Rick Karsdorp burst on the scene. Only 21 years old but already one of the driving forces in Feyenoord’s campaign and on the verge of snapping the RB spot in Oranje. All that, will big European clubs eyeing the development of the former playmaker. He’s one of the rocks Feyenoord leans on and the key question is: how good can he become?
Rick Karsdorp thanks two people in particular for his stellar development. His dad, will always be the first one he mentions and honours. Karsdorp senior raised Rick and his brother alone. Another broken family, working class, in Rotterdam. Dad Karsdorp is a no nonsense working man, mechanic, and dedicated his free time to his sons. Rick wanted to be a football player.
The street smart kid was a decent playmaker in the youth. Played on the #10 position in young Feyenoord and impressed with through passes, dribbles and goals. Being a Feyenoord player in the youth teams living in Rotterdam, a kid can get easily distracted. Karsdorp lived the live of any young teenager and school work suffered. Rick became a problem kid. When Rick was 15 years old, dad intervened. Grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and took him off football, for him to focus on school. He managed to get his high school diploma, but had lost 1,5 years of playing. When his dad told him he was able to return to football, the youngster refused. Karsdorp senior: “I don’t know exactly why. He lived for the sports, but I think he was afraid. Insecure. Afraid to fail. He hadn’t played at level for a long time and he’s a winner, afraid to fail and lose.” Karsdorp turned his back on football and was a bit lost. Until one day, when his old team was playing a friendly, dad took Rick to go and watch. It was a set up. While the team was getting ready, Rick’s dad grabbed Rick’s gear from the car and said: “Get changed, go out there and go and play!”.
Rick did and never looked back
However, getting towards the senior level, it seemed there would not be a lot of opportunity for the playmaker to get into the team on his favorite position. Maybe not good enough? Maybe Feyenoord needed to rely on more experienced players in that role? Feyenoord used to play with a deep sitting central midfielder (Clasie) at that time and used a more penetrative runner on the #10 position (Lex Immers, now Dirk Kuyt). But when Fred Rutten analysed Karsdorp, playing in the B-team, he did see what he liked: mentality, drive, speed, tough in the duels and great in build up.
So he picked Rick as a right back, when the other choices were not able to deliver. And he told Karsdorp: “You might not make it as a playmaker, but as a right back, you can reach the National Team!”. Rick Karsdorp remembers the talk. Vividly. “Man, I was livid. Angry, felt humiliated. That message was like being relegated from being a promising good player to a failure…” Karsdorp debut was dramatic. In a Europa League qualification game, Karsdorp made an error. A howler. The team lost thanks to his mistake. He was shattered. Spent minutes alone in the dressing room crying. Felt humiliated. And was again, ready to leave it all behind.
Rutten: “These are defining moments. I told him. You walk away now, that blunder will have defined your short career. But get up on your feet, climb back on the horse and take the lesson.”
Again, he didn’t look back.
Karsdorp now: “Rutten saw the game well. Not just because of that message to me, in general. Great coach. And he was right. He said: most of the attacks these days start with the full backs. They’re the new playmakers. The typical number 10s are not the ones with time and space anymore. And with my energy, he said, I could boost the team.”
And rightly so. French player Duplan was the assist king of the Eredivisie last season, but Rick Karsdorp was runner up!
Today, he is one of the most photographed Feyenoord players. The tattoos, the hairdo… Rick is popular. When a press photographer aims his long tele lens on the right back, the players snaps at him: “Hey, don’t take pics man, I don’t like it!”
With a big smile he arrives at the table, an hour later: “Did you see the face on that guy, hahaha! He took it serious didn’t he? I was just having a go, he’s allowed to do what he wants. It seems the media like to get pics of me without my hair up in a man-knot, hahaha. I don’t mind, doing your hair everyday takes up sooo much time, hahaha.”
He is considered to be one of Feyenoord’s gems, along with the likes of Vilhena, Kongolo, Hahn and Van Beek. Fred Rutten: “I could see he had it all. He’s a very complete player. I didn’t just tell him he’d be perfect as RB for Feyenoord. I told him he can be one of Europe’s best. If you analyse him, you’ll see he has it all.”
“But… when players break into the team and do well for a spell, the temptations and distractions come… How will he handle that? The money, the attention, the glamour, the girls, the parties….” Jean Paul Boetius used to be one of those gems. Came like a rocket. Impressed week in week out. He once said: “When you just come into the team, you’re invincible. You can handle everything. Every one pats you on the back, wants a pic taken with you, they tell you how awesome you are… But then… when you start to struggle, they’re all gone. That hurts!”
Karsdorp recognises it. He is still in the first stage. His first game for Feyenoord was the disappointment, since then he went up and up. Not yet saw the freefall. Are the temptations an issue for Rick? “I’m still young, and afraid of no one. Boetius is right, that is how the world works, but I have to say…I’m not a target so much. I don’t think there’s people wriggling themselves into my life. I have small inner circle, whom I trust fully. My dad, my brother, my girlfriend. That’s basically it. I don’t live in the city but away from it all. I don’t need to surrounded with distractions.”Another temptation exists too. When you play well for Oranje vs France, with the likes of Martial and Payet, you might return to De Kuip with a different mindset? Maybe too cocky? “Getting too big for your shoes, kindathing? Well, obviously, when you are a starter for Feyenoord and play for Oranje, you do feel different. That’s normal, yes? But even in the academy, I was a player who would ask questions. I’m the guy who’d say “Why?”. I question things. And as a kid, I got a lot of “hey you snotty kid, shut your mouth” and all that. I just needed to know and understand. And the more you play, the more you will bring your personality in it as well. People might think you get arrogant, but I don’t see it like that.”
Talking about the days when his dad took him off football… “It is very strange. I always knew I would be a pro player. That was all I wanted and in all honesty, it’s all I can do. I can’t work with my hands, I have no real skill other than football. I’m not a reader or study person. I can’t sit still… I told my dad: I will be a football player or …. Nothing… I can’t even remember what I did with my time when I was not playing that one year.”
People close to the team do believe he has a whiff of arrogance about him. The hand gestures to coach Van Bronckhorst during the away game vs Zorja. The discussion with the ref after a challenge on him, while being yellow-carded already…
Karsdorp flashes another smile. “Me arrogant? Hmm yes… I do hear that sometimes. And yes, I can see why people think this. I experience the match in an intense way. And now, I’m under the magnifying glass of course. I changed my hairdo and suddenly it became a “thing”. But, as long as my dad and girlfriend don’t tell me off, I’m not worried, hahaha.”
So, how good can Rick Karsdorp get: “I don’t know? The sub top abroad? Who knows… I know I can play better than I do. Better than against France and Belarus. Much much better!”. Another big smile. There is quite some interest from Italy, England and Germany for the right back. Is he ready for a move? “Well,” another wry smile: “I will not go until I lifted the champions shield on De Coolsingel for Feyenoord…”