As Celtic look to bolster key positions ahead of a title challenge this year, much of the excitement has surrounded the three Japanese players signed so far, and understandably so.
After all, Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi all look players who can immediately improve the midfield and striking options. And with injuries aplenty, and a thinness, particularly in the number eight position and wide areas, it was essential for Ange Postecoglou to get some first team ready players to allow the necessary rotation his punishing philosophy requires. The addition of a youthful but exciting prospect in Johnny Kenny from Sligo Rovers may also see a further attacking but is likely Kenny will start his career, at least initially in Tommy McIntyre’s B team.
However, there remains an argument that defensively Celtic still remain imbalanced. That is particularly clear with Carl Starfelt, a player unfairly pilloried despite being a right footed central defender, and one being asked, due to a lack of left footed options within the squad to operate as a left sided centre back.
It’s a strange anomaly in football that right footed players in central defence often switch between left and right sided central positions, yet in Ange Postecoglou’s system, where the full backs are inverted, there is a clear danger, without an ability to receive the ball on your natural foot and playing a high line to boot, those valuable seconds as the player switches from his less natural foot to his most comfortable, or challenges with his weaker choice, can make an impact on the overall effectiveness of the system.
There is also an argument to say a lack of genuine pace in all centre backs employed at the club negates the effectiveness of a system that plays such a high defensive line, and as such in transition can be open to quick opponents on the counter, and one with acres to run into. The same can be said for the absence of a central defender who can break the lines and free up midfield and attacking options, as Kris Ajer did admirably prior to his move to Brentford.
Celtic of course did try and correct that balance last year but fell short with the gazumping by Liverpool of the Ben Davies deal from Preston, yet they haven’t sought to revisit this deficiency in the team since.
Perhaps that’s understandable, given the emergency surgery required for almost every position in the Celtic first team last summer. But now you could argue the squad is perhaps five players away from a European standard never mind a team capable of competing in a domestic environment.
Genuine competition for Joe Hart, a left back to challenge Greg Taylor, one more midfield number eight to add to Reo Hatate – assuming Riley McGree does indeed choose the Championship over the mouth-watering prospect of Champions League football – to allow Turnbull and Rogic to be adequately rotated, a right winger with the trickery to unlock defences to balance the direct nature of Abada and Forrest, and then there is that left sided central defender. Add those players between this window and the next and there is an argument to say the seemingly impossible rebuild could be nigh on complete within three transfer windows.
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Yet with funds no doubt getting tighter the more we spend, and with a scouting system you’d assume in transition, there’s a case to be made for loan options, perhaps with the option to buy, that has served us well with Cameron Carter Vickers and Jota.
One player who would fit the left sided central defensive option was a player who won the Eerste Divisie, Best Talent award last season and one who, after an impressive season with FC Volendam, whom he was already captaining, made the jump from Holland’s second tier to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg. He also made the 2020 list as one of Holland’s most exciting talents.
Micky van de Ven at 20 years old is a superbly talented defender, and despite being attached to the Mino Raiola agency, for now is one who isn’t playing too much football. There is little chance of Raiola allowing that to continue much longer.
Under the guidance of Wim Jonk, Van de Ven stood out at FC Volendam. In normal circumstances he may have stayed there. However, after missing out on promotion, it was always likely he’d move on to ensure he stepped up a level. Wolfsburg won the race but there is an argument to say an intermediate step at a top flight club and one with European football, may have been a steadier incline than heading straight to the Bundesliga where every point is a prisoner and where gradual progression isn’t always possible.
Yet in Scotland, Micky van de Ven could have made that step. He could have been facing opponents less refined in Scotland. He could have been toughened up against opposition fast and physical as opposed the cultured approach in Holland, and from there he could have bridged the gap from second tier Dutch football before joining one of the big four leagues. Now however he’s in limbo, with a solitary appearance to his name but no less promise.
For Celtic an opportunity lies there to pick up a player out the picture at Wolfsburg but one who could solve Celtic’s balance issues in central defence. A loan deal would likely suit both teams and an option, rather than obligation to buy, could ensure the security both sides may need, should the agreement be worded to suit both Celtic and Wolfsburg.
So, what of the players strength and weaknesses?
Well Micky van de Ven ticks a lot of boxes for an Ange system. He has the height at 6ft 3 and he’s also an athletic and agile player. He’s one that likes to engage early with opponents and win the ball back immediately when possession is lost.
Van de Ven also has good acceleration over shorter distances and can vary his pace effectively. He also utilises his long stride to cover the ground, making him an ideal defender for a team playing a high defensive line. He also has the ability to progress the ball into the opposition half and is comfortable with the ball at his feet.
As such the missing Ajer approach may assist in breaking lines and disrupting low block defensive and midfield lines, and much like Ajer his shielding of the ball and physicality makes it difficult for opponents to engage successfully.
Of course, as with any player there are downsides to Micky van de Ven.
At 20 years old and with only 49 games under his belt, and all but one in the Dutch second division, you can argue there is inexperience to contend with. And as with any young central defender technical proficiency still has to come with gametime.
The timing of when to engage and when to sit off is also very much a work in progress. However, it should be said in a Postecoglou system the option to sit off appears to be redundant as the manager prefers early engagement when possession is lost, something Carl Starfelt could benefit from with a little leniency in that regard.
After all the manager asks less of Tony Ralston as opposed to when Josip Juranovic operates at right back, less of Liam Scales at left back as opposed to the tactical demands placed on Greg Taylor, and further up the field the manager is willing to tweak things when David Turnbull plays, yet more is demanded of Tom Rogic. As such any naivety in terms of engagement could be afforded to Micky Van De Ven, particularly if both first-choice full backs were available for selection.
The technical abilities of Micky van de Ven however far outweigh anything negatives the player may suffer from. Indeed, anything negative at all can simply be put down to his current stage of footballing development and the naivety of youth.
When Van de Ven moved to Wolfsburg it was too good an opportunity for the player to decline, but it seems the near level playing field of the Bundesliga is hampering his chances. The manager may well rate his abilities, but the jump from the Eerste Divisie may weigh heavy in his thoughts when choosing his team, but such reticence could be to Celtic’s advantage.
Come to Celtic and the gap between his history and his ceiling becomes more manageable and come on loan initially and neither side have anything to lose.
Should the player succeed however, then an element of doubt remains with Wolfsburg as to whether that progression in the Scottish Premiership, or even the Europa Conference league, as Europe’s third tier competition, remains enough to justify a starting position in a Bundesliga side.
If that doubt does remain and Celtic are happy with what they get, a permanent deal may well be possible.
As such for Celtic a move, initially on loan, could and should be of the no brainer variety when it comes to Micky van de Ven. There is simply nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain.
Celtic however need to ask that question of Wolfsburg in this window, as it’s likely to be January or never when it comes to Micky van de Ven, because once he gets his chance to shine, he’ll take it at Wolfsburg and the door for Celtic will likely close for good.