Justin Kluivert and Hirving Lozano: Scouting Eredivisie Starlets

The Next Big Thing in Dutch Football?

The Eredivisie is arguably the most divisive league in the world when it comes to scouting talent. On one hand, there have been success stories from Eredivisie departures in recent memory. Christian Eriksen has been one of the best players in the Premier League and one of the catalysts for Tottenham’s rise since 2015. After his shaky tenure in England, Memphis Depay has become one of the best players in Ligue 1 since his arrival last January. Georginio Wijnaldum, Toby Alderweireld, Dusan Tadic, these players and others have come out of Holland and done well in other leagues.

But, it’s hard not to be skeptical of the league on some level: the number of players to come out of the league and not done well afterwards, the massive discrepancy of talent between the top/bottom of the league, recent failings of Dutch teams in European competitions, the average age of the league is so young that even fully matured 20–21 year olds can look like world beaters. It’s made scouting the league harder when it comes to projecting how well a player (and more importantly, a young player) would do elsewhere, whereas Ligue 1 has players leaving the league and consistently translating better to the teams that acquires their services. The Eredivisie still has gems that are worth putting genuine resources towards, but you really have to do your homework to make sure you don’t end up with a dud transfer (you can say this about any league really, but it is a bit more poignant with Holland).

I say all of this because there are two wide players within Holland that have generated buzz across Europe, and are the subject of potential big transfers in the not too distant future. Justin Kluivert is the 18 year old wonderkid who had a hat-trick against Roda JC Kerkrade in late November, and Hirving Lozano is doing things at PSV from the wide areas that vaguely remind you of what Memphis did during his breakout season in 2014–15. Very much like my article about David Neres and Malcom, this article is based on video analysis on what I see from the two during the footage. Again, I wouldn’t consider myself to be an expert of Eredivisie in the slightest, but enough footage has been gathered of these players so that these opinions being put forth aren’t laced with bullshit.

Justin Kluivert (Age 18):

Athleticism

What made me hesitant to fall in love with David Neres is probably the biggest asset that Kluivert has. From the footage I watched, Neres looked like a good athlete who had elite coordination + first touch, but not necessarily a great all around athlete because of his limitation in creating separation off the dribble and lacking elite level speed, which made it a genuine question as to whether Neres should be moved centrally on at least a part time basis so his potential could be fulfilled.

I don’t think Kluivert has that issue because he’s in some ways the best of both worlds concerning Malcom and Neres. He has the ability to blow by people after executing a dribble, which Malcom has. He’s also has close to, if not the same silky touch and excellent ball control that Neres possesses. Combine that with the impressive balance that he already shows at such a young age, and Kluivert probably profiles as a ++ athlete who could even get better on the margins once he gets a bit older, which is scary considering he’s not turning 19 until May.

On-Ball Threat

What made Ousmane Dembele a special prospect at age 18, along with his other incredible gifts, was that he possessed the ability to have enough equity on the ball with both of his feet. Even if you did a good enough job of shading him onto their weaker foot, he still could create something semi-decent, whether it be a shot or a cross near the byline. Attackers who have enough confidence in both of their feet are a defender’s worst nightmare.

This is to say that I’m not quite sure if Kluivert has that level of two-footed ability, but he at least projects the confidence of being a two-footed player, which I guess is half the battle. When he gets the ball on the left wing and there’s an avenue to hit a left footed cross, he’s not shy about doing so. Sometimes he’ll receive the ball in stride and speed towards a spot to cross, or he’ll use tricks and feints to create a little separation for himself. The results can be erratic, but he’s at least flashed the ability to connect on crosses and create semi-decent chances for his strikers.

The same thing can’t be said about his left foot when it comes to shooting. In his two seasons in the Eredivisie, he’s taken only 10 of his 52 shots with his left foot, and none of them have gone in. Compare that to Mbappe during 2016–17 when Mbappe took 14/53 with his left foot (26.4%) or Dembele when he took 29/56 (51.8%!!) in 2015–16. Maybe the dominance lessens as he gets a bit older, or perhaps he’s an 80/20 guy with his shooting throughout his career. I will say, and I don’t know if any of this has any explanatory value or it’s just pure bullshit, but at least the shots he takes with his left foot don’t end up in slapstick comedy levels of misses.

