Position(s): CM, AM, DM
Preferred Foot: Right
Strengths: progressive passes, vision, ball-striking, technique, crossing, passing
Development Areas: ball-carrying frequency, shot frequency
It has been a stellar return to Ligue 1 for Toulouse, who have finished 13th, 13 points clear of the relegation zone, thrashed Nantes 5-1 in the Coupe de France Final, and consequently qualified for Europe for the first time in club history. However, they will be entering the 2023/24 season without various key figures from manager Philippe Montanier to goalkeeper Maxime Dupé to midfielders Stijn Spierings and Brecht Dejaegere, all of whom have departed the club on free transfers. Perhaps no departure is more damaging than that of Branco van den Boomen.
Born in Veldhoven, Van den Boomen bounced around various Dutch clubs before joining Toulouse in 2020 following the club’s relegation, becoming the second Dutch player to play for Les Violets after Rob Rensenbrink some 30 years prior. He impressed in midfield alongside Spierings and Dejaegere, chipping in five goals and seven assists as Toulouse finished third, only to lose to Nantes in the promotion/relegation playoff.
The following season, he provided a Ligue 2 record 21 assists as well as 12 goals as Toulouse finished atop the league. Despite missing Rhys Healey — who finished as Ligue 2 top scorer with 20 goals — for the entirety of the season, Montanier’s side nevertheless impressed in their return to the top-flight, with Van den Boomen playing a crucial role in the center of the pitch. Today, he leaves for Ajax, a mere nine years after departing Ajax for FC Eindhoven.
Boasting elite technical prowess, Van den Boomen is not only a set-piece specialist but an outstanding creator whose footballing IQ and vision enables him to make passes that others just can’t see. He has 2.74 key passes per 90 and is always creating chances for teammates with the perfect weight of pass, meaning that attackers don’t even have to break their stride or the direction of their run to reach the ball.
The 28-year-old is great at progressively passing the ball to teammates in advanced positions – 10.00 p/90 (top 1%). He was the primary creator for Toulouse with 4.80 shot-creating actions (top 2%), and his technical ability for someone of his height (almost 6’3”) is a great combination. His physical presence and strength make him strong in tackles as he’s even defensively active, making 2.21 tackles p/90. Moreover, Van den Boomen’s weak foot is capable of producing some top-notch passes and shots, and if he can utilize his left even more, he could become a far more unpredictable playmaker.
In terms of areas for improvement, Van den Boomen could stand to work on his ball-carrying (1.50 dribbles per 90) and shooting (1.5 shots per 90). It should be noted, however, that Toulouse are not a possession-heavy team, but at Ajax, he should have far more opportunities to shoot and carry the ball. He works best on the left side of midfield, operating as the left-sided central midfielder whether Toulouse operated in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1.
Despite Toulouse only having 51.1% average possession, Van Den Boomen attempted 69 passes (top 10%) – the highest in Toulouse’s squad. His set-piece prowess does inflate this slightly because he took all the corners and free kicks for Toulouse, placing him in the top 1% for dead-ball passes (9.66 p/90), but this is a positive inflation due to the quality of chances he creates with an xAG of 8.1 (8 actual assists).
His pass accuracy is low at just 76.1%, but this is partially due to the fact he makes so many medium/long passes too. Don’t be fooled by this — he attempted the most long passes (19.82) in Europe’s top 5 leagues for a midfielder and is second in long passes completed (12.06), only bettered by Toni Kroos. He has good enough defensive activity to form a great double pivot next to a defensively solid ball-winning DM (at Toulouse it was Spierings). From a deeper position, this allows him to progress the ball usually through his long passes and passes through the lines.
The Dutchman is in the top 1% for progressive passes in Europe’s top 5 leagues for a midfielder and flourishes at carrying the ball forward from a deep position, but in order to be more effective on the transition, he should focus on increasing his progressive carries this season. He works best as an 8 where he can roam about and utilise his vision for lethal final passes. In these positions, he can also make more shots and runs into the box too, but his versatility makes him adaptable to tactical alterations.
Ajax this season set up in one of two 4-3-3 shape variations: either with a 10 and two central midfielders (one being defensive and the other a creator) or one defensive midfielder and two central midfielders, although new manager Maurice Steijn typically preferred a 4-2-3-1 over the last season at Sparta Rotterdam.
It remains to be seen whether Van den Boomen relegates Kenneth Taylor to the bench or plays alongside Taylor or some other midfielder, but one thing is clear: he will add experience and creativity to a fairly young Ajax side, as well as invaluable leadership qualities, having worn the captain’s armband on several occasions for Toulouse last season. He could just be one of the best free transfers of summer 2023.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / FEP / Icon Sport