Zeefuik is here!

Zeefuik is here!

Following much anticipation, Blackburn Rovers have today announced the addition of former Ajax and Hertha Berlin right-back, Deyovaisio Zeefuik, who arrives in East Lancashire on an initial season-long loan deal, with Tony Mowbray’s side holding the option to make the deal permanent for a reported figure of around €3.5million.

The full-back, who is most suited to the right-hand side, but has been deployed across the backline in his career, arrives in England after a sound career in Europe which has seen him battle for league titles and European qualification, as well as against relegation. The 23-year-old, who is a two-time Eerste Divisie winner, as well as a two-time under-19s Eredivisie champion, has amassed over 110 senior games in his relatively short career, as well as over 70 appearances at youth level, mainly for the famous Ajax academy – or Jong Ajax.

After bursting onto the scene in 2014 for Ajax’s under-17s side, Zeefuik – who is of Surinamese descent – spent the next two years plying his trade for Ajax’s junior teams before being given the opportunity to play regular first-team football at a relatively high level in 2016-17, when he became an integral member of Jong Ajax’s Eerste Divisie title winning side under former Sporting Lisbon and Ajax first-team manager, Marcel Keizer. Although Zeefuik managed to make a solidary Eredivisie appearance for the first-team, which saw him come off the bench to play the final 21 minutes in the Amsterdam side’s 5-1 home win over SC Heerenveen, most of his contributions came in the Eerste Divisie, where he notched one goal and four assists from the 27 games he played, which saw him mainly used at right-full-back, despite the odd game at centre-half.

Following his largely successful 2016-17 campaign, Ajax’s number 42 was rewarded with a promotion to the first-team, where he sporadically honed his craft, before being offered the opportunity to gain real first-team experience with a January loan move. 2017-18 saw Zeefuik spend the first-half of his season moving between Ajax’s first and reserve teams for game time, making five Eredivisie appearances for the first-team, as well as a brief substitute runout in their Europa League qualifying game against Norwegian side, Rosenburg BK, who Ajax failed to beat over two legs. The then 19-year old would go on to make two more first-team appearances in the KNVB Becker – the Dutch’s FA Cup equivalent – before seven appearances back with Jong Ajax – where he picked up an assist – saw January come around. A day before the Eredivisie’s 2018 winter window deadline, Zeefuik made the temporary switch from the Dutch capital of Ajax, to the north, where he linked up with FC Groningen, under the tutelage of former PSV Eindhoven and Netherlands national team centre-back, Ernest Faber, who also carried an option to turn the loan deal into a permanent one, if they so wished.

During the second-half of the 2017-18 season with Groningen, Zeefuik developed his game massively following his introduction to consistent first-team football, as he played in 13 of Groningen’s 14 remaining league games, and helped the side finish eight points off relegation. Throughout his spell on loan at Groningen, the full-back notched up one assist and helped the side nicknamed ‘The Pride of the North’ to four clean sheets. During this brief spell, Zeefuik impressed in the Green and White of Groningen, with a successful tackle rate of 92% as he made 36 successful tackles from the 39 attempted, according to WhoScored.com. Additionally, the full-back showed his defensive steel as in the 13 games he played, he was only beaten three times when opposing players were dribbling at him, which ranked him as the second-best from Eredivisie defenders that season, who had played at least 10 games.

Come the summer of 2018, Zeefuik had impressed that much playing in Northern Holland, that Groningen activated their option to buy Zeefuik, which was rumoured to be just under £300,000, as the 5’10” defender penned a three-year deal in the north of the nation.

After asserting himself as Groningen’s first-choice right-back, Zeefuik settled in the north and made the position his own, despite a change in manager over the summer. After Ernest Faber was relieved of his duties, Danny Buijs was appointed in his place, as the former Feyenoord full-back and ex-teammate of former Rover, Brett Emerton, excelled in his first season managing the side he spent two years playing for between 2004-2006. Under the stewardship of Buijs, who was also a Scottish League Cup winner with Kilmarnock during his playing days, Groningen finished in 8th place and qualified for a Europa League playoff, against 5th placed Vitesse Arnheim, which they failed to advance in.

Whilst Groningen were revelling in their successful finish, Zeefuik too had a season to be proud of, as during his first full campaign in the north, he notched up 30 league games from a possible 34 – including two extra playoff games – and notched a goal and three assists in a team that only scored 39 goals, but only conceded 41 goals – in comparison, champions Ajax conceded 32, whilst Feyenoord, who qualified for the Europa League also conceded 41. Individually, the Dutchman had an outstanding season, as from the 32 total games he played in the league, his rate of consistency defensively continued from that of his loan spell, as he topped the league for defenders for total successful tackles for defenders who had played a minimum of 20 league games, according to Who Scored.com. His 87% tackle ratio, which saw 113 successful from 130 tackles attempted was coupled with his strong defensive awareness, as he was only dribbled past 17 times in all the fixtures and finished with an average rating of 7.2, which ranked him as the seventh best Eredivise defender to play at least 20 games – in comparison, current Juventus defender, Matthijs De Ligt, then of Ajax, earnt a 7.32 rating that campaign at 22 years-old, whilst fellow Serie A defender and ex-PSV Eindhoven full-back, Denzel Dumfries, now of Inter Milan scored 7.41, whilst former Manchester City and PSV Eindhoven left-back, Angeliño, now of RB Leipzig topped the charts with 7.55.