What’s inarguable about Kluivert is his elite combination of coordination + burst over short distance, which is what makes him such a tantalizing prospect. You don’t find a lot of wide players who can shake their marker loose and immediately put on the afterburners and speed ahead, even when he’s being held and/or other dark arts are being used to slow him down.

There are also some moments where he displays the flair and ingenuity that further reinforce the multitude of skills he has in his repertoire. He’s a supremely creative player and he’s not afraid of showing it.

Obviously, he isn’t perfect by any means. He does try some audacious dribbling attempts that probably need to be curtailed a bit once he make the jump to a new league and deals with consistently better athletes at the fullback position. Particularly, there’ll be situations where he’ll be defended by two opponents and tries to split the double team and access the space behind them, but to no avail.

As a playmaker, when not including crossing attempts, he’s been fine but I’m curious as to how that’ll translate in another environment. Considering his vast technical abilities that he possesses, I would hazard to guess he’ll develop into a capable playmaker, but it’s something that’s worth monitoring going forward. All in all, you can see the overall potential that oozes out of him.

Transferability

I’m not too terribly worried about how Justin Kluivert will look once he gets to a tougher league, though it’s probably best for him to stay in Holland for another 1–2 years. He’s got the physical traits needed to be a success once he makes his move, and even the worries like strength should be ironed out once he gets a bit older. He probably needs to tone down some of the dribbling attempts that he tries, and it is noteworthy that in the two matches versus Feyenoord and PSV, he was held relatively in check. Considering how top heavy the Eredivisie is, not doing well against your main competition is a little bit of a demerit, but I think the rough outlines of what he can be as a player should fit in quite well wherever he ends going after Ajax.

Outlook

It’s hard not to get excited about Justin Kluivert’s talent. I don’t think he’s at the supernova talent that Mbappe/Dembele were during their breakout seasons at 18, but he’s really talented in his own right. He’s an incredible all around athlete who’s displayed the potential of being a semi-credible two footed threat in the future. He’s got to work out some of the kinks of his game, which is understandable considering how young he is. Despite the worries of the Eredivisie being a younger league than most, being an intoxicating talent and doing tangible things at 18 years old is still an accomplishment. If his development follows the ideal path where you build upon success on a year by year basis and show growth from age 18 -> 19 and beyond, Kluivert could very well end being one of the bigger names in European Football in the near future.

Hirving Lozano (Age 22)

Athleticism

Without the ball, I think Hirving Lozano is fast and should be able to translate that to other leagues when he moves from PSV. He has the acceleration needed to find gaps within the backline of the opponent and race onto throughball attempts from his teammates, turning them into premium goal scoring opportunities. I’m not sure if he possesses elite level quickness at the 90th percentile or above, but I’m not too worried on that front in comparison to someone like David Neres. Good coordination + touch on the ball, but probably not at the level like Kluivert/Neres. When in possession of the ball, especially on the left wing, he doesn’t hit top acceleration as quickly as others after executing a dribble nor does he create too much separation. In that sense, he‘s a little bit reminiscent of Alexis Sanchez during his Arsenal tenure whenever he was stationed on the left. He’d be classified as a + athlete but not necessarily a ++ athlete.

On-Ball Threat

I’ve seen some people in the media make comparisons between Lozano and Memphis Depay, and I get it to some degree. Both were pacey wingers who shot a lot (in Memphis’ case, his shot volume was almost transcendent in the Opta era) and scored a lot of goals from open play.

The key difference between the two was that Memphis was a freakish athlete who could almost get to any spot he wanted on the pitch with the ball, causing damage towards the opponent, whereas Lozano isn’t anywhere near on that level when he has possession of the ball. Lozano has split time this season between being a left/right sided wide player, and even within games he’ll alternate between being on either wing. When he does get the ball on the left wing, he can kind of look rather… ordinary? That’s probably being a bit harsh, and maybe I’m just judging him on too high of a standard. He’ll have his moments where he can skip past the opponent and find a glimmer of space through flicking the ball and sprinting into space (though those can end up leading to bad shots when he’s cutting in from the left side), but there’ll also be a number of times where he can’t shake his marker and create that separation. His off the dribble separation on the left wing can be erratic.

