Justin Kluivert spent time in The Netherlands during the Lockdown. This interview was done during the non-football period in Italy.
How are you?
Justin: “Until the Corona outbreak I was doing fine, particularly with my football. And you know me, when the football is good, my life outside of football is good too.”
Football as the benchmark?
“For me, yes. When you are happy in your football career it’s hard not to be happy outside of it, so yes. I played a lot before the lockdown and scored my goals. That seems to be key for most people, especially when you are playing abroad. People read the news headlines and you will come across in a positive way, when you score. So, that is good.”
Do you notice it in the streets too?
“Of course. When you scored the last game, people come up to you and congratulate you. And when you don’t score, they won’t. That is how it works. And I like reading stuff like “Kluivert saves AS Roma” or something. That sortathing works for you.”
You’re a young mama’s boy from Amsterdam. And there you went: as a 19 year old, to Rome!
“The first six months were all about adjusting. I only lived in Holland, with my mum. So big steps for me: leaving the club where I played all my life and leaving my mum behind.”
Were you lonely, in Rome, that first period?
“I don’t get lonely that easily, I am good at being alone. I am also a bit like: you signed for Roma, so no whining! I had a girl friend in Amsterdam but now I’m single again so literally alone. My mum visits often and I still have a little brother at school, so it’s a quiet life but it’s good. My first season in Rome, I didn’t want too many distractions. I do get a lot of visitors so that is nice. My grandma flies down to Rome whenever she can. And my mum also helped by taking care of my home, she did the whole internal design thing, right how I like it. I have home here with a pool and many bedrooms for guests.”
Did you learn how to cook?
“Yes, I went to cooking school, hahaha. I cook for myself, no drama.”
Justin with mum Angela
So do you enjoy the life in Italy?
“Yes, the Italian vibe is top. Food is great, the weather is top, and I also use the Italian gestures now hahaha. One cappuccino for breakfast and then espresso shots. And on we go!”
Did you manage to be the tourist? Go to the Colosseum and all this?
“Football here is top class but the city of Rome is top as well. You can do so many things, we can go sailing or have lunch at the beach. I also visited the historic spots, but it’s like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam… It’s for the tourist. You don’t go to the Rijks every month, when you live in Amsterdam. And we will get recognised always, that is a drawback. Walking through the city is no problem, you don’t need to wear a hoodie or something. They do look at you and sometimes ask for a selfie. I always say yes. It takes 30 seconds. So what, right?”
Who are the team mates you hang out with here?
“I spent a lot of time with Rick Karsdorp and his family, before he left for Feyenoord. He tought me heaps of things here, and I have to be grateful for him for this. Kevin Strootman was top too but he left very early to Marseille. I am the only Dutchie now and the youngest too. Most of my team mates have kids and families etc. At Ajax, all the players were young and we were all mates. I knew most from the youth teams. Here it is different, but on the pitch I get along with all of them.”
With which Ajax players do you still talk?
“I talk to Hakim Ziyech every now and then. His move to Chelsea was to be expected, man what a season he had! I look forward to seeing him in the EPL. I app with Frenkie at Barcelona a lot, but everyone is busy. We’re all on our own trajectory.”
Mino Raiola is your agent. Does he help you by connecting you to strikers like Zlatan?
“Well, I have my dad to talk to right? But I was in Monaco one time with Mino and Balotelli and Zlatan were there too. We had lunch together, which was fun. I also speak to Mkhitaryan a lot. He came from Arsenal, and he is so smart. He always gives me little hints and tips. He wants me to shoot quicker, get the shot away. Don’t make that extra move or trick. And I talk with my cousin Marillo and with my brother. Marillo is my best mate.”
Like Abdelhak Nouri was a good mate too….
“Yes, a really special mate. We played together at Ajax but we’re still friends. I think about him a lot. And because of what happened, I learned to enjoy every single day. Don’t hang on to anger, that sorta thing. Life can be over, just like that. Now I live here in Rome, I don’t get to see Appie that often. I’ll be visiting him soon I hope, but I find it extremely difficult. So horrible…”
How important is your mum to you?
“Pfff how do you say that. I am always very happy to be with her. She means the world to me. I lived with her my whole life and whenever I have a decision to make, I call her. And she support me in everything. She wasn’t very stern or anything but always clear. And when she said her piece, I was like… Ok… that is how it will be. But she always was loving and warm. She likes to hug and still does.”
So after a good game, you think about her?
