Name: Arthur Vermeeren
Club: Royal Antwerp
Position(s): DM, CM
Preferred Foot: Right
Strengths: football IQ, passing ability, line-breaking passes, stamina, mentality, anticipation
Areas for Development: speed, physical strength
From Victor Boniface to Bart Verbruggen to Lois Openda, we’ve seen quite a few youngsters depart the Belgian top-flight and make a name for themselves in a top 5 European league. At 18 years of age, the next player to do so may very well be Arthur Vermeeren.
Born in Lier, Belgium, Vermeeren made his professional debut on August 11, 2022, coming off the bench in a 2-0 win against Lillestrom in Europa Conference League qualifying. His first league start would come on November 13 in a 2-2 draw against Club Brugge, playing the full 90 against the defending champions. From that point on, Vermeeren started in every single match for Antwerp, who would proceed to beat Mechelen 2-0 in the Belgian Cup.
Antwerp would go on to win their first league title in 66 years, booking their ticket to the UEFA Champions League group stage. After a summer that saw them lose various key players like Willian Pacho (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Gaston Avila (Ajax), Vermeeren has stepped up and led by example. He played every single minute of their Champions League campaign, grabbing a brace of assists against Shakhtar and even wearing the captain’s armband against Porto.
Having lost their first five matches, Antwerp pulled off a massive upset on the final matchday, with Vermeeren opening the scoring within two minutes in a 3-2 win against Barcelona. The Catalan side are on the lookout for a new defensive midfielder following Sergio Busquets’ departure in the summer, and Vermeeren certainly didn’t hurt his chances of landing a move to the Spanish champions with an impressive audition against Xavi’s side.
Whilst he may be 18, Vermeeren’s footballing IQ and overall composure on the ball is that of a veteran. A technically gifted midfielder who can see things that most youngsters can’t, Vermeeren’s passing ability is very impressive. He loves to roam around the half-spaces and create chances for more advanced players, particularly from a deeper position where he plays line-breaking passes to break through the opponent’s defensive structure and progress the build-up play.
The deep-lying playmaker has 6.41 progressive passes (79th percentile) and is technically secure at the base of midfield with a pass accuracy of 84.3%. Considering that he’s also doing a lot of risky line-breaking passes & long passes (5.11 with a 79.5% accuracy – top 5%), this is rather impressive. Moreover, he is an agile, press-resistant midfielder who is skilled at receiving the ball on the half-turn which allows him to drive into space with ease.
He mainly progresses the ball through his passing rather than carrying (1.33 progressive carries & 1.76 carries into final third), but he’s more than capable of dribbling out of pressure. Vermeeren isn’t always in advanced positions due to his role but when he does, he’s shown good shooting ability. If given more licence to push up, he’d do well as an 8, and it’s also worth noting that he has operated as a box-to-box midfielder on various occasions, forcing him to cover plenty of ground and work hard in his pressing efforts.
To do all this and remain active defensively whilst still having the energy to execute top passes…it’s indicative of his all-around profile and his impressive stamina. Mentality wise, Vermeeren has impressed those at Antwerp with his maturity, communication skills and leadership. He is a force to be reckoned with as a defender, boasting 2.70 tackles (top 17%) and 1.46 interceptions (top 20%) for Antwerp in their league-winning campaign.
Moreover, Vermeeren is an excellent processor of information. He constantly scans the pitch before receiving the ball and is constantly aware of his surroundings, who’s around him and how much time he has — once he gets the ball, he knows exactly what to do with it. Due to his excellent reading of the game, he’s able to make tackles without going to ground, a valuable skill that not only allows him to avoid costly bookings, but also to bounce away after winning the ball back and gain separation from his opponent.
Vermeeren is often deployed as a deep-lying playmaker where he’s able to see more of the game and be a key figure in build-up play for Antwerp as he passes through the lines with great composure and class. However, one area for improvement is his speed. He’s not slow but he’s not the quickest either and depending on the role he plays, this could be a problem. Strengthening his hips and hamstrings would go a long way towards helping him be a faster player.
Perhaps the biggest area where he needs to improve is his physical strength. He uses his body well at times but generally Vermeeren has a slight frame, and if he filled into his frame and built some upper body strength and muscle mass, he’d be much better in duels, making him a lot more complete.
As far as his best position, he’s mainly played as a lone defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 who drops deep between the center backs to collect the ball, recycle possession & progress play or in a double pivot as a box-to-box midfielder who gets more involved in the attacking third. He’s perhaps best used as an all-action 8 who reads the game well defensively when out of possession to win the ball back, carries or passes the ball up field, plays through the lines, creative in the half-spaces, arrives into the box, shoots from distance and scores the occasional goal.
He has been compared to a lot of players including Joshua Kimmich and Frenkie de Jong, two midfielders who anticipate play, carry the ball and pass through the lines. From Manchester United to Arsenal to Juventus to Bayern to Barcelona, there’s no shortage of interested clubs for Vermeeren. However, Antwerp will be looking to retain him until the end of the season, with his contract set to expire in 2026. Mark van Bommel’s side currently sit fourth in the league table, 13 points behind Union Saint-Gilloise, and they’ll be counting on their teenage dynamo as they look to retain their title for the first time in club history.
Vermeeren made his international debut for Belgium on October 13, coming off the bench in the final minutes of a 3-2 win at Austria in Euro qualifying. The following month, he played the full 90 in a 1-0 victory against Serbia in an international friendly. If he keeps improving at this rate, Domenico Tedesco may have no other choice but to call him up for next summer’s European Championship.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson
Featured Image: Quality Sport Images / Getty Images