Thomas Vermaelen (€12 million) (6/20)

When you say “Belgian defender” in a random pub in Amsterdam, people will usually start talking to you about Jan Vertonghen. Some might even go to the lengths of rambling on about Toby Alderweireld. Sadly, Thomas Vermaelen seems all but forgotten in the residence of his former employer.

Thomas joined the famed Ajax academy through a cooperation program with his former club in Belgium, Germinal Beerschot. Whilst the program was a cooperation, in truth it was just a cheap way for Ajax to recruit the most talented players from Beerschot’s youth. As such, it laid the roots for the arrival of not just Vermaelen, but also De Mul, Vertonghen and Alderweireld amongst others.

He made his debut one year after joining, in a cup game against Volendam. The following season he was loaned out to RKC Waalwijk, but only played a handful of matches. That’s when his breakthrough came, upon returning to Amsterdam. In his first full season at Ajax, he made a real impact and was one of the contenders for player of the year. The season ended with him getting called up for the Belgian national team. Despite suffering numerous injuries early on in his career, he carved himself out a significant place in the squad and was even named captain a good few times.

One can only wonder what could have become of Thomas had he not been so injury prone. He eventually left in 2009, joining Arsenal where he went on to play some of the best football in his career. But injury eventually struck and it’s kept him sidelines for quite some time during his further career in England, at Barcelona and with Roma.