“Yes, of course. I also play for her, but also for my dad. I love it when he’s proud. And for my brothers too. I want to shine on the pitch. And they give me my motivations. My parents got divorced when I was still little and I don’t know different than being raised by my mum. But I missed nothing, don’t get me wrong. In the weekends I saw my dad. That is how it was. My mum is a strong woman, she made sure we were happy.”
Are you tearing up?
“No. Yes, well… a bit. I mean, I am not a cryer person, but I always get emotional talking about my mum. She is the most beautiful woman in the world for me. But everyone will say that about their mum, I hope.”
You are known to be a very positive and open lad, but also very polite?
“That is how she raised me. Just act normal, she would say. Be polite. She raised three boys by herself and that can’t be easy but she did ever so well. I think my bond with my brothers is strong because of her parenting. I have two younger brother, Dean is my mum’s and lives in Amsterdam and always wants to know everything about football and Shane is my dads and he lives in Barcelona with dad, who works for Barcelona. I call them a lot and we always go on holidays together.”
And your dad? What does he mean to you?
“My dad was my role model! I always hear i look like him and he is also chill like me. That is cool. He’s not just my dad, but also a football legend. I now experience a tiny bit of what he went through. And I can always ask him for advice. We talk daily on Facetime or Whatsapp. He can’t visit often, as he’s very busy at Barca but that is ok. I am used to not seeing him often but I love him dearly and we will spend more time in the future.”
Daley Blind once said: I think my surname means I will be judged even more than I actually should…” Do you recognise this?
“Of course, Daley is right. With a famous dad who also played for Ajax, people do try and see similarities or want to compare and yes, they judge you. You got to learn to deal with this. I got that as well: “You only play at Ajax because your dad played here…”. I used to say: come and see me play this weekend! The surname motivated me to play even better. “Will you be that good?” people would ask me and I always said: I will have to answer that on the pitch. Shane in Barcelona is going through the same as me. He looks like me, also as a player. Not too big, plays on my spot and has the same way of playing. We speak daily. I try to coach him a bit and we reflect on the stuff we go through. It’s not easy to be compared to your dad all the time. But it’s not just about football of course…”
Last season, when Ajax was so impressive, did you ever thing: “I wish I was there”?
“Of course I would have want to experience that! Take Matthijs de Ligt! We’re the same age, we know each other since we were 12. I have a smile on my face when I see him play at that high level. It was strange to see them do all that, without me. I watched all there games, and when you saw them play, in the tough games, I’d think: Wow, this is not normal! But this is how things go. You take decisions and sometimes you look back and think…hmmm…. but I’m proud of them and of myself for taking the step I took.”
Patrick, Justin, Shane and Matthijs in Barcelona.
So why did you go? Why leave Ajax so early in your career?
“I just wanted the adventure. I did ponder it for a long time. But AS Roma was very concrete, the money was there, they explained to me why they wanted me and I thought: wow… The Roma deal vs the Ajax deal… It just was a very good step for me. I am a satisfied guy. The question was: are you ready, but how do you ever know? You have to try. People said: you have to perform every week now! And I’m like: do you think that is different in Ajax?”
Did you get better, as a player and human being?
“That is it! I have. The power I have now, I didn’t have at Ajax. And living in Rome, well…. “
Justin didn’t get selected for the National Team, in the past periods of play, but just when Koeman picked Kluivert for the pre-squad in the run up to the Euros, the corona virus reared its ugly head.
“It’s totally shite that the Euros are postponed. I was focusing on that for a full year. That was my big goal. But I get it, this is bigger than football. Now it will be next season and I will work my ass off to get there.”
Do you talk to Koeman?
“Every now and then. He came specially to Italy to see me last season. And guess what: I was on the bench all game. And I thought: there goes my chance. But he sent me an app with some little comments and the final word: “you are on my radar”. That gave me energy. The coach will not just look at my goals, but goals are important. I played two matches under Koeman now. He is a very relaxed and good coach. His tactical talks are never longer than 12 minutes. He said himself, he never liked these long speeches. So suddenly he’d look at his watch and yell: “Ok, we’re ready!!!” We all had to laugh. He is very clear in what he wants, and you feel like “ok, this is what we will do”. He is a real leader.”
Do you talk to your dad a lot about your game?
“Oh sure. He watches all my games and sends me stats from all my matches. He has an app with he uses and can show me the # of ball contacts I had, how many passes reached my team mates, etc. That is very insightful. I am personally not that analytical, I just play my game. I also don’t like tactics, I really need the freedom to play and be free in my head.”