Whilst Zeefuik’s defensive capabilities were evident, his attacking quality was also a key factor in how Groningen played that season, despite only notching three direct assists. The defender also ranked seventh for key passes in the Eredivisie, with 37, which shows that Zeefuik was capable of balancing both, his attacking duties with that of his defensive, whilst still learning his trade at a young age.

Although the 2019-20 Eredivisie season was abandoned with eight games of the season remaining, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Groningen’s final position saw them in 9th, just one place and point below their previous finish, yet this time, they had only conceded 26 goals – again to compare, leaders Ajax had conceded 23. Zeefuik once again impressed, as he played in every game possible league and cup game, totalling to 28 appearances, keeping nine clean sheets in total, all in the Eredivisie. Regarding his defensive reliability, he again ranked highly for successful tackles, as he sat in second, with 77 successful tackles from 103 attempted, according to WhoScored.com, a commendable 75%. His average rating saw him finish fifth, overall, with a 7.17, whereas first placed Nicolás Tagliafico of Ajax scored 7.36. Offensively, his creativity remained the same, as he notched two assists and totalled 28 key passes, the sixth highest for a defender who had played at least 20 games.

Zeefuik’s outstanding performances for the Green and White of Groningen did not go unnoticed in the summer of 2020, as there were strong rumours linking the defender with a move to a Premier League, with reports suggesting Southampton had won the race to sign the then-22-year-old from Groningen for £5.5m, however that move broke down and Zeefuik, following some encouragement from former World Cup finalist, two-time Premier League winner and Champions League winner, Arjen Robben – according to Bundesliga.com – decided to swap Groningen for Berlin and sign for Hertha BSC, for a fee which ranged around €4m, which was helped by his expiring contract at Groningen, which was due to run out in the summer of 2021.

After moving to Germany’s capital, Zeefuik took a while to settle in Berlin as he was drip fed into the side with four of his first five appearances in the Bundesliga coming off the bench for Bruno Labbadia’s side. After struggling with suspension as well as being out of form, following Labbadia’s departure in late January, Zeefuik was not a favourite of new manager, former Hertha midfielder Pál Dárdai who was returned for his second spell at the Olympiastadion, and was not selected for the Hungarian’s first four games in charge of the club. Despite having to fight for his place in the squad alongside fellow right-backs, Peter Pekarik and Lukas Klünter, Zeefuik showed great character to fight his way back into the side, playing in 10 of the last 12 games of the season, as he helped Hertha narrowly avoid relegation, by two points. From those 10 games, Zeefuik started eight of them, playing 90 minutes twice and even grabbed himself a goal in a 3-0 home victory over Bayer Leverkusen. Although Hertha had a tumultuous 2020-21 season, having had two managers and staving off relegation, despite not having a consistent run in the team until the end of the campaign, where he was played at right-back, right-midfield and even left-midfield at one point, Zeefuik showed he was able to adapt to a higher level of competition.

During his stop-start first campaign with Hertha, Zeefuik’s defensive stats were reflected upon by his side’s lowly position. Following on from the previous statistics, the Dutchman had a tackle success rate of 54%, as he made 13 of 24 attempted tackles from his 22 appearances, which included only eight starts, with two full 90 minutes. In comparison to his competition, Klünter made 10 successful tackles from 15 attempted, in his 11 appearances, at 66%, whereas Pekarik was successful in 24 of his 38 attempted tackles, from the 23 games he played in 2020-21, equating to 63%. The trio’s attacking numbers were fairly equal, with Pekarik making 9 key passes and one assist, Klünter making three key passes without registering an assist, whilst Zeefuik registered 12 key passes, also without assisting. It’s obvious that rotation and lack of consistency hampered Hertha Berlin during this campaign, yet the balance between Zeefuik’s attacking and defensive responsibilities is evident.

