Justin Hoogma was brought up in Twente Enschede’s youth, before moving to Heracles Almelo in January of 2016. After spending the majority of the 2015/16 campaign on Heracles’s bench without getting regular minutes, he landed in the starting eleven the season after. At just 18 years old, Hoogma went on to play every minute of the Eredivisie season for Heracles – the youngest player ever to do so – and become a pivotal player for the side that finished tenth in the Dutch league. He has also played nine matches for his country’s youth teams (U19s and U20s) so far.
This summer, Hoffenheim’s sporting director Alexander Rosen was monitoring the market for a new centre back after Niklas Süle, who became a German international at Hoffenheim, left Hoffenheim for Bayern Munich. Rosen identified the young Dutch centre-back, who was born in Enschede, and made one of the best under-the-radar signings of the summer by securing his signature for around €2.7 million according to Transfermarkt.de. The 19-year-old defender had other options as well, according to his father.
“The top clubs from Holland have approached him; there was interest from England as well. In the end, however, everything quickly came to light. Justin didn’t even talk to any other club.” Nico-Jan Hoogma, who used to be a professional footballer himself, went on to say: “Julian Nagelsmann talked about his system and his training methods, all of which got us excited. On the way home, Justin said to me, “I just want to go to Hoffenheim.”
Hoogma has now signed a four-year- deal with the Bundesliga side, who finished fourth in the league next season and will therefore play in the Europa League after losing to Liverpool in the Champions League play-offs. Justin Hoogma considers Die Kraichgauer as the perfect fit for him to take the next step in his career. “TSG Hoffenheim’s style of play, their success, and their reputation for developing players to the next level have raised my interest from the very first conversation”, he said. However, he also admitted self-critically, “Everything is faster here, I’ll have to get used to that. Hopefully it will work out quickly.”
Hoffenheim have clearly a lot of faith in the young centre-back and he has received high praise from Alexander Rosen, director of professional football at TSG. “Justin is a highly rated defender with an outstanding left foot, who has made history in Dutch top flight football at his young age.”
Despite the fact that he was able to gain a lot of experience for his young age and that he was part of Hoffenheim’s squad in pre-season, he has seen his first-team opportunities very limited so far. After the departure of Niklas Süle to Munich, there are five central defenders in the squad including Hoogma. Last year’s regulars Benjamin Hübner and Kevin Vogt have more or less a guaranteed starting place. Ermin Bičakčić, Harvard Nordtveit and Justin Hoogma and will now fight for the vacant position in the three-man defence.
It would have been presumptuous to expect Hoogma to jump into the first XI straight away; the qualitative differences between Almelo and Hoffenheim are too great. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the young Dutch centre-back has only played regular for Hoffenheim’s U23s in the Regionalliga Südwest – Germany’s fourth tier – so far. This can also be attributed the fact that Hoffenheim plays a completely different system to what Hoogma is used too. At Heracles, he played in a traditional Dutch 4-3- 3 whereas Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim line up in a 5-3-2 or a variation of 3-1-4-2 with a lot of movement in midfield. Hoffenheim’s game plan includes a calm build-up from the back, which demands the ability to play direct balls and create space from the centre-back. Hoogma hasn’t been able to establish himself in German’s top flight yet, but at 19, he will be adaptable enough to learn to play under Nagelsmann’s guidance, especially considering that he has all the raw tools to become a success at Hoffenheim.
As expected for a Dutch player, he already knows how to aid in the first phase of build-up, and therefore the left footer is considered as a safe passer. The youngster trusts his technical skills and excels in particular at building up from the back. Despite his young age, he already acts with a great degree of calmness and sovereignty. With a height of 1.90 meters, he is a towering presence at centre-back, but he still occasionally shows weaknesses in the aerial duels, something he has to improve on sooner rather than later.
Hoogma’s tactical understanding has allowed him to hide his weaknesses quite well, but the quick play in the Bundesliga will certainly be a challenge for him. He will also have to get used to the aggressive pressing in Germany. Especially for young defensive players, the move to the Bundesliga is associated with some backlashes. A prime example is Freiburg’s Çağlar Söyüncü, who regularly made mistakes at the beginning of last season before steadily improving during the course of the season.
Justin Hoogma is clearly talented enough to succeed at Hoffenheim, but he has to prove his flexibility and develop his game further in order to get off to a similar start in the Bundesliga as he did recently in the Eredivisie as soon as he breaks into the first team. Hoogma has a bright future ahead of him, and his decision to join Hoffenheim was a very wise one considering that many young players end up being sent out on loan or rotting on the bench for years. Hoogma still needs to adjust to a new system and a new league, but due to the fact that Hoffenheim take part in three competitions this season, the youngster is likely to go on and get some minutes in the first team in the next couple of months – the perfect opportunity to make a claim for a permanent starting place after the poor performances from Bičakčić and Nordtveit so far.
By: Max Riegel/@Max_Riegel