Livescore Thursday, April 25

This summer we are profiling 50 exciting players under the age of 25 — who they are, how they play, and why they could attract interest in the coming transfer windows.

So far we have analysed two Bayer Leverkusen stars, Florian Wirtz and Moussa Diaby, Rasmus Hojlund at Atalanta, and Goncalo Ramos at Benfica. 

Next up, it’s Orkun Kokcu, Feyenoord’s shot-taking, goal-scoring, possession-winning midfielder…

Not many players can say they lifted a league title in their first season as captain of the club they joined as a schoolboy.

Orkun Kokcu can.

For just the second time this century, Feyenoord finished the season top of the Eredivisie and the 22-year-old is the jewel in their crown. Having staved off Premier League interest in their manager, the Dutch champions will need to be primed to do the same for their captain. Kokcu’s name is circulating among Europe’s elite clubs and it feels a matter of time before the bids start rolling in.

As a leading member of an emerging group of all-action midfielders, it is easy to see why. His No 10 shirt at Feyenoord may suggest he is a more attacking player, but his No 6 shirt for his national side Turkey provides evidence to the contrary. Having also worn the No 8 for his country, Kokcu is keen not to be pigeonholed, as this assist for Santiago Gimenez in April shows.

But he was not always the domineering midfielder that has just led his side to the title. Joining Feyenoord at the age of 14, the Dutch-born youngster was earmarked within the club as a first-team player in the making and made his Eredivisie debut 20 days short of his 18th birthday. But it was not until Arne Slot — the recent target of Tottenham’s managerial search — arrived for the start of the 2021-22 season that Kokcu started to truly reach his potential.

The former AZ Alkmaar head coach wasted no time in demanding a greater intensity — he felt the midfielder was too lazy in allowing his team-mates to do the hard yards. For the aggressive style which Slot demands, working tirelessly is a non-negotiable. So, Kokcu went away and ensured he would be exactly what his manager wanted him to be.

Visits to a personal trainer used by close friend and former team-mate Tyrell Malacia — now at Manchester United — transformed him into a modern midfielder, someone equipped for the demands of a taxing playing style.

Not only have his performances improved since that evolution, his reliability has too — Kokcu has missed just five league games across all competitions in the last two seasons, making 97 appearances for Feyenoord in that time.

In the majority of those appearances, particularly against tougher opposition, he has been deployed on the left-hand side of a double pivot in Slot’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. In the other games, often when Feyenoord have been set up in a more offensive system, he has operated as the left-sided central midfielder in a 4-3-3.

His touch map from the 2022-23 Eredivisie season indicates that he operates mostly in those areas but, as the player with the second most touches in the league — behind Ajax’s Jurrien Timber — you can usually find him wherever the ball is.

Kokcu is the type of midfielder that elite modern managers crave. He drops deep to collect the ball from his centre-backs and immediately thinks about progressing it. Whether that is through passing or dribbling, his first thought is almost always an offensive one.

According to FBref data, he completed the most progressive passes in the Eredivisie this season, registering 70 more than anyone else at an average of 12.6 per 90 minutes. For reference, out of Premier League players that played 1,000 minutes or more, Enzo Fernandez had the highest average with 9.77 per 90.

With those numbers incorporating passes that advance the ball at least 10 yards or into the penalty area, it highlights Kokcu’s suitability for a team that regularly faces opponents set up in low blocks. That has been the case at Feyenoord this season where, as the best team in the league, they have consistently come up against teams happy to sit 10 or 11 players behind the ball for large parts of the game.

That was the case when Emmen visited Rotterdam in the fourth game of the season. Inside the first 90 seconds, Kokcu picked up the ball in his left-sided midfield position and left-winger Javairo Dilrosun knew that he would be looking to make a line-breaking pass, as indicated by his movement behind right-back Keziah Veendorp.

Kokcu manipulated his body so that could play the pass with his right foot to ensure it would angle into the feet of Dilrosun rather than away from him.