The current 2021-22 season has again seen Zeefuik being used in rotation with his fellow defenders, even so after a third manager took charge, during his time in Berlin. Thus far, the Dutch defender has played 11 times in the Bundesliga and notched up one DFB Pokal appearance – a competition he did not play in, during his debut year in Germany. Zeefuik once again did not start 2021-22, coming off the bench in three of his first four games, with him being substituted off in the only game he did start – which was a 5-0 away defeat to Champions, FC Bayern München. The Dutchman would then go on to start two consecutive games at right-wing-back, as Hertha beat newly-promoted Greuther Fürth, 2-1, before losing 6-0 away at RB Leipzig. The defender would then miss the next three games, before playing a half in a 2-0 loss to Hoffenheim, before again being excluded from the following two games. After Pál Dárdai was dismissed and former Fenerbahçe and Turkish international midfielder, Tayfun Korkut took over, Zeefuik’s fortunes didn’t get any brighter, as after an 11-minute cameo in a 1-1 draw with Augsburg, he was again left on the bench, before things picked up with three consecutive appearances – one full game, one 45-minute cameo and one 35-minute cameo – prior to the Bundesliga’s winter break beginning on 20th December 2021. Sadly, Zeefuik would contract COVID-19 during the break and be deemed unfit after recovering, a few days before Hertha’s 3-1 home defeat to FC Köln. His absence added fuel to the fire regarding a Rovers switch which eventually materialised during the winter window.

With the Bundesliga currently just after the halfway stage at 18 games played from 34, the statistics will be considerably less than over the course of a full campaign. Regardless, Zeefuik ended his spell in Germany’s capital with a 2021-22 tackle success rate of 65% with 11 successful tackles from 17 attempted from his 11 appearances. Peter Pekarik had a 90% success rate with 19 successful tackles from 21 in 12 games, whilst from only four games, Lukas Klünter made only one tackle from four attempted, at 25% – all preceding stats are from WhoScored.com. With Hertha still hanging around the bottom of the table in 13th, only three points off relegation, their defensive line was always going to be under pressure.

Zeefuik’s stellar club career has been matched by an encouraging international career, despite not yet being a full Holland international. Zeefuik has had an ascent up the Netherlands’ youth teams, since making his youth international debut in September 2014 for the under-17s. Despite being on the bench in two friendlies, his national debut came in a 1-0 away win over Israel, which the Netherlands won 1-0, with the defender playing the full 90 minutes, at 16-years old.

Zeefuik’s move up into the under-18s saw him operate centrally, as a centre-half in his game and a half at under-18s level. Despite only playing 45 minutes in his under-18s debut, he was able to keep a clean sheet as Serbia were defeated 4-0, however he was not able to keep the ball out of the back of his net in his second game for the under-18s, as, despite playing for the whole game, Russia’s under-18s beat Holland’s 2-0.

Between July 2016 and March 2017, Zeefuik would go on to earn another promotion, into the under-19s, as he would go onto gain experience in playing tournament football on the international stage. Despite being sent off for two yellow cards on his under-19s debut, in a 3-1 win over Croatia in the u-19s EUROs in 2016, Zeefuik would go on to play 90 minutes in a 5-1 defeat to a French side which contained the likes of current West Ham United defender, Issa Diop and future World Cup winner, Kylian Mbappé, who grabbed a brace. Despite finishing third, Holland’s tournament would not end there as they had a chance to qualify for the u-20s World Cup, with a win over fellow third-placers Germany, which they lost 8-7 on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw, Zeefuik, however was only a spectator as he did not get off the bench for this fixture. The Dutch defender would then go onto make eight more under-19s appearances, with half of those being in competitive qualifiers, keeping a total of five clean sheets from the eight games, in the process.

Following his u-19s stint, Zeefuik grew more experienced at international level after participating in the inaugural under-20s Elite League in 2017-18, with the under-20s Dutch side. Although Oranje finished second from bottom, Zeefuik played in four of the seven games. The 2018-19 iteration of the competition would be more successful for the Dutch side, as they would go onto win the league undefeated, with 17 points from their seven games. Zeefuik, however, wouldn’t see out the whole campaign, despite playing in four of the seven fixtures and thus would not receive a medal, as he was soon fast-tracked to the under-21s midway through the campaign.

In the next international break, Zeefuik found himself as a starter for the under-21 squad as they lost 3-0 in a friendly to Germany. Between November 2018 and March 2021, the defender would go on to make 15 under-21 appearances, including two in the under-21’s EUROs, where he’d pick up an assist against Hungary, as Holland topped the group and made it to the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners, Germany, despite Zeefuik missing the knockout stages. His time with the under-21s was successful, as he captained the side on two occasions, as well as picking up his first international goal, which he coupled with an assist which both came against Cyprus in a 5-1 win, during their qualifying campaign for the EUROs.

As of yet, mainly due to his sporadic game time and the rich talent within the Dutch national pool, Zeefuik has yet to be part of the main Dutch side, a fortune he will be hoping to change with consistent performances at Ewood Park, after swapping the Blue and White of Hertha Berlin, for that of Rovers.