Roma’s mantra, under the new sporting director Monchi, is clear: Buy young players with great potential at a fair price. While at Sevilla, Monchi had a track record for finding talented fullbacks ready to break out for a bigger European club (Dani Alves and Aleix Vidal being two prime examples.) Rick Karsdorp exactly matches the profile that Roma has been scouting feverishly: young yet experienced, as he has been a mainstay in Feyenoord’s XI for the past two seasons. Since bursting into the XI, he has been the best right back in the Eredivisie, but it was this past season, his breakout season, where he won the league with Feyenoord. Having finally made the move to a top 5 league, he promises to be a key option for Eusebio Di Francesco over the course of the upcoming Serie A season.
Feyenoord was a well-oiled machine last season. Under Gio Van Bronckhorst, they had the best attack as well as the best defense in league, but more than anything, the squad had a rather ‘un-Dutchlike’ mentality of overcoming losing scoring lines, allowing them to pip a youthful and uber-talented Ajax squad to the title in the last match of the season. All season, they only lost one match versus the rest of the top 5 in the Dutch first division, and in Van Bronckhorst’s 4-3-3, Karsdorp was an everpresent cog in the machine, delivering the Rotterdam club their first league title in 18 years. At 184cm tall and 80kg, his physique is compact, explosive and powerful. The fact that he plays in his position with such originality is due to the fact that he has only recently converted to fullback, having to learn the ins and outs of the position.
Karsdorp is often compared to a train, but it’s a comparison that fails to take account all of the dimensions of his game. He isn’t just devastating when running in open space or in his choice of where he needs to run, but he is also able to pause and consider his options. He has the technical ability and vision to play a more reflective, thoughtful game. He knows how to read the game and adapt: when he is able to run directly (either with the ball or on the overlap), he lets himself be carried by the impetus of his driving runs, but when he comes inside the pitch or when he is forced to play in tighter spaces, or when he helps to build the play from a wider position, he plays more logically and thoughtfully.
He has been called the Schoonhoven Locomotive. Rick Karsdorp born there, on February 11, 1995. Schoonhoven is a small town in South Holland, famous only for silver production. He began his footballing education with Voetbalvereniging Schoonhoven, the club which trained him and allowed him to demonstrate his quality. It took little for Feyenoord to notice this young blond boy, and in 2004, at the tender age of nine, Karsdorp was recruited to play in the ranks of the Rotterdamers.
Karsdorp debuted for De Trots van Zuid’s first team in August 2014, in a crucial UEFA Champions League Qualifier against Besiktas, replacing then-captain Jordy Clasie. His steady rise from all of Holland’s youth teams has seen him ascend from the U17 side to the current senior Oranje squad. He started playing in the youth setups as a midfielder, playing everywhere from central midfield to attacking midfield to the wing, but if Holland make it to the World Cup next summer, there’s a good chance he’ll be their starting right back.
Fred Rutten, Feyenoord’s coach before van Bronckhorst, saw Karsdorp’s potential as a wide player and moved him to fullback at the start of the 2014/15 season. However, it was Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s presence and Feyenoord’s tactical stability that facilitated Karsdorp’s evolution into a full back. His sophisticated metamorphosis was not solely carried out on the pitch; it was continuous and systematic repetition of movements on the training ground that helped him develop into a key player.
In the 2015-16 season, he had the highest crossing ratios among Eredivisie fullbacks, with 5 crosses per 90 minute (1.1 of which were accurate). This past season, he has been crossing less, but with greater accuracy (3.9 crosses per 90, 1 of which is accurate), creating the same number of chances (1.4 key passes per 90 minutes).
Karsdorp prefers to use the inside of his foot for crosses, with a technique that allows him to use precision without compromising spin or power. The trajectories of his crosses aren’t always the tidiest, but they are still frequently dangerous, even from midway inside the opposition half. His ability to read the play and his team-mates’ movements isn’t limited to crosses, however, but is linked to his his awareness of when to play a pass (he frequently uses the outside of his foot to speed up the play, with excellent results).
The Schoonhoven Locomotive stands out as a modern footballer in the number of tactical options he can provide: positionally, he stretches teams that overload their left hand side by switching play to create numerical superiority. He has the technical understanding to open up tight, tactical contests with quick transitional play or by pressing higher or lower up the pitch, when direct play is needed down the right hand side (both through his runs and his vertical passing). Due to his history as a midfielder, he can adapt a number of in-game changes that require a change of shape.
Even in the 4-3-3, situationally, Van Bronckhorst would utilize Karsdorp as an extra midfielder from time to time in the buildup of play, as the young Dutchman started in a 4-man backline before pushing up into what becomes a 5-man midfield during the periods his team has the ball. In effect, the 4-3-3 in defense becomes a 2-3-5 system in buildup, where Karsdorp forms part of a “3-man midfield.” Acting positionally as an inverted fullback, Karsdorp would cut inside to get involved in the game, exhibiting his outstanding vision and exceptional passing, and carry the ball into central areas when going forward to exploit the half-spaces.
Consider even with the tactical tweaks Van Bronkhorst made this past season, a healthy 41% of Feyenoord’s attacks come down via his flank, which is testament to the fact that Karsdorp has continued providing a vital wide option on the right while combining well with summer acquisition Steven Berghuis.
While improving his attacking skills, Karsdorp has also been forced to adapt his defensive instincts to that of a full back’s over the past year and a half. Even if it doesn’t come naturally, self-sacrifice is crucial during the periods playing out of possession. It’s always necessary to try to maintain the defensive line, committing yourself when pressing or marking an opponent, studying the distance between you and your team-mates. His strength in the tackle and in one-on-ones is fundamental, particularly when playing alongside centre backs who aren’t very quick or when faced with wingers who play very high up, even when out of possession. He’s very composed under pressure and doesn’t try to do more then he needs to when defending. As a result, he only had 3 yellow cards in the 30 league games he featured in last season. Karsdorp’s discipline is something that is not only unique in an attack-oriented young defender, but it’s also something that’s tough to teach a player.
Karsdorp is undoubtedly one of the most promising right-backs in Europe. By modern standards, he’s probably considered more restrained compared to the other under-23 right-backs who moved to bigger clubs this summer (Nélson Semedo & Andrea Conti). While his move did not attract as much attention as the other two, he has the potential to become a sort of “Dutch Cafu.” The Brazilian Legend, during his time at Roma, was nicknamed il Pendolino, or the Express Train, just as Karsdorp was nicknamed after a train.
Given the time to recover from his recent knee surgery, Roma fans have every reason to be excited about what the Dutch fullback eventually can bring to their side.
By: Victor Charnetsky/@VanDerCharks
Photo: Louie Hendy/@LH_BCFC