Teun Koopmeiners came through the ranks of AZ Alkmaar’s fabled academy as a midfielder where he performed exceptionally last season as he held down a starting place. This season, he has repeated that trick at centre-back as his astonishing ball-playing ability translates into both roles. AZ Alkmaar refrain from tying down players into positions until U16 level as many of their youth prospects have earned their way into the first team in different positions than they have played in at youth level. Koopmeiners’ best position may still be in midfield, but he has played with such authority and poise next to the battle-hardened Ron Vlaar that the 21-year-old is now the leader of AZ’s defence.
Koopmeiners played in the 2017 U19 European Championships in a team including Justin Bijlow, Armando Obispo, Javairo Dilrosun and Joel Piroe. The AZ Alkmaar youth product partnered Ajax’ Dani De Wit in a double-pivot shielding the defence as they switched roles, especially in dropping to demand possession from the centre-backs. Koopmeiners would frequently attempt to play lobs into the box for runners but after an injury to Piroe in the opener, the young Dutch side lacked the height to take advantage of those opportunities.
Koopmeiners would earn his debut for AZ in the 2017/18 season as in his second game, he played an away match against Almere City in the KNVB Beker. The young midfielder cleverly turned and twisted away from opposition pressure frequently. He then hit an unerringly accurate corner onto the forehead of Wout Weghorst, for the lanky Dutch striker to divert into the goal. Weghorst also had a shot saved by the Almere keeper for the striker to latch onto the rebound, shield the ball and play in Koopmeiners who smartly backheeled it back for Weghorst to have his shot blocked.
The AZ youth product partnered Norwegian midfielder, Fredrik Midtsjø in a double-pivot behind Guus Til as Koopmeiners ensured himself of a permanent first-team place. Midtsjø and Koopmeiners are press resistant as in an away match to Heracles, the Norwegian played a pass to Ron Vlaar before realising him and his young Dutch protégé were in a 2v1 situation. Midtsjø then dropped to demand the ball, worked a one-two with Koopmeiners to navigate past the first line of pressure and start an attack. The young Dutchman was assured in his midfield positioning and shouldered his defensive and attacking responsibilities with authority.
In AZ’s Europa League Qualifier at home to Kairat Almaty, Koopmeiners constantly took his time to receive the ball, turn and assess his best pass through the central channels. Koopmeiners pushed higher up the pitch and began to assert his creativity and influence on the game, winning the ball in the counter-press as he attempted some audacious chips and diagonals into the forward line. Koopmeiners moved to centre-back after Ron Vlaar was substituted for Myron Boadu as the midfielder scored the penalty that put AZ ahead. It was too little too late as AZ had already been eliminated from the Europa League after a poor first leg performance.
Koopmeiners was also promoted to Jong Oranje as in a match against England, they faced James Maddison, Demarai Gray and Ryan Sessegnon. The AZ midfielder partnered PSV’s Pablo Rosario in midfield as they displayed poor communication as one would frequently press and leave the other vulnerable to overloads in the centre with Sessegnon, Maddison and Gray moving into the centre. The two would also stay deep and not move up to press the ball in unison, leaving space for England to play the ball into pockets in build-up. The duo performed more admirably against Scotland five days later. Rosario would drop in between the centre-backs which allowed Koopmeiners to act as the pivote.
Against Scotland, Koopmeiners had a free-kick deflect off the top of the wall and into the goal as the 21-year-old is a set-piece specialist. Koopmeiners has played the majority of this season at centre-back as he has accumulated 8 goals because he is his side’s default penalty taker while he scored another free-kick away to Vitesse Arnhem this season.
Koopmeiners is deployed next to 34-year-old Vlaar which has a calming effect on the 21-year-old. The AZ youngster had a moment against Ajax where Ricardo Van Rhin moved out of position as Koopmeiners held his position to play Donny Van de Beek onside for the Ajax youngster to score from a Dusan Tadic chip. Koopmeiners had another moment against Vitesse in the KNVB Beker where he pushed up too early for another mistake as Vlaar calmly helped him sweep it up.
The youngster’s ball-playing ability is what sets him apart as a centre-back and as a midfielder. Koopmeiners’ is naturally courageous with his distribution which allows AZ to be press resistant as against Vitesse, he was in a 5v4 situation where Vitesse had the overload but still managed to thread balls into space with perfect weighting, but AZ were unable to work proper combinations. AZ’s positional shape in transition demands that their centre-backs split out wide with Adam Maher or Midtsjø dropping in between them. Koopmeiners will normally work the ball to the left back Thomas Ouwejan but against Vitesse, he had a moment where he turned out of pressure with grace and played a diagonal pass to Vlaar.
Koopmeiners repeated the trick a few moments later as he used his phenomenal sense of balance to spin past a marker a second time and play a ball to Ouwejan to circumvent the next wave of pressure. In AZ’s most recent match, at home to ADO Den Haag, he had a breath-taking moment where he played a one-two with Midtsjø to evade pressure and drive the ball into the opposition half before calmly executing a well-weighted through pass into Til who had his shot saved. Koopmeiners drove forward with purpose and played exceptionally in an open match where AZ came back from 2-0 down to level the score at 2-2 before conceding in the last minute of added time to lose.
"In the Netherlands there are not that many big, left-legged defenders, who are quick, see the game, play good football, are strong and can also defend themselves,” said John Van den Brom to De Telegraaf as a reason for playing Koopmeiners at centre-back.
“I want to be seen as a midfielder and preferably play there again as quickly as possible. It also plays a role that I won the Dutch Junior Team at that position. I also enjoy defending, but I like to play in midfield. I also want to be involved in the final phase of the team," said Koopmeiners to the same news outlet when asked about his overall position.
Koopmeiners’ best position is in midfield and the 21-year-old prefers to be deployed in the position as playing so diligently and so well at centre-back has been another example of his extraordinary technique. AZ will undergo a period of change in the summer with Arne Slot replacing John Van den Brom as well as their annual departures. Koopmeiners will continue to be a pillar of this young side in midfield or at centre-back where he will provide a heavy influence on the team’s playing style.