Peter Bosz had a point to prove when Bayer Leverkusen appointed him last December.
A run of 11 wins from 17 – including a 3-1 victory over would-be champions Bayern Munich – saw him secure the North Rhine-Westphalia a place in next season’s Champions League.
His disappointing 24-game spell at Borussia Dortmund, which started ever so promisingly, is now in the rearview mirror. Bosz, who inherited another coach’s squad, has started to forge his own. The signing of Daley Sinkgraven from Ajax is a perfect example.
When the Apeldoorn-born tactician succeeded Frank de Boer in June 2016 no one could have envisaged the success that would follow; reaching a Europa League final was beyond anyone’s dreams, but the football they were playing wasn’t.
Bosz got the Amsterdammers playing to a quicker beat. The shapes they were making on the pitch were a homage to their extraordinary history. His tactical decisions were impressive. An early move was taking promising young playmaker Sinkgraven, who initially found himself on the fringes at Ajax after arriving from Heerenveen, and converting him into a left-back.
This move, though, was commonplace across the country which gave birth to total football. If nothing Sinkgraven’s seamless transformation was a testament to his athleticism and footballing acumen. It took some time to convince everyone, but Bosz was in no doubt Sinkgraven had everything to become a modern full-back.
🚨 TRANSFER NEWS 🚨
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) June 17, 2019
Bosz, no stranger to thinking outside the box, was clearly enamoured with Sinkgraven who immediately forged a near telepathic relationship with German winger Amin Younes, and by continually drifting inside Ajax were more or less playing with a midfield diamond. This changing of their shape might have been Bosz’s intention all along.
Arthur Numan, who was famously transformed into a left-back by Dick Advocaat during his revolutionary phase at PSV Eindhoven in the mid-90s, saw potential in the conversion. “He’s started well,” he then told Voetbal International. “If he grows into his role, then the world is open to him.”
The former Dutch international also stressed the importance of tactical disciple in his position, especially when you consider his natural instinct is to be on the front-foot – a reminder until now he exclusively played near the final third – and truth be told Bosz was concerned about Sinkgraven’s defensive responsibilities. To negate this, the manager set his team out to limit the number of times his left-back would find himself in a one-v-one situation.
For all disciples of Johan Cruyff, possession is nine tenths of the law. Bosz wants his side to create ample goalscoring opportunities through ball retention for large periods. His preference is to stack his team with at least four players who can naturally play in the number 10 role – keeping hold of Kai Havertz becomes imperative.
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As for Bayer’s latest recruit, the last few years have been tough. A string of destabilising injuries robbed him of ample playing time. It feels like a lifetime ago, but we saw what could be during the 2016/17 season, back then he was effortlessly moving between defence and offence.
Sinkgraven’s ball distribution was on point. More impressive was his on-field intelligence, such as positioning himself correctly to regain possession, and when to execute a tackle. Even in a more ‘defensive’ role he was displaying that acute vision and speed of thought, which initially attracted Ajax’s attention.
Leverkusen feels like a much-needed fresh start even if Erik ten Hag would have counted on him in the forthcoming campaign. There’s still a good footballer in there and Bosz knows that, so it will be fascinating to see how he fits into his plans – competition for present left-back Wendell or being deployed further up the field – and if he’s able to once again get the best out of Sinkgraven.