Tag: Netherlands

Oranje: how are we doing?

The month August is a terrible month for Dutch football, usually. Our teams usually struggle so early in the quakification games for European places. We also do not have the world class players who usually would be signed the earliest in the season (Raphina, Lewandowski, Haaland), which means Dutch players/clubs usually get to know their future in the final week of the transfer period. In this season, the Eredivisie will be already 4 games in.

Lets have a look at the Dutch NT players and where they are.

Goalies

The usual suspects are Cillesen, Bijlow, Pasveer, Flekken, Krul as I see them, are all doing ok, but not great. Flekken and Cillesen had some howlers already. Pasveer just got back to fitness and the coming man Bijlow also had a couple of mistakes already. But, I think we’ll find 3 goalies to come to Qatar with us.

Defence

Van Dijk is doing what he does best. Lead the defence at Anfield. Ake is getting quite some games now at City, Dumfries came of the bench to score a dramatic winner with the last touch, De Vrij is playing, Rensch is impressing, Wijndal is doing ok with Ajax, as is Blind. Malacia has yet to play a real series of matches with ill-fated Man United. Hateboer and Karsdorp are getting games in, as does Tete. Botman got his first start as well, while Pascal Struijk is a regular starter at Leeds again. Geertruida also impressed at Feyenoord.

Mathijs De Ligt is the only player yet to start from the beginning, but he’ll be fine.

Midfield

Our midfield is ready for a bit of an overhaul. Wijnaldum has to find a way to get back, while Klaassen and Van de Beek are also still waiting for ample minutes. It seems Steven Berghuis might also lose out now Schreuder seems to enjoy Tadic on the #10 position. Frenkie is not a starter at Barca (yet) but every time he comes onto the pitch, he lifts the game. It feels like – like Cruyff – the midfielder is strengthened by conflict situations. We do see some exciting new names, though and we might see a changing of the guards. Xavi Simons is impressing with everything he does. He’s a real player, great touches, speed, vision, he can score and assist and off the pitch he comes across as a fun, focused and humble professional. I hope LVG takes him to the World Cup. Quinten Timber is another player to keep tabs on.

Another name that established himself in my book is Joey Veerman. In the holding role (next to Frenkie) he can be really good. I love his side-footed finishes, which gives him a lot of control and shows the icy blood in his veins. I think he’s improving positionally as well, so time to give him the nod.

Forwards

Luuk de Jong does what Luuk de Jong does best, at PSV. Bergwijn is shining at Ajax, while Memphis works hard to be a factor again. He impressed me in the pre-season and if his deal with Juve comes off, he’ll be our leader of the line, as per usual in Qatar. Gakpo is going through a difficult spell, while Noa Lang is also not yet settled. These two are typically players who might find a new club late in the window. Malen is yet a bit invisible (for me) while Danjuma is injured (ankle). Weghorst is playing in Turkey and will find the net, but I think it might be a toss up with Brobbey who has been really good in his hold up play as a #9.

Problem cases

I think we all know by now that Ihattaren is going through a really difficult time. His connections with a gangster family is not helping and Ajax, apparently, is ready to move on. Sad. I don’t think Frenkie and Memphis are probem cases, they are too good to be stopped. Malacia though, might have some issues getting into the Man U side, as Ten Hag does well to protect the lad in this tough period.

I do believe he’s way better than Shaw and will make his mark, but is it in time for the World Cup?

My current squad of 27 would look like this:

Goalies:

Cillesen, Bijlow, Pasveer

Defenders:

Dumfries, Karsdorp, Timber, De Ligt, De Vrij, Van Dijk, Ake, Blind, Wijndal/Malacia

Midfielders:

Frenkie, Veerman, Simons, Koopmeiners, Berghuis, Klaassen, Gravenberch

Forwards:

Bergwijn, Memphis, Danjuma, Luuk de Jong, Brobbey, Gakpo, Malen, Lang,

Who do I miss?

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Missing: the 2019 U-17 Oranje Talents

Main Pic:  Back row: Calvin Raatsie, Devyne Rensch, Jayden Braaf, Melayro Bogarde, Anass Salah-Eddine and Mohamed Taabouni. Up front: Steven van der Sloot, Ian Maatsen, Youri Regeer, Sontje Hansen and Naci Ünüvar.

It’s summer 2019 and the U17 Oranje team wins the European title and just misses the World Cup title some months later in Brazil.

These talents are now more than 2 years older and more experienced and hammering on the doors of the first teams. Or… are they?

