This last week, coach Ronald Koeman was in the news, as Barca Chair “finally” sacked the Dutch club legend (and in his wake: Alfred Schreuder and Henke Larsson). Also in the news, 75 year old Wim Jansen – suffering from dementia – published his biography, ans with that, some exciting stories were re-hashed in the media. Do let me know if you want me to write some stories on either topic.
For now, I wanted to focus on that other winger that impressed. I covered Noa Lang in a post, now it’s time for Arnaut Danjuma.
The 24 year old Nigerian born Dutch international – Dutch father, Nigerian mother – started his career at Top Oss but moved swiftly to PSV where he played for PSV 2 before making his move to NEC Nijmegen, where he expected a swifter break through. He managed 40 games for NEC in which he scored 12 goals and got the first attention. PSV and Feyenoord were keen to sign him but Club Brugge in Belgium was the quickest of them. He made his first Oranje appearance under Koeman in October 2018 but lost his spot when he got injured.
He went to play for EPL outfit Bournemouth in 2019 but injuries kept him sidelined more than not and Danjuma got relegated with the club in 2020. He ended up performing really well for the Cherries and scored a total of 15 goals in 47 games for them until Emry swooped him up for Villareal for close to €25K.
It does not take long, in the company of Arnaut Danjuma, to realise how highly he regards his potential. “If I need to be completely honest, and this is me being completely honest, I never thought I would play Championship in my career,” the Bournemouth forward says, “I’m used to the Champions League, not the Championship.”
Danjuma – nickname The Cobra – talks like he plays: a winger with wonderful talent and ability complemented by extreme self-confidence which sees him attempt, and often execute, the audacious.
Danjuma – who had an unthinkable tough childhood – spoke of a desire to return to Europe’s elite competition and prove he is among the world’s best players. His two appearances in the Champions League came for Belgium’s Club Brugge in the 2018 group stage, both ending in defeat to Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid, whom he scored against. With Villareal, he was able to prove his mettle once again, particularly in the away match vs Man United.
Danjuma uses his past to help him perform. “When I go into a game I always get my mentality back to where I started because I don’t want to get used to being satisfied,” he says.
The story begins in Lagos, Nigeria, where he was born but Danjuma doesn’t remember much apart from his grandma’s house and regularly being late for dinner due to playing football in the streets. The true beginning came in 2001, at the age of four, when Danjuma’s parents, mum Hauwa and dad Cees, divorced in the same year they moved to Oss, in the south of Holland.
Danjuma doesn’t remember why but they ended up homeless for two weeks around a year after arriving in Europe. Along with his brother Reinier and sister Lisette, the then five-year-old and his mum would often end up sleeping in their car.
“I was a bit older, around five or six,” Danjuma says. “There was a brief period when we had no place to live, which obviously was very tough and, on the back of it, might sound weird but I’m grateful I went through it.
“For my mum, it was very difficult but she’s a very strong lady. I’ve never met anyone as strong as her, especially if you come from a different country like Nigeria to the Netherlands, don’t speak the language and are foreign. It is difficult, it’s tough. She had three children to take care of.
“It was a very difficult period for her but I always respect the way she dealt with it and she always provided for me and the whole family where she could. It really inspires me, having a mother like her, because it showed me the world is tough out there and if you want to survive you should always fight back, always take courage in changing your own destiny.”
Circumstances saw Danjuma and his siblings put into foster care. He doesn’t recall why but remembers clearly the difficulty it brought, comparing the period to time spent living on the streets. His foster family wouldn’t take him to play football, the sport he had grown to love since the age of four.
“It was tough because you’re not with your parents and you see all other kids living with their parents. It was difficult for me because the only thing I wanted to do was play football,” Danjuma says. “They weren’t willing to bring me to training so I got really annoyed by that. But my father luckily came all the way to the foster family, picked me up and took me to football, and then brought me back to them and went back to his place. I was lucky that my father still took charge of everything because otherwise it would have been very difficult for me.”
Cees remains an influential figure. They speak before every game and Danjuma describes his father as a “football fanatic”. “I’m not even exaggerating,” he says. “If he feels I have performed bad or the club is losing, he won’t sleep.”
Danjuma joined Top Oss, his first professional club, aged 11 in 2008, the same year a court ruled he could leave foster care and live with his father. Within weeks, he had joined PSV Eindhoven where he remained until 2016.
Through the years in the academy, he saw the benefits of his unthinkable upbringing by observing others. “There are a lot of players who have a lot of luxuries at a young age and it kills them,” he says. “I’ve seen so many talented players that didn’t make it in the end because of luxury. I’ve seen it with my own eyes because I went through it in the same period and didn’t have the same luxury as them, but in the end I scored my goal in the Champions League and they didn’t.”
His debut in Europe’s elite competition came elsewhere in the end. “At the time, my dream was to play first team and make my debut there but it fell apart because I got a bit impatient and didn’t think I got the respect I deserved at the club and tried my luck elsewhere,” Danjuma says.
He spent two years with NEC Nijmegen and then moved to Club Brugge in 2018 which was when Milan made a move. “Six months earlier I played in Holland so when AC Milan came through with an offer and bid I told the club straight away I want to move, I want to go to AC Milan which is a massive club, massive history, and at the time a very good step for me,” Danjuma recalls.
Danjuma’s personal ambitions mean he is determined to take Villareal back to the top in Spain, particularly with the Madrid clubs and Barca stumbling a bit. But he also has his eye on the international arena.
He made his come back in orange after three years. “I am so happy that I’m back and I knew for 100% certain that I would make it. I may have been off the radar a bit with Bournemouth so I decided to move up a notch.” Asked if he was happy to perform on the right wing for The Netherlands, as opposed to the left: “My preference is the left, I won’t lie, but if the coach want me to play on the right, I will. When Van Gaal tells me to be the goalie, I will be the goalie. But left winger has my preference.”
By now, we are all getting accustomed to the intelligence and wit of the winger. He was already known to be a walking football encyclopedia. He follows everything and even has his own data-service, which he devours week by week to learn, to develop and set new goals. He also has quick and dry wit. Asked if he new about Van Gaal lamenting that there weren’t many good wingers, he responded: “Was he lamenting? Well so was I. I was lamenting that I wasn’t called up.”