Meet Ian Maatsen: Aston Villa's flying full-back who 'rejuvenated' Dortmund and is ready for 'elite level'

Ian Maatsen is one for making strong first impressions and has left as a fan favourite after each of the four loan spells he made from Chelsea in the past four years, so it's a good thing Aston Villa have him pinned down on a six-year deal.

They say you should never fall in love with a loan player and Maatsen has caused heartache for several fanbases. Yellow Dortmund shirts with Maatsen on the back can be spotted in Burnley, let alone in Germany.

Unai Emery was desperate to add Maatsen to his squad this summer, so Villa were willing to pay big for the 22-year-old left-back, who was named in the Champions League team of the season last term following his short-term loan at Borussia Dortmund. Villa found a £37.5m agreement with Chelsea, which the German giants couldn't match after already failing to take up an option to purchase the Netherlands international for £35m earlier in the window.

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"First and foremost, I want to say, how dare you guys?" Dortmund fan Carver of The BVB Podcast told Claret & Blue. "Anyone who's ever given our show a listen knows that for months, I've been saying that this player needs to be Dortmund's number-one priority this summer. He has completely rejuvenated this team. We were really, really, really struggling the first half of the season, particularly in the full-back department.

"Maatsen came in and completely changed the game for us. I mean, I'm sure he was our number one priority this summer, but we just simply don't have the cash to come anywhere near any sort of English club.

"You have a real, real quality player on your hands. I think he's absolutely ready to take that next step of being at this sort of elite level. My biggest concern for him is just the physicality of the Premier League. He did get knocked around a little bit here and there, not too much. But in pretty much every other measurable metric, I think he's absolutely ready to take that step."

Villa fans might not have watched many of Maatsen's games at Dortmund last season, perhaps only the Champions League final where he made an unfortunate error that led to Real Madrid's second goal at Wembley. He played the ball across his backline which fell to Jude Bellingham, who then assisted Vinicius Junior to seal the game.

"I think that Ian was part of a really good team today, especially in that first half we went close to scoring and Ian was one of the reasons because he played a fantastic game," former Dortmund boss Edin Terzic reacted after full-time. "And then there was the momentum where the game turned around and you see why they are the champions of this competition.

"Yeah, this is a game full of mistakes and it’s all about the reaction. Ian is a player who always wants to get on the ball, it doesn’t matter how tight the situation is, he wants to get on the ball and he wants to accelerate, he wants to play forward.

"And if you have this kind of mentality then, of course, sometimes you are going to lose the ball. No hard feelings whatsoever about Ian because they did similar situations in the first half but we didn’t show the efficiency to score. I’m quite sure that Ian is going to learn from that night and he’s going to have a bright future."

Carver added: "I think that comes with age. He is a 22-year-old who came from the Championship the year prior and is now in the Champions League final. That's quite the jump and he definitely handled the challenges on a regular basis. It was just a matter of that one really unfortunate slip because I don't think he had much of any of those other slips with the spell he had at Dortmund.

"I really don't see too many other weaknesses in this game at the moment, honestly. After joining Aston Villa, it looks like he definitely wants to prove himself at a different level now. He might have that little bit more of that motivating X factor to just deliver and also just compete against a team like Chelsea.

"You have a very, very dynamic modern full-back. I think he fits that profile perfectly. Emery will nurture Maatsen in his tactical philosophy and make him into the player that we all know he can be. He's proven that time and time again in just the last year and a half or so, and definitely these last six months at Dortmund. So it's going to be really exciting."

Maatsen excelled on loan at Burnley in 2022/23, before spending the first half of last season on loan at Chelsea prior to his January switch to Dortmund. The full-back made 39 Championship appearances for the Clarets, forming a key part of the side that reached 101 points under Vincent Kompany, becoming only the fourth-ever Championship team to hit that century.

"He was one of, if not the best player that we had that season," Joe Redmond of the TurfCast said. "He made the PFA Championship Team of the Year that year quite comfortably as well. He was by far the best full-back in the league. You could tell in the first game where we played Huddersfield away and he actually got the winning goal.

