The transfer of Teun Koopmeiners to Atalanta can serve to transform both parties. Atalanta gain a player of unique skill, and the player will be able to grow in a developmental utopia.
What is the true value of a transfer? Is it the service and added quality brought to a club by a player? Could it be the improvement seen in a player as a result of new and improved surroundings?
Obviously the answer lies in a combination of both. Taking the decision to move to a new club is one fuelled by potential, as is the potential spotted in a player when acquiring them.
Teun Koopmeiners is a player of great potential. There has already been enough seen in him to think that this could be a midfielder capable of playing at the very top. Such attributes are ones sensed and identified by a club like Atalanta.
The whole project in Bergamo is one built on potential. The potential within the club to continue blossoming into an Intalian champion, without sacrificing sustainability nor ethos. Signing players to not only fill this philosophy, but also offer the long term sell-ability to fund and sustain it, is the lifeblood of the owning Percassi family.
In a summer filled with the outlandish and gaudy transfers of the game’s most famous, this marriage between player and club could prove to be one of the more successful matches.
What are Atalanta getting?
There is a purity and assuredness to a player like Teun Koopmeiners. One that is uncompromising in its delivery of a skillset so few possess.
The Dutchman is a central midfielder with an incredible passing range and radar with which to spot said passes. He delivers swinging long range switches of play with ease, and a second in control of the ball sends defensive high lines scurrying.
At AZ Alkmaar, Koopmeiners was mostly fielded on the left of a midfield three. This positioning allowed him access to the far right hand side, which in turn opened room for the impressive overlapping runs of left back Owen Wijndal. Everything about that recently disbanded side was built around the impact and effect of Teun Koopmeiners.
The explosive off-the-shoulder running of centre forward Myron Boadu. Direct and accurate service to a ball hungry winger like Jesper Karlsson. The eye, and ability, to find the creative lurkings of Calvin Stengs.
On the surface, it is an incredible goal output that catches eyes with Teun Koopmeiners. Fifteen league goals in 2020/21 is staggering output from central midfield. Eight of these were penalties, yet even an adjusted seven non-penalty league goals is noteworthy for such a player.
His attacking threat extends far beyond the penalty spot. Koopmeiners has a ferocious left foot, that rasps efforts at goal from range with lethal accuracy. He uses this to similar effect from free-kicks also, curling dead balls into both corners with consummate ease.
Koopmeiners is both effective, and joyful. Powerful, yet elegant. Rather like his new club.
Addressing a need?
It can be argued that Teun Koopmeiners is as ambitious a signing as has been made in the Atalanta-Gian Piero Gasperini era.
The Dutchman isn’t the most expensive signing of Atalanta’s summer, let alone any period before that. Yet the rumoured interest from clubs like AS Roma, and even the Premier League, make his acquisition all the more impressive.
Particularly from English clubs, there remains a reticence to commit to Eredivisie groomed talent. There have been burnt fingers in this passage before. In turn this has created a snootish and untrusting view held towards even the more impressive Dutch talents.
Teun Koopmeiners is most certainly an impressive talent. A continental-wide dearth of central midfielders to fit clubs’ requirements made him a perfect fit for many. Yet it was Atalanta who picked him up, and for very little finance.
Atalanta’s evolution of this magnificent side has been highly impressive. Departing stars, through sales and natural ageing out, have been replaced and upgraded with efficiency and minimal effect. Even the iconic Papu Gomez was shipped off and replaced with a reborn Ruslan Malinovskyi.
Central midfield is debatably the team’s thinnest area. Yet it is an area of optimal importance for the Gasperini system to work. Marten De Roon and Remo Freuler are far and away automatic selections in the position. Behind them there is very little to compensate, should they be unavailable. In 20/21, de Roon missed only three Serie A matches, and Freuler just the four.
Mario Pasalic and Matteo Pessina can contribute when substituted during matches. However there is a marked drop-off from the preferred two should they not feature together.
Bringing in a player of Teun Koopmeiners’ ability can seek to bridge that gap. Possibly even breaking the de Roon-Freuler duopoly.