If Lozano was a full time left winger, I think he would be okay in a tougher league, but I’m not entirely confident that he’d be a good one. Fortunately for him, he’s a dual wing threat because his work on the right hand side can be quite good. He’s flashed the ability to be a decent crosser with the ball and create dangerous opportunities for his teammates to get on the end of them.

When you exclude his crosses, Lozano still does decently with his passing even though he’s not a high volume playmaker for the wide position. In some ways he’s almost the opposite of Ousmane Dembele, where he’s not asked to try a lot of risky passes, so he’ll potentially look better on a passing model compared to other wingers who try and look for the home run pass on a consistent basis. He’s good at executing layoffs for his teammates, he’ll pass backwards to an open teammate if he’s got nothing for himself, and stuff of that nature. In terms of forward passes that aren’t crosses, he doesn’t try a lot of them, but he’s shown that he’s capable of pulling them off.

I think when you add it all together, Lozano is a fine on-ball threat but not necessarily a very dangerous one. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but I think his ceiling is a bit lower than others because of it.

Transferability

What will help Hirving Lozano when he leaves PSV is that there’s enough of a body of work to suggest he has positional versatility. While I’m not exactly inspired by him playing on the left hand side, you could probably get away with him in that position for some games during the calendar year. He’s probably better off playing on the right hand side or as a shadow/second striker of sorts, as he’s got the speed off the ball to present himself as a threat for dangerous passes from deep + he’s got a decent sense of being able to stay onside.

He could also be a very dangerous counter attacking threat if he gets the service from one of his teammates.

A 22 year old dominating Eredivisie on a stacked (relative to almost the rest of the league) PSV side could be fair grounds to have skepticism, but there’s enough in his game that he could be a success elsewhere.

Outlook

When a guy is averaging 0.94 non penalty goals + assists per 90 minutes along with a 5.8 shot contribution per 90 rate (shots + key passes), there’s only so much to complain about with Lozano. He’s been one of the best players in the Eredivisie this year and has been a great asset to PSV. There’s enough reason to believe that he’ll do well in his next club, and as long as you’re not thinking that you’re paying for a star but more so a cog in the machine, Lozano would be a good bet to place on. Considering that in 2018–19, he’ll be 23 years old and with what he’s already done, it’s probably better for him that he seeks a new challenge in the summer of 2018. I’m skeptical as to him becoming meaningfully better within the Eredivisie environment, but there’s enough in his game to think that he’ll be a good, but maybe not great player at another club if given the amount of playing time needed.

Conclusion:

Justin Kluivert and Hirving Lozano have been quite productive this season for their respective clubs, especially in the case of Lozano with his shot + goal scoring rates. They are two of the most exciting talents in Holland, and should be heavily sought out in the transfer market in the near future. Lozano has really promising off ball movements that gives him potential positional versatility going forward, while Kluivert has that rare combo of high coordination/touch + on-ball burst in short distances. They’re threats to the opposition in their own different way, and you can see how the two could be successful as players later in their careers.

Lozano has been better than Kluivert this season, but Lozano is also 4 years older and already had first team experience with Pachuca at Liga MX. He’s a seasoned 22 year old who’s dominating a league that tends to have a younger average age + acres of open space to operate as an attacker. Lozano is probably good enough to be at a club like Dortmund and getting consistent playing time or at Liverpool as a younger option to help spell time for Salah/Mane, whereas it’s probably best for Kluivert to stay at Ajax for another season or two and get the kinks out of his game. Having said all that, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if by the time Kluivert gets to age 22, he’s a considerably better player than what Lozano currently is because he has the chance of profiling as a generational talent if he hits his 90th+ percentile outcomes as a player.

Very much like David Neres, I think both of these guys pass the bullshit test and are the kind of players I would scout very hard if I was a club with lots of cash to throw at players. Lozano would fit in at a lot of clubs and provide immediate value, while Kluivert is probably one of the best Under 20 talents in European football. The Eredivisie has its faults, but these two guys are about as good of bets as you can find in the division.