Just minutes before Lazio’s game with Verona kicked off at the Stadio Olimpico, director of sport Igli Tare announced out of the blue that they had withdrawn their contract offer to Stefan de Vrij. The two sides have been jockeying over a new deal for months, but were unable to come to a settlement reportedly due to the sum of his release clause.
It’s a massive blow for the club, who could easily have commanded €12m in the January transfer window, but put their faith in his desire to stay, or at the very least to give them more protection. Now that we know he will not be staying at the Stadio Olimpico for the 2018-19 season, we ask where will he take his talents?
Starting with England, Manchester United will certainly have their name in the mix for his signature, especially if Jose Mourinho looks to upgrade over the likes of Chris Smalling. Certainly, the Red Devils could match any wage demands, but will face competition from Chelsea and Arsenal, who could use some added muscle in the back as well. The Premier League has plenty of appeal for a player like De Vrij who wants to play on the biggest stages and be paid handsomely, so he will have no shortage of interest from England.
Outside of the Premier League, Barcelona most definitely will be eyeing defensive reinforcement this summer. The Spanish giants still rely heavily on Gerard Pique to carry the back line, but Ernesto Valverde does need someone who can spare the World Cup winner a breather, as he is 31. Thomas Vermaelen is not the long-term solution to play with one of Europe’s best in Samuel Umtiti, and promising Colombian Yerry Mina still needs to grow after his January move. An optimal target to bridge the gap here would be De Vrij, especially since Barcelona need to keep an eye on their finances after spending big last summer on Ousmane Dembélé and last month on Philippe Coutinho.
Moving down towards the French capital, Paris Saint-Germain offer De Vrij a fantastic landing spot at the Parc des Princes. The opportunity for silverware each year is there, along with a beautiful place to live, but he would be a solid replacement for an ageing Thiago Silva, whose best years are likely behind him.
Perhaps the most logical career move for De Vrij would be to stay in Italy, where he has become the top central defender he is today. Starting with Juventus, the leaders of the free transfer operations immediately give him the chance to compete for a Treble each year, while being able to slide into Max Allegri’s backline without much of a hitch. The Dutchman’s ability to play with the ball in possession means the Bianconeri’s system will move the way it should. He also gives Juventus a brawny presence in the back, both in the air and in regular encounters in their own half.
Yet, while Juventus would be a match made in heaven for many reasons, it’s hard to predict his role. Andrea Barzagli is in the twilight of his career, but is still an occasional fixture. Giorgio Chiellini remains a fundamental pillar and while creeping up in age, is still expected to play a large role next season. From there, you start looking at a crowded defensive group that already included Medhi Benatia and Daniele Rugani, but will also welcome a top player in Mattia Caldara. A move to Turin depends on what role Allegri can give De Vrij, which leads to the next and perhaps most logical spot: Inter.
The Nerazzurri are desperately looking for help in the back and Luciano Spalletti’s words prove that. Milan Skriniar has broken out in a big way this year after his move from Sampdoria, becoming one of Serie A’s top defenders overnight. However, Inter may struggle to keep him long term as Manchester City and several others covet him. Whether Inter can actually shoot down massive bids for Skriniar this summer could come down to them qualifying for Europe. Ideally, Spalletti would love to upgrade Joao Miranda with De Vrij and have him complement Skriniar’s colossus presence and ball playing abilities, but that remains to be seen.
Napoli are another intriguing option, as Raul Albiol remains tempted by a return to Spain to see out his career. They already know De Vrij too well, seeing as he scored against them both home and away this season. Aurelio De Laurentiis keeps a tight grip on the purse-strings, but amid a bidding war for a free agent, might not be able to haggle image rights without losing his man.
De Vrij fits into basically any top club looking for a defender ready for a grander stage. However, some clubs will be able to offer him the complete bundle of sporting demands, wages and opportunity to win trophies. Others like Inter may need to secure a top four finish to sweeten the deal to have a chance. In any case, his skill set translates well anywhere. His positional sense, physical and technical qualities, and prime age make him a hot commodity by default this summer, considering he is free and ready for the spotlight.