AZ midfielder Taabouni: “That World Cup in Brail was a highlight in my life. It was bittersweet, though. We went as favorites and just couldn’t make it happen after a slow start.” Oranje lost the penalty kicks vs Mexico and Brazil ended up winning gold.

“It was special. It was in Brazil, which was amazing. We really started badly but found our groove in time, only to lose painfully. The media started to write us up and our belief was 100%. But … I missed one, too. You’ll never forget that moment. But, it was incredible as well.”

The attacking mid was one of the key players in that Golden Generation and when he returned to Holland, he made his debut in AZ 1. But it took almost two years for him to play his second match. He does train with the first squad and plays his football in Jong AZ, at the second tier in Holland.

Taabouni

“It’s tough. I train with the big players and I think I can play along nicely with them so I want to be able to show it. My friends Stengs, Boadu and Wijndal are doing really well at top level and I feel I’m ready too. But I need patience. It’s tough, mentally but I am growing and becoming more mature so I can deal with it. I also became stronger physically.”

AZ’s midfield needs to run. A lot. “This was the situation under Slot and it is still the case. The stats showed it too and Slot was constantly emphasizing it. Midfielders need to move. Now, my stats are amazing. I’m always in the top 3 of kilometers and sprints etc. It’s not fun, but it’s essential and when you can do what the coach wants ,you do notice everything becomes easier. In the beginning I was spent after 70 minutes, but now my capacity has gone way up. I’m now almost 20 years old and my aim is to succeed here. Although… my contract is running out…”

AZ is doing what it can to keep the midfielder but international interest has popped up already for him. Same for his mate Anass Salah-Eddine of Ajax. Sparta was keen to sign him for the first team but Ajax refused to let him go. So Anass will remain in Amsterdam where he is the training opposition to Brazilian Antony.

“That is perfect practice,” he laughs. “When you can stop Antony from playing, you can stop anyone in the Eredivisie. He is so light, so quick, so fast. Our duels are tough but very educational for me. The one v one defending is one of my weaker points, so I grow a lot.”

Anass Salah-Eddine

Salah-Eddine is happy to play. Shortly after the World Cup he got injured badly: tore his ankle ligaments and broke his leg. “That was tough. I lost faith in my own body. And suddenly all that attention disappeared, even some of my friends left, I mean… I had to do it all by myself.” Now, 8 months later, he’s playing again. “I’m still not 100% you know. I now focus on enjoying the games. Mentally, I am way stronger, and physically I’m stronger too. I spent a year in the gym. No one gets me on the ground. Well, okay… Brian Brobbey probably can, hahaha.”

His role as full back has changed, with Daley Blind and Noussair Mazraoui demonstrating weekly what it means to be a full back: you need to defend and stop your man, but you also need to be key in the build up and find your way in between the lines to move into midfield. “You need to be able to do everything as a back these days. I sometimes play in midfield in Jong Ajax, that is new but I think I become a better player this way.”

Goalie Bart Verbruggen had a stellar career jump when he went from NAC to Anderlecht and suddenly played some games in the first team under Kompany when Van Crombrugge was injured. His colleagues in Brazil, Raatsie and Troost are still playing in the youth teams of Ajax and Feyenoord, respectively.

Devyne Rensch

The defenders appear to be the quickest to move up. Devyne Rensch is only 19 years old but has 45 Ajax 1 games to his name. In the Ajax youth, he played centrally, but Ten Hag uses the youngster as a right back. He even made his debut in the Big Oranje team.

Ki-Jana Hoever is making his name in England. He went from Liverpool to Wolves where they presented him with a good development plan. 45 million euro signing Semedo is in front of him but Hoever already player 23 EPL games for the Wanderers.

Melayro Bogarde has been developed well at Hoffenheim but decided to go to Groningen this winter to get more game time. Steven van der Sloot (Ajax) and Yannick Leliendal (VVV) had to be more patient. Ian Maatsen went to England at a young age and made his debut for Chelsea under Lampard. He is now being readied via loan deals with Charlton Athletic and Coventry City. He plays everything in the Championship and rules as wingback on the left.

Ajax’ Unuvar

Kenneth Taylor and Youri Regeer are making good progress. Taylor has had regular sub turns under Ten Hag and scored his first Eredivisie goal against Heracles. Regeer made his debut in December and has signed a new deal with Ajax. Dirk Proper of NEC has had several offers from international clubs and the Top 3 in Holland but he decided to stay in Nijmegen, where he played several Eredivisie matches.