"Now, he didn't score that many goals for us, obviously, being a full-back, but he did chip in with a few. But on his first game, he actually played very, very well, coming inside with the ball, using both feet, getting forward. And that's how he scored the goal. He cut inside and fired it into the far corner.

"I think the only negative that he had at Burnley was he sometimes does get caught out, but that wasn't necessarily his fault in terms of quality. That was just a system that we were playing, and I presume Villa will also want to take the game to a lot of teams as well next season with the position that you're in and what you want to achieve.

"He definitely has room to improve, but for me, he's already class. In my opinion, he was the player that we missed the most when we went up.

"Kompany loved him. Every time he spoke about him, he spoke positively. He obviously wanted to sign him again and was obviously very keen for him. The fans loved him. Kompany loved him. The board clearly wanted him back."

Following Burnley's promotion, they had agreed a deal with Chelsea to sign Maatsen on loan for the season with an obligation to buy for £31.5m including add-ons, but in the end, a move never materialised. It makes the deal Villa agreed with Chelsea even more impressive considering his stunning spell at Dortmund was yet to come before Burnley came knocking last summer.

Maatsen was first scouted by Chelsea's recruitment team while playing in the Netherlands for the under-16 national team and his former club, PSV Eindhoven. He joined the Blues in the summer of 2018 as a teenager and signed his first professional contract at the club in March 2019 before making his senior debut in September of that same year at the age of 17.

In October 2020, Maatsen enjoyed his first loan spell away from Chelsea at League One side Charlton, where he played 35 times and scored his first professional goal against Doncaster while playing as a right winger. He then made the step-up to the Championship the following season after signing for Coventry City on loan for the duration of the 2021/22 campaign.

He became a regular starter at left-wing back and made 41 appearances across all competitions and was named their Young Player of the Year.

"Coventry have had quite a few loan players over the years, but within the first game of seeing Ian Maatsen, you could tell there's something about this kid," Andy Turner of the Coventry Telegraph said. "He quickly established himself as a fan favourite because he was just so silky on the ball, so easy on the eye and just forward thinking. He was exciting to watch and really one of those players who got the fans going."

"If you look at his career, there's been this sort of incremental progression, sort of a stepping stone, really. He had a season with Charlton Athletic in League One, then he stepped up to the Championship with Coventry and had a really good season in a team that was trying to get a foothold in the division rather than pushing for the play-offs.

"He progressed again playing for Burnley and helping them get promoted. Then, to go to Dortmund after that, it shows what progression he has had."

Coventry was the perfect destination for Maatsen to make the step up into the Championship following the club's successful first season back in the second tier after their promotion from League One in 2019/20.

"Coventry have got a very good reputation for developing young players," Turner continued. "At the time, Adi Viveash was the assistant manager and first-team coach who'd come from Chelsea. Coventry did get a lot of players from Chelsea because of his connection with the club having worked there for 10 years with the under-18s and the academy players and the development players.

"Aidy Viveash has got this incredible reputation for improving players. One of his biggest successes, I guess, would be Viktor Gyokeres, who came to Coventry on loan from Brighton, having spent half a season at Swansea, could hardly get a game, came to Coventry from January to the end of the season, and looked a bit rough around the edges, a bit rustier. He came back a different animal.

"The following season, he got 18 goals. The season after that, he got 22 goals. they sold him for £20m. The progression and the development was incredible and there to see. There are so many players that Coventry have developed and got onto bigger and better things.

"He's still at such a young age and now he's at Villa in the Premier League. I think there's still plenty more to come. He's not the finished article, but there's plenty of talent there to work with.

"He had the freedom to express himself at Coventry, particularly going forward. He was played in lots of different positions, although primarily he was sort of left-wing-back at the time because Coventry played with three at the back. But he was played out of position as the season went on.

"And later on in the season, when I think they must have had injury problems, suspension problems, he played further up the pitch out wide. He sort of also played as an attacking midfielder in the No.10 role. He did everything well as he was learning his trade and taking on new responsibilities and relishing those opportunities.

"Going forward, he was a smashing player and great to watch. He gets forward on the overlap. You know, he's quick, he's skillful, fantastic technique, you know, good technician of the ball, on the ball and, you know, makes things happen. You know, he can cross the ball and, you know, he's decent from set pieces and just a really exciting player who makes things happen going forward.

