Sven Botman to Newcastle: How a loan from Heerenveen turned the former Ajax and Lille defender ‘from boy to man’ | Soccer News

Sven Botman may be new to Newcastle, but the North East of England is not completely foreign to him. In fact, it was in neighboring Sunderland three years ago next month that he took the first step on his way to St James’ Park.

The defender, who was still just 19 at the time, had just accepted a one-season loan from boyhood club Ajax to Eredivisie rivals Heerenveen. His first assignment was a pre-season friendly, a few miles from the place he would soon call home, the Stadium of Light.

Botman was named to the bench but he didn’t stay there long. A first-half injury to Ibrahim Dresevic, one of Heerenveen’s starting centre-backs, meant he was needed earlier than expected.

It was a first chance to show his potential and he left the pitch at the end after helping Heerenveen to a clean sheet and a 1-0 win. “He came in and he never came out,” recalls Johnny Jansen, the club’s manager. sky sports with a small laugh.

Sven Botman in action for Heerenveen against former club Ajax

Botman had never played a first-team game for Ajax, his only previous experience having come with the club’s reserves in the Dutch second tier, but he would go on to play every minute of Heerenveen’s Eredivisie season before that. it is interrupted by the pandemic in April.

“We needed a centre-back and he was a tall, tall guy who had a lot of talent,” Jansen explains. “We made an appointment to speak to him at the club and in that meeting you could see in his eyes that he was interested, that he wanted to play at the highest level.

“To stay at Ajax, he knew it was going to be very difficult to get into the first team, so he wanted to take the opportunity he was given at Heerenveen. He knew things about the club and he was interested in us, in the way we wanted to play, in the way we trained.

“He was a guy with a clear goal.”

Botman took a significant step towards that goal at Heerenveen, managing the leap to the Eredivisie impressively and later describing his loan spell there as “the start of me”.

He wasn’t the only one to benefit from the arrangement, either.

“When a centre-forward received the ball in the feet, he was always very strong to fight,” explained Jansen. “He was also very fast. Not so much in the first few meters, but when he reached his top speed.

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Sven Botman arrives at St James’ Park to complete his Newcastle medical

“He was strong defending his own box. He was strong in the air. He won duels. And he was also very good in one-on-one fights.

“He was an important player for us that season.”

Those same qualities have now convinced Newcastle to pay £35m for his signature and club supporters are hoping he will endear themselves to them as quickly as he did Heerenveen.

“It happened very quickly, very quickly,” says Jansen. “At this club, the fans like it when a defender fights with the opposing centre-forward.

He was strong in defending his own box. He was strong in the air. He won duels. And he was also very good in one-on-one fights

Johnny Jansen on Sven Botman

“I remember one game, at home against Feyenoord at the start of the season. We scored a goal, I think it was Dresevic, and the crowd was really happy, but at the end of the game Botman made a tackle and I think everyone shouted just as loud as when we scored.

“Everyone was smiling and saying, ‘Yeah, that’s what we like!’ It was one of the moments that helped him establish a good connection with the fans here in Heerenveen.”

Botman honed this combative style of defense with the help of former Ajax defender-turned-manager Winston Bogarde during his time at Ajax’s renowned academy but, despite all his potential, he still had plenty to learn when he arrives in Heerenveen.

Indeed, while Jansen liked Botman’s strong character, even handing him the captain’s armband at times, his confidence and competitiveness sometimes led him to overstep the bounds.

Sven Botman has played 26 consecutive Eredivisie games at Heerenveen
Sven Botman has played 26 consecutive Eredivisie games at Heerenveen

Most notably, there was a TV interview following a 2-1 loss to Fortuna Sittard in which he criticized Heerenveen’s forwards for failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities.

“I don’t know what’s going on in our strikers’ heads, but I hope it doesn’t go through their heads,” a frustrated Botman said. “At some point it makes you feel a bit discouraged as a team.”

The comments were not well received by Jansen, but the episode served as an important lesson for Botman.

“He said some things about the team and some players that he shouldn’t have said,” Jansen said. “He had to talk about himself first, not about his colleagues. But he was only 20 and he was already a captain, that’s why he had to do this interview right after the game.

“So when we got back from Sittard, I took him to my office and told him he had to learn from it. Don’t talk about your colleagues on TV. If you want to talk about them, do it in the dressing room.” room, not in an interview.

“The next day he stood in the locker room and said, ‘Guys, I’m sorry, it was a mistake to say those things. Next time, if I have something to say, I’ll do it here.

“You could see he grew after that,” adds Jansen.

Sven Botman in action against Chelsea in the Champions League
Sven Botman in action against Chelsea in the Champions League

“At 20, I think it was a very good thing for him to learn.”

There were improvements to be made on the pitch as well as off it.

Botman relished the defensive side of the game, his 6ft 5in frame helping him win nearly three times as many aerial duels as any other Heerenveen player during the season, but, despite his schooling at Ajax, its cast still needed work.

“His passing was on a good level, I would say,” Jansen says. “He had a good pass with his left foot and he could play the ball between the lines, which was useful, but that wasn’t his greatest quality.

“Don’t forget that Ajax have the ball 80 per cent of the time in the Netherlands, so that’s crucial for them. They had Daley Blind as a left centre-back and he’s really, really good with the ball.”

The same could be said of Ajax’s other options in the position, including Joel Veltman, Lisandro Martinez and fellow Botman academy graduate Per Schuurs. “That’s why I don’t think he would have had many minutes there,” adds Jansen.

Sven Botman has represented the Netherlands at U21 level
Sven Botman has represented the Netherlands at U21 level

That’s not to say his progress at Heerenveen went unnoticed at his parent club. Indeed, Marc Overmars, their former director of football, gave him a new contract mid-season. But a €9m offer from Lille that summer was deemed too good to turn down.

It would be a bargain for Lille and his continued progress there, where he formed a solid partnership with Jose Fonte as they propelled Paris Saint-Germain to the Ligue 1 title in 2020/21, which is reflected in their profit from its sale to Newcastle. .

Just three years after his afternoon breakthrough at the Stadium of Light, Eddie Howe will hope Botman’s development will continue on an upward trajectory for some time to come. Back in Heerenveen, however, they know he has come a long way already.

“When he came to us he was a big, tall guy with a lot of potential, but he was also a young man,” says Jansen. “When I see him now, I’m like, ‘Hey, he’s grown up. He’s really become a man.'”

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