The current status quo
The work of De Roon and Freuler is fascinating to observe. Neither is the flashiest nor individually talented by themselves. In any other side of similar European status, they might well find themselves as squad players, rather than the irreplaceable players they are in Bergamo.
However in Gasperini’s 3-4-3, or 3-5-2, such players are essential. Covering every blade of grass, never switching off defensively, nor over-committing offensively. Selfless and entirely committed to the cause.
No other players in the squad come close to the pressures made by the pair. This too in a team that is characterised by energy and high pressing. They split to pair up with the wing-backs and even attacking midfielders, to pressure the ball players into mistakes and cut out wide passing lanes. A theme of the team’s play is to vacate central spaces almost entirely both in and out of the ball.
This allows the three centre backs to retain their line and shape, with those ahead of them funnelling the ball wide. Such shape also leaves expanses of space open centrally, so should Atalanta turn the ball over wide, they can flood back centrally with the ball and break.
This is only made possible by the commitment of De Roon and Freuler. They cover the wide areas when the wing-backs explode forwards. They shift wide to combine with both the wing-backs and the wide centre backs, creating overloads in possession. Their relentless running out of possession protects the centre backs, and wing-backs, and so a back five shape can be kept in place.
Even the team’s ball progression is run entirely by the Dutch and Swiss pair. In 20/21, they were nearly eighty passes into the final third clear of the next highest contributor. Top to bottom, side to side. The ultimate modern water carriers.
So, why Teun Koopmeiners?
As demonstrated by the huge playing workload of De Roon and Freuler, Gasperini requires backup. Not only support, but a player that can feasibly replace the long serving pivot.
Teun Koopmeiners is six years younger than Freuler, and seven the junior of De Roon. That alone represents a succession plan for when one or both begin to decline.
He also represents a markup in quality on any central midfielder in their ranks. Pasalic and Pessina are fine players, however their attributes have never been best suited to a pivoting role. Pasalic especially can be laxadasical in possession, and has been caught out deep in the defensive half.
Koopmeiners is anything but loose. He guards the ball brilliantly, both in his passing choices but also physically. Barrel chested and six foot tall, the Dutchman can withstand pressure and bounce challengers away from the ball. His tight control in small spaces is vastly underrated, and can spin and pivot to evade pressure.
These are the perfect attributes for the role Gasperini demands. His exceptional long passing range will also be a new addition for a side that thrives on vertical play.
His defensive work is no downgrade either. His 5.41 interceptions made per ninety in the Eredivisie last season is higher than both Freuler and De Roon completed in Serie A. Such reading of the game will no doubt have influenced the Atalanta hierarchy’s decision to sign such a player.
Much to be excited about
This appears to be the perfect marriage of project and player.
Teun Koopmeiners addresses a number of potentially problematic areas for Atalanta. He offers many of the qualities of De Roon and Freuler. Yet he also promises to improve on both, as an individual player of great promise and current ability.
As a young captain at AZ Alkmaar, there is little to doubt that he will suit Gasperini’s intense needs. He has been stung by players with ego and individualistic tendencies. Koopmeiners is not this player, and has shown in his willingness to play at centre back for AZ, that he will adapt to a team’s needs.
His arrival also adds new dimensions to the side. For all the work of the midfield, and passing proficiency of the centre backs, Koopmeiners is a passer not yet seen in the squad. A stunning switcher of play, and able to hone in on a centre forward’s movements 60-70 yards away, Atalanta’s raft of forwards will drool at the thought of such service.
For Koopmeiners, he is joining a project rocketing through it’s ceiling. Their ascension is miraculous, and far beyond even the club’s own expectations. So much of this is down to the work of Gasperini. A coach who can spot unbelievable attributes in players many had not ever looked twice at.
Teun Koopmeiners is already a player of greater ability than Gasperini is accustomed to acquiring. The thought of where the coach could take him to, and where Atalanta could go with Koopmeiners in midfield, is tantalising.
By the time Koopmeiners is involved in the his next transfer, Europe will not be sleeping on him any longer. Gasperini and Atalanta will make sure of that.