Up front, Naci Unuvar and Sontje Hansen were seen as the big guns. But both players recently expressed concerns physically, over the pressure on the body at top level.
Unuvar found his groove again for Ajax, in Jong Ajax, with the most goals and assists. Naoufal Bannis, the striker in Brazil, has also had a chance to test his metal in Feyenoord 1. He has Bryan Linssen and Cyriel Dessers in front of him so he left for NAC on loan where he is first choice.

Jayden Braaf has been loaned to Udinese, by Man City where he became the youngest goalscorer ever in the Serie A. He is currently back in Manchester, recovering from a knee injury. Romano Postema is on loan with FC Den Bosch but is knocking on the Groningen door. Soulyman Allouch is playing for Jong AZ again after a lot of injury woes. Pinch hitter Djenairo Daniels has seen his contract tore up at FC Utrecht.

Naoufal Bannis, now at NAC Breda

The Current Under-17 Team

The current U-17 team is playing qualification games in March for the Euros in Israel this Summer, where we defend the title. Team manager Mischa Visser on three of the key talents in that team.

Julian Rijkhoff (17) – Borussia Dortmund

Rijkhoff started as a talent at Ajax when he was 7 years old. He signed his first pro contract at 16 years old, but not in Amsterdam! Visser: “Julian is the complete striker. He can play with his back to goal, he has good technique and a strong physique. But he is also a good runner without the ball and loves making runs in behind. He is very goal oriented and even though he’s just 17 years old, he is a starter in Dortmund Under-19. That is very good.”

Mike Kleijn (16) – Feyenoord

Born in Breda, Mike saw interest from Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord. The midfielder chose Rotterdam and made his debut in the first team already. He is the skipper in the Oranje U-17 team and Feyenoord’s U-18 team. “He is a typical leader on the pitch, as a controlling mid. He is very intelligent and recognises space well and reads the game well. He is wonderful in the positioning game and is able to see situations earlier than others.”

Isaac Babadi (16) – PSV

The youngster went from NEC to PSV in 2018 and the attacking mid is going through a rocket-speed development, also playing as a winger. Ruud van Nistelrooy allowed him  his debut in Jong PSV already. Visser: “He’s very technical and a real passionate player. Highly creative and he would prefer to pick up the ball from the goalie and dribble to the other goal. He’s fast and unpredictable. He’s also an example of how to react when we lose possession. He’s a real role model, als in his personality. Always positive and open, with great work ethics.”

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Pascal Struijk, dreaming of Oranje

He is beginning to be a big name in England. While in The Netherlands, he’s still merely a footnote. He’s Marcelo Bielsa’s favourite and is hoping to become Van Gaal’s as well. If only that call came.

The VI Pro pubished this excellent article on Struijk. Enjoy.

Elland Road is a paradise for football lovers. The 124 year old stadium oozes football. The steep stands, the wooden chairs, the names outside on the wall of Norman Hunter, Jacki Charlton and Gary Speed. There is the Don Revie statue of course, who managed the team of street fighters who dominated Englsh football some 50 years ago, with two titles, and an FA Cup.

Captain Billy Bremner is still considered their best player ever but today it’s the serious doctor’s face of Bielsa that looks down on the visitors here, on several big billboards. The maniacal Argentine coach steered Leeds back to the highest level in England after 16 years in the wilderness.

The sales guy in the fans shop: “The jerseys of Phillips and Raphinha are the most popular, but Struijk sits in third place, easily. He was part of the team that got promoted so he will be a hero here for life. He is our Virgil van Dijk!”

The comparison is made often. The Leeds press chef: “Did you see him against Norwich? Blimey! We knew he could defend but his passing is outrageous too. The fans, the manager, the media, everyone is impressed with him. Surely, he is in the National Squad by now?”

More about that later. But yes, Struijk does resemble. Van Dijk. They even look the same a bit and his game play too. Tall, elegant, sovereign, confident. Good in aerial duels. Excellent passer. And great vision. He might still be a tad soft, but once that goes, he will be world class.

There are more portraits in the stadium. Gary McAllister of course. Gordon Strachan. But no Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, for some reason. “One of our best strikers. And we see him often here, he visits us at least 8 times per year.” Eight other Dutchies played for Leeds United, and Robert Molenaar was probably the most popular. The concrete defender from Volendam earned the nickname The Terminator here. And now they again have a Dutch defender who is close to their hearts.

