MADRID SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15: Gregory van der Wiel (L) of Ajax duels for the ball with Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League group G match between Real Madrid and Ajax at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15 2010 in Madrid Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Since the beginning of the World Cup, several of the world's top sides have been linked to Dutch right back Gregory van der Wiel. For Chelsea, he fills an obvious need. Jose Bosingwa has forgotten how to defend, and therefore has probably sealed his exit from the Bridge this summer. Branislav Ivanovic has done an admirable job deputising, but he's an all defense option (with the exception of set pieces) and probably best suited to play CB with occasional coverage on the right. We really don't have much in the way of top end talent at the academy that plays right back, with the possible exception of Billy Clifford. Clifford at this point isn't likely to be ready for more than spot coverage, and he may be better suited to a midfield role anyway. All of those factors combined should lead us to believe that we'll be very much involved with any world class right back that becomes available this summer, specifically any that are more well-rounded than the guys we already have.
Gregory van der Wiel is one player that fits that description nearly perfectly. He plays for Ajax, so he's not currently plying his trade in one of the top leagues in the world. He's also shown on the Champions League and World Cup stages that he can certainly hold his own against the best in the world, so the transition to the Premier League should be less of a concern. Ajax are known recently for developing top talent, and selling them when they are entering the prime years of their careers (much like Luis Suarez in January). Having just turned 23 in February, van der Wiel is certainly of the right age for Ajax to consider selling. He also fits in at a perfect age for Chelsea...he's developed enough to step into the first team immediately, but he'll still likely have another contract in him if he's a success here. Given that Bayern have reportedly lost out on him and the fact that Barcelona has resigned Dani Alves, that really doesn't leave too many places other than Chelsea where van der Wiel would really logically fit. After the jump we'll take a closer look at the Dutch defender to get a look at what he brings to the table (with video).
As mentioned earlier, van der Wiel turned 23 this February. He stands 5' 11" tall, and is better with the ball on his right foot than his left. He made his debut for Ajax in 2007, and made his full international debut in 2009. He came through the Ajax youth ranks as a center back, and while his marking and awareness were both considered quite solid, he lacked the size to really do an exceptional job there. Ajax moved him to the right, and his career really took off from there. Since that point, he's been noted as an attack minded right back who clearly loves to go forward. He's never been looked at as a liability defensively though, although he's not been tested all that often against top flight left sided players in the Eredevisie. He's generally done well against them in European and International action, so I'd already rate his defending well above that of Jose Bosingwa. For what it's worth, he's probably also better in the attack at this point in their respective careers. Here's a little highlight reel of his so you can get a look at the player:
He's noted for exceptional pace and work rate, and he's also a solid crosser of the ball. He's good with the ball at his feet, and he also has a natural feel for when to make a run into the box. He provides natural width coming down the right flank, which would be an ideal fit when Chelsea play Ramires of Michael Essien as their right sided midfielder. Unfortunately, most highlight videos don't really focus on his defending, so there isn't too much to analyze there. Here's a second clip, some of the same highlights are in there but there are a few others worth watching:
Once again, it's pretty clear that VDW works well from the right flank and has a pretty good eye for when to make a darting run into space. That type of right back would be a perfect compliment to Essien or Ramires, both of whom track back well and can cover space left when he darts into the box.
I'd fully expect Chelsea to be linked to quite a few right backs this summer, but van der Wiel really should be our top choice. Manchester City is also rumored to be in on him, so this one may drag on for a bit if Ajax plays their cards right. Arsenal supposedly have interest as well, but I imagine he's already more expensive than they will be willing to go, and they really aren't likely to outbid Chelsea or City even if they do buy players this summer. He's one to keep an eye on, as he'll be available, he's quality, and he fills a gaping need.