"His control of the ball and his technical ability was his best attribute, his ability to go past players. He was always confident at taking players on and going past them. Coupled with that, he has pace as well. He would always get up that left-wing and get the ball in the box or make a really good pass. He was really exciting going forward."

Of all left-backs in the Championship in 2022/23, Maatsen recorded the highest progressive carrying distance, the most progressive carries and progress passes. He was a level above.

"He's got bags of technical ability and a lot of full-backs do these days," Redmond added. "He gets forward, he gets back. He's got a very good engine as well. Like I said, he does sometimes get caught out because he's bombing forward, but he never gets caught out because he's knackered. He's trying to make things happen.

"His pace is one of his best attributes. He can use both feet as well, so that's obviously useful. I think his technical ability for me is probably his best attribute.

"He would invert as well, which is why we missed him as well, because Charlie [Talyor] just couldn't do that. Again, as much as I love Charlie, he's more of a traditional left-back, whereas Maatsen's a bit more fluid. We did that a lot in the Championship. He could certainly, under the right manager and under the right system, play wing-back as well, like I said, with his engine and his pace."

Maatsen's progression in the EFL was clear, but showing it at the highest level is proof that Villa have landed a top full-back, capable of improving still. At Dortmund, Maatsen recorded four goal contributions in 16 Bundesliga games and of course, played a key role in the club's journey to the Champions League final, featuring in all seven of the European matches he could after joining in January.

He is a proficient ball-carrier which was key in build-up for Dortmund last season. The left-back recorded 2.74 progressive carries last season and received nearly four progressive passes per 90.

In possession, he excelled, recording (per 90) 85 percent pass completion, 68 passes completed and 5.35 progressive passes too. He demonstrated a range of technical attributes under Terzic as he was afforded the freedom to operate within each of the thirds.

"He's also someone who tracks back really, really well," Carver added. "He has just got so much versatility in him when it comes to just being on both sides of the ball. He's pretty solid defensively, given, again, his size, just the levels he's played at for the years prior, and also playing at so many different roles, sometimes even in the attacking front line.

"He averaged two tackles a game for Dortmund, not anything too impressive, but still not bad at all. He's got over one interception a game, a few blocks, a few clearances. So he's definitely got the ability to put up some numbers in the defensive aspect of the game as well.

"He's really underrated with his dribbling. He's got some great link-up play. He and Sancho did a lot of that in the Champions League runs. He's got a few goals for Dortmund as well and they were difficult or they were not easy goals by any means either with little time and space. And he definitely delivered on those fronts.

"When it comes to just his passing too, he recorded an 89 percent pass completion in the league. He's got a lot of progressive passes too. So a lot of good strengths when he has the ball too."

Villa have not only secured a player who has the capacity to improve Emery's XI, but someone with the right attitude to learn and contribute off the pitch.

"Burnley fans still still miss him to this day," Redmond added. "I remember when the Champions League final was on, I put a post up saying like good luck in the Champions League final which of course ended up being jumped on by opposition fans following the mistake, but a lot of other Burnley pages and podcasts felt the same. I've even seen a few Dortmund shirts around the town centre as well over the last year with Maatsen on the back!

"I'm Burnley born and bred, but it's a town that has impoverished areas and some people aren't quite as fortunate as others. I remember at Christmas time he went to a couple of families' houses and gave them presents and stuff like that. He would do nice things and nice gestures."

Maatsen also left Coventry with all the well-wishes of a club who have developed players on and off the pitch under Mark Robins and his support staff.

"They [Coventry staff] loved him as a character as well, and they knew that he was going places," Turner added. "And they've enjoyed sitting back and watching him flourish and go onto bigger and better things. I think they knew straight away that he was destined for the top and destined for Premier League and probably international honours as well. They thought very highly of him.

"That's why, you know, he played so many games, he played 40 games, you know, and I think he got four goals, you know, and he was first choice.. He was, you know, most weeks, he sort of made that position his own very, very quickly. And he was in the team more often than not.

"He's a lovely lad, a really nice character. Very humble and just a well-brought-up lad, well-spoken, and just came across very, very well. There's no edge to him. A really nice kid."

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