Pascal Struijk waits with a cup of coffee in one of the skyboxes. “See how wonderful this looks. Who wouldn’t want to play here? Most clubs don’t like coming here. The fans are so fanatical, it’s amazing.” Slowly he tells his story. “As a kid, we would watch Match of the Day. I adored English football and when we went across with an ADO Den Haag youth team once, we visited some of the big stadiums. We went to Old Trafford and Anfield and wow… I knew it then and thought: “One day I will play here!”. He played his first match at Old Trafford last season but as a bench warmer in an empty stadium. This season, he started with 80,000 people in the stands. Nervous? “Not really, I was very nervous in my first match v Liverpool, I think I had to go to the toilet 5 times before the game but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I know what I can and I concentrate on that. It feels like normal now. But when I speak to friends or family who are watching at home, I do realise how special it all is.”

“There are always stories of youngsters going across to England and failing, but for me it was the right decision. I don’t think Ajax rated me, which is ok… But I had to take control of my destiny.” He moved from ADO to Ajax when he was 16 years old but he was never really himself. “I didn’t know what my best position was but my coaches didn’t know either, hahaha. They even used me as a striker and it was not good for my confidence.  “I was a bit shy, I guess. I was at home at ADO which is a warm club. Ajax is colder, more like a company. There were big name players, everyone was cocky and egotistical. I was too impressed with it all. You had to be cocky and confident, to survive. I didn’t have that. Matthijs de Ligt, he was such a strong personality, so confident. Justin Kluivert, the same. They all played for rep teams, I didn’t. I was too modest back then. But not anymore, hahaha.”

Lost at Ajax

“There are always players at Ajax who for some reason get the attention. You can feel that coaches are personally invested to get that player to the top. That connection with a coach, I missed that. I was one of these players that was overlooked, maybe like Virgil or Jaap Stam you know? Or Marten de Roon. I wasn’t great, so that didn’t help either. My hidden potential stayed hidden. I missed that sense of urgency to show myself. That came later I guess. I needed some help.”

His manager of Forza Sports Group brought him to a performance coach. “He asked me what my identity was. Was I a leader? Or a beast? And we worked towards building that identity. We did motivational stuff and mental stuff. I grew, I got more confident. It’s in little things. Like little rituals before a game. I also tell myself I am The Best. That helps too, hahahaha.”

Six months after Struijk signed for Leeds, Bielsa was announced. “My dad immediately bought his book El Loco. I had a bit of an idea what to expect. He is crazy indeed, but football crazy. Good crazy. He is obsessed with football and completely focused on making you the best version of yourself. As an example? We get personalised diets, which are balanced out to the calory.”

And of course hours or pre match tactical talks with all the information available about the opponent. “He can tell you which player will start to get fatigue at what moment of the game and he then starts to make silly fouls. Or particular patterns of play. Choices made by the goalie when kicking a ball out, etc etc.” Infamous are his training sessions of eleven v eleven, but without goals and now cornerkicks and no throw ins. When the ball is out, the coaches kick another ball in and the player need to keep on going. Standing still means a red card. Constant movement. Every 5 minutes there is a break. After 5 sessions like this, players are vomiting in the bushes. Bielsa studies the patterns and movements and checks all the data like a professor. When you survive this murder ball, you are ready to play the game. All players will tell you that a match is the easiest bit of being a Leeds player.

Junior at ADO Den Haag

Struijk can only confirm: “The practices are super intense. Bielsa sees everything. Every detail. He made me look differently at football. For instance: don’t follow the ball, follow the man. And he is most sharp when we turn around possession. We train very specifically on that aspect. I really became a way better defender under his leadership. Look at how easy some players allow their opponent to drift away. Or how some players jog back in position. That won’t happen with us.”

“We play different here. We play man v man, all the time. High pressure, suffocating the opponent and always tough in the duels. We won’t change that, no matter where we are in the table. We will go up I’m sure. It is all about the execution. In the start of the season, we were sloppy and we are missing some key lads, but we have the belief.”

Bielsa on Struijk: “He works really hard, mentally and physically. And he is very capable of playing in different roles. He’s important for us as he is also a very intelligent footballer.”

Struijk has been used as central defender, defensive mid and left back. “Bielsa does this on purpose to make me better, more complete. Now, as left back, I need to make a lot of runs. And I usually up against quick and agile players. I played in midfield too where it’s crowded and you need to act really quickly. I am growing in every aspect of the game. I never felt that my opponent had the better of me. The only thing, I saw the data of my aerial duels and even though I am a good header of the ball, the stats say I lose too many duels. So that is something to work on.”

Pascal lives with his fiancee in a small village outside of Leeds where he enjoys his off time walking his dogs in the park. The quiet does him good but some big city clubs are after him now, apparently. Napoli, AS Roma, Leