Relegated Ballers: Vitesse

Relegated Ballers: Vitesse 2023/24

As the 2023/24 season draws to a close, the transfer window is fast approaching. Clubs around the world will be looking to strengthen their squads in preparation for the next campaign, and as far as getting good deals is concerned, there are few better places to look than relegated clubs. Using smarterscout’s league benchmarking models and advanced metrics, we will pick out some such players in this series.

The downfall of Vitesse has been one of the biggest stories in the Eredivisie this season and has garnered lots of international attention. The Arnhem-based club’s 35-year stay in the Dutch top division ended in a terrible fashion, as an 18-point deduction for “failing to comply with the KNVB's license requirements amid continuous financial troubles” sealed their fate prematurely in what seemed to be a losing relegation battle anyway.

Of course, Vitesse have seen their fair share of promising talents over the years in the shape of players such as Nemanja Matić, Robin Gosens, Mason Mount and Martin Ødegaard – as well as many others on loan from Chelsea. Even after their partnership with the Blues ended, they have remained a great stepping stone for youngsters to progress. Although most of their most promising youngsters have left the club in the last couple of windows or only joined on loan, there still are a fair few players in their squad that should interest top-flight clubs around Europe.

Carlens Arcus (RB, 1997)

One player who our model believes should almost certainly get a move to a top-flight club is Carlens Arcus.

Over the last seven seasons, he has consistently performed at a level that is well above average for the Eredivisie, meaning he will look well out of place in the Dutch second tier.

Moreover, Vitesse will hope to be one of the stronger teams in that division and adopt a more front-footed approach, whereas Arcus is a more defense-minded full-back. His defending quantity has always been very high while his quality has been pretty good on average too, contributing to some outstanding xGAAR numbers.

The 27-year-old right back is strong enough in defensive duels and does a fantastic job of recovering moving balls (which can include things like making interceptions), suggesting a great reading of the game. On the ball, his attacking output can be hit-and-miss, but he consistently offers very good ball retention and can be an excellent link-up passer.

A transfer away for Arcus would appear to be in the best interest of all involved parties, so clubs around Europe’s top leagues needing a defensively strong full-back should aim to start negotiating quickly. Our model believes he will do well in a league just outside the elite tier, such as the Belgian Pro League and English Championship.

Melle Meulensteen (DM/CB, 1999)

Melle Meulensteen is a versatile defensive player who did not have the best of seasons this time around, but should still be on many clubs’ radars given his previous track record.

The Dutchman has predominantly played as a defensive midfielder at Vitesse but previously also played across a back-three at RKC Waalwijk. Prior to that, he trained at the youth academies of Manchester United and Preston North End, but never managed to make a competitive senior appearance in England.

The data seems to suggest that his ball-playing let him down in 2023/24, though that should not be much of a surprise for a defensive midfielder in a team that attempted to implement a possession-based style but could only manage one of the league’s lower pass completion rates.

On the whole, though, Meulensteen seems a decent and well-rounded player who can retain the ball well enough, help progress the ball with his passing and dribbling and do his job defensively. Given his relatively young age at just 24 years old and a contract running till 2026, Meulensteen could well be the player who earns the biggest transfer fee for Vitesse this summer as he is valued at €1.2 million by Transfermarkt.

Enzo Cornelisse (LB/DM, 2002)

The most interesting raw young talent Vitesse’s current squad is Enzo Cornelisse.

A big sample size disclaimer has to be attached to any assessment of the 22-year-old Dutchman, as this was his breakout senior season in which he played under 1,500 minutes in the league, and even those were distributed across a fair few positions. Almost half of his Eredivisie minutes came at left-back, and about half of the remainder came in the defensive midfielder position.

In both positions, Cornelisse’s data profile is incredibly unique. He offered next to no ball retention, likely due to the fact that he tried to pass forward whenever half an opportunity presented itself. His defensive quantity was incredibly low, but he showed glimpses of serious quality.

On the whole, our model thinks he performed at an average level for the Eredivisie, which is not bad for a youngster’s first season of senior action at a relegation-battling side. For the right price, clubs around the Netherlands and Belgium should be willing to take a punt on a promising left-footed talent who can also play at center-back, but staying at Vitesse and becoming a regular starter in the second tier would not be the worst thing for Cornelisse either.

Mica Pinto (LB, 1993)

Mica Pinto is a more established left back who is more likely to leave this summer, especially if he wants to maintain his spot in the senior Luxembourg squad.

The 30-year-old defender has consistently looked good in the Eredivisie, having spent most of his time in the league with Sparta Rotterdam. Like Arcus, the defensive side of his game has stood out as his xGAAR numbers have consistently looked better. However, his quality has consistently been above average much more so than his quantity. 

Pinto also shares some similarities with the Haitian international on the ball as he is not much of an attacking threat and offers good retention, but that is down to his dribbling which in turn is enabled by his close control and low centre of gravity. His height should also explain his aerial weakness, though he can more than hold his own in ground duels.

Pinto only joined Vitesse last summer and signed a two-year contract, so negotiating a move away should not be too difficult as Transfermarkt values him at just €850,000. However, his reported annual salary of €490,000 this season according to Capology could be a sticking point unless he is willing to take a pay cut.


By Neel Shelat

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