t go as smooth as expected and the deal appeared to be in danger for a moment. However, the defender didn’t hesitate any longer to sign a contract at the London side as soon as he returned from his holiday on June 19, much to the satisfaction of Wenger.
"Thomas is a great signing for Arsenal and we are delighted he is joining us," the Arsenal gaffer said. "Thomas is a solid performer with good experience of Champions League and UEFA Cup football. He is strong technically with a positive winner's attitude and I have no doubt his arrival will strengthen our team. He will be a huge asset."
The defender himself also expressed his delight with the move, but expressed his gratitude towards his previous club, too.
Vermaelen added, "I'm sad to be leaving Ajax and I would like to thank everyone for their help and friendship towards me over the last eight years. I'm just so happy to be joining Arsenal. This is a great club with a world-class manager, high-quality players and a fantastic stadium. Everything is set up for Arsenal to be very successful for years to come and I joined this club because I know Arsenal will be challenging for trophies. I'm also looking forward to playing in the English Premier League, which for me is the best in the world."
Eredivisie champions: 2004
KNVB Beker: 2006, 2007
Johan Cruijff Shield: 2005, 2006, 2007
Did you know: that Vermaelen dreamed of playing alongside Paolo Maldini at Milan?
Stefan Coerts, Goal.com