While in that instance, Kokcu was eager to move the ball onto his right foot, that is not because of an inability to use his left foot. In his role on the left side of the Feyenoord midfield, it is essential that he is proficient with both feet, and he is. Five of his last 21 goals have been scored with his weaker foot, with the two most recent being scored from the edge of the penalty area and from outside of it.

Goals have become a key feature of his game with those 21 goals coming across all competitions in the last two seasons. He contributed eight goals to Feyenoord’s title-winning campaign from an expected goals (xG) total of 5.6, meaning he scored two more goals than he should have done based on the difficulty of the shots he took.

Kokcu is certainly not scared to shoot — only seven players in the Eredivisie took more than the 84 he attempted throughout the campaign.

Although, with his shots coming from an average of 25.5 yards, eight goals is a strong return. There were no players that could match his tally with an average distance of more than 24 yards in the division.

Of the five goals scored from outside the penalty area, the one that perhaps best highlights Kokcu’s ability was the equaliser to make it 3-3 away to PSV Eindhoven.

Ultimately, it was an inconsequential effort as Feyenoord fell to their first of two Eredivisie defeats this season. But, at the time, Kokcu’s goal got them back into the game.

He received the ball under pressure from Guus Til and Xavi Simons.

Identifying there was a significant vacant area in front of the PSV penalty area, the Feyenoord midfielder used a body feint — another key component of his game — to beat Til’s press.

From there, Kokcu moves into the open space to get a shot away before the quartet of PSV defenders can get in the way of it.

With the help of a slight deflection, PSV goalkeeper Walter Benitez is left with no chance.

At the end of the season, Kokcu’s goals column looked considerably healthier than his assists column. In 32 Eredivisie games, he only set up three goals for his team-mates. However, the stats suggest that his creativity was not adequately rewarded with only Dusan Tadic and Joey Veerman — who ended up with 17 and 10 assists respectively — completing more key passes throughout the season.

FBref data shows that Kokcu finished the campaign with 8.1 expected assists (xA) which means the quality of chances he created should have yielded five more assists than they did. Only seven players in the Dutch top flight registered more xA and the discrepancy between his xA and actual assists (-5.1) was the highest in the Eredivisie.

A number of the chances created by the Turkey international were from set pieces as he is the club’s dead-ball specialist. Corners — particularly from the left side — would always fall under his jurisdiction as well as free kicks anywhere inside the opposition half.

Any club signing Kokcu would surely allow him to take direct free kicks as he scored twice from such situations in the league this season — no one in the Eredivisie managed more. When extending this to the traditional major five European leagues, only James Ward-Prowse, Aaron Martin and Vincenzo Grifo scored more (all scored three).

Everything mentioned so far suggests that Kokcu is an excellent asset in possession, but is he as effective out of possession?

In short, yes.

Like many of his Dutch predecessors, Slot demands a ferocious intensity from his players when the opposing team has the ball, particularly when that team has possession in their own defensive third. Feyenoord won possession in the offensive third more than anyone else in the Eredivisie and, unsurprisingly, Kokcu was top of the leaderboard among his team-mates.

In the Eredivisise as a whole, only Twente’s Vaclav Cerny was more effective at winning possession in the final third.

Kokcu was key to Feyenoord recovering the ball in wide areas. He would assist his attacking team-mates — usually a combination made up from Gimenez, Sebastian Szymanski, Oussama Idrissi, Dilrosun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh — in an aggressive press that would force opponents into losing the ball around their penalty area.

Of course, that is a risky strategy but one of the features of Slot’s reign has been his meticulous planning regarding the make-up of his team. Only those capable of carrying out his game plan will be considered. Despite not looking like one of those players when Slot arrived from AZ Alkmaar, Kokcu has risen to power as Feyenoord’s onfield commander-in-chief.

The clubs interested in his signature would not only be buying arguably the most complete midfielder outside Europe’s major leagues, but also a character with a rapidly-developing football brain and invaluable leadership qualities. Form an orderly queue.

(Top photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images; design: Sam Richardson)

Read the full article here

Leave A Reply