Ludovit Reis from Haarlem has had to fight to engineer a move to Barcelona, only enjoying the comfortable confines of a top-level academy at the age of 15 when he joined Groningen. At 18-years-old, Danny Buijs took his time to fully integrate the youngster in the starting line-up till just before the winter break in a relegation threatened side. In his playing years, Buijs once spoke of being unfazed at the prospect of playing PSV’s Mark Van Bommel with Groningen by putting in a tough challenge on the current Head Coach of PSV. Buijs spoke of wanting to disseminate that mentality in his squad as it registered with the young midfielder who won the most tackles in the Eredivisie this season.
When Barcelona’s interest first made its way into Dutch media outlets, Reis’ teammates took to teasing him although he was putting together a fine season as one of their better players. Reis is of Slovakian descent as his parents moved from the country to the Netherlands when he was a toddler. By the time he was allowed to join Groningen in his formative years, he struggled to adapt to moving to a new school and trying to make new friends. His move to Barcelona will prove to be less strenuous as he has battled with grit and authority in the Groningen midfield.
His presence in midfield was quantified in a moment against Ajax where he pushed up to press another Dutchman on his way to Barcelona, Frenkie de Jong and nipping at his heels in the box before the balletic midfielder fell to the ground in his box and nearly ceded possession to his 18-year-old counterpart. The midfielder primed for Barcelona’s first team, managed to find his feet and squirm out of pressure as Reis normally leaves no prisoners in the challenge. It is a wonder why Buijs took so long to give the youngster an opportunity within the first team, even after he performed admirably in his side’s last friendly before the season against Werder Bremen. Perhaps, the 37-year-old who took over the side from amateur football needed the threat of relegation to take a risk in giving the youngster an opportunity as necessity breeds innovation.
Despite the teenager’s limited amount of time in an academy, he is well-schooled at the fundamentals of modern football. He opens his body well to receive possession while he is gifted at charging forward to win possession in counter-pressure. Buijs deployed a 4-4-2 this season where Reis played in the double-pivot with Samir Memisevic or Thomas Bruns. In the pressing phase, Groningen would switch to a 4-3-1-2 with Reis pushing into the ten space to press the opposition while he would be the deepest lying midfielder when Groningen would switch to their asymmetrical shape in build-up.
Reis played in a defensive wide-midfielder position away to PSV Eindhoven as the 18-year-old worked a move from a throw-in to play in Django Wamerdam for an opportunity that led to a corner. The corner was then deflected into the path of Reis who had a volley deflected into the PSV goal from range. In possession, Reis’ game is less defined as when he drops deep to demand possession from the centre-backs, he can be erratic in his distribution which gives the opposition team opportunities to win possession. This is a defect in his game which will need development at Barcelona if he is to develop as a defensive midfield pivot. However, there were games where Reis exhibited clean and calculated distribution from the deeper areas.
In a match at home to Vitesse, he dropped deep to receive possession as he was clever at working the ball through tight spaces and showing an innate knowledge of when to play a one-touch pass as well as turning to drive the ball into the opposition half. Him and his midfield partner will stay in the same vertical line as against Feyenoord, Bruns, Memisevic and the Dutch youth international pushed up to suffocate opposition midfielders to great effect in a 1-0 victory. Groningen also had issues in their build-up structure as Buijs’ side deployed systems where they sought to work the ball through the lines or punt long balls over their midfield and into their attackers.
This created issues for Reis as away to NAC, he received possession to turn and drive the ball into space but had no direct passing options because of inadequate player spacing. At the other end, he took on a pass, cut past a marker and struck a shot from range onto the crossbar. Reis has had issues in possession which have directly led to goals for the opposition as against Heerenveen, he was in a tussle with Morten Thorsby for the Norwegian to outmanoeuvre him to play a ball out wide to Lucas Woudenberg who crossed for Pele Van Amersfoort to head in a goal. There was another instance in Groningen’s last match away to Emmen as Michael Chacon robbed Reis of possession to search for a pass before ultimately deciding to curl a goal past Sergio Padt from range.
It is ironic as although, Reis can concede possession at one end of the pitch, he can easily win possession at the other end. In the Europa League Playoff first leg at home to Groningen, he stole possession from Martin Odegaard for Ritsu Doan to hold the ball and shoot as the Vitesse goalkeeper palmed the ball into the path of Mimoun Mahi, so the forward could tap in. Reis will normally receive possession from his centre-backs to play one-touch passes back to the defenders, so they can use wall-passes to push up and play the ball. His final match away to Vitesse in the Europa League Playoff outlined his weaknesses in possession. In the early stages of the game, a poor clearance from him led to Groningen ceding possession and Odegaard being played through to score.
There was two moments that perfectly described Reis’ abilities as a midfielder when Memisevic worked a pass to him in the six space for the midfielder to have his pass intercepted by Thulani Serero for Reis to then move up and intercept a pass of his own in the opposition half. Deyovaisio Zeefuik then played a pass into Reis who took a heavy touch for Odegaard to push forward and win possession from him. It was his worst performance for Groningen as he was hauled off for Ajdin Hrustic a few minutes later but that should not diminish the potential he has.
"Ludo is really good. Most controlling midfielders make sure that they keep their position and stay behind the ball, but Ludo has a fantastic sense of timing, so he knows exactly which duels he should and should not enter. That makes that he conquers balls so often. And constructively he is also becoming really good. He has a good pass and a great personality. I hope he will go very far,” said former midfielder, Gerard Wiekens to the Dagblad van het Noorden, earlier this month.
Groningen’s outgoing director Hans Nijland and Head Coach, Danny Buijs have expressed pride at their club’s ability to sell to a club with the stature of Barcelona. Other players like Arjen Robben and Luis Suarez had to take intermediate steps with clubs in the upper echelons of the Eredivisie before they joined big clubs as Reis’ intermediate step will be Barcelona B. They will need to nurture his distribution, touch and instincts in possession while they are acquiring a player who puts a premium on winning possession like no other in their squad. Reis’ steps from being without an academy in his mid-teens to the hallowed halls of La Masia in a few years provide an exceptional story.