"This club belongs at the top," said on-loan midfielder Zakaria Labyad of a Vitesse team who remain in the Eredivisie title hunt despite losing 2-0 to AZ Alkmaar on Tuesday.
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Though AFC Ajax are top of the Eredivisie and hunting a fourth successive Dutch title under Frank de Boer, Vitesse could still be the unlikely party poopers.
Founded in 1892, Vitesse are the second-oldest professional club in the Netherlands. Marooned in the lower leagues for a long time, they were promoted to the top flight in 1989 and soon became a notable force in Dutch football. The Arnhem outfit were top-six regulars until the turn of the century, when financial problems stilted their progress.
However, Georgian investor Merab Jordania assumed control in 2010 and Vitesse have finished seventh and fourth in the last two campaigns. Though he sold his shares to Alexander Chigirinskiy this term, the team are faring better than ever and sit only two points shy of Ajax – they could have overtaken them on Tuesday but went down 2-0 at home to AZ Alkmaar.
That left Vitesse with just one win in four fixtures since the winter break, though they are at home in three of their next four assignments – a fine opportunity to get back on track. "Our pitch has been chosen as the third best in Holland," said coach Peter Bosz, who succeeded Fred Rutten last summer. "Our style of football demands a good pitch as in almost all our matches we have 60–70% possession."
Bosz's charges adopt a technical approach that does not revolve around a central striker. Indeed regular centre-forward Mike Havenaar has scored only five times this season, with left-sided forward Lucas Piazón leading the way with 11 of Vitesse's 46 league goals. The recent acquisitions of Bertrand Traoré, Uros Djurdjević and Zakaria Labyad leave the eastern club well-placed to maintain their title tilt.
"I think we have become stronger," said Bosz, 50 and formerly with Heracles Almelo. "They have reinforced positions where we did not have many options and now we have a strong squad." It is a group containing five players loaned from Premier League outfit Chelsea FC, Traoré having followed in the footsteps of Piazón, Christian Atsu, Cristian Cuevas and Patrick van Aanholt.
Labyad, meanwhile, is on loan from Sporting Clube de Portugal. "When you look at the stadium, the facilities and the quality of the players, then you see this club belongs at the top," he said. "We have to aim as high as possible, keep winning matches and see where we end up."
The sky could be the limit for Vitesse, whose long-term future also looks bright thanks to a new training ground and academy. Even for outsiders like AZ coach Dick Advocaat, there is plenty to admire. "Vitesse have an enormous amount of individual quality in the team," he said. "Peter Bosz is a positive man. The combination of a good team and a good trainer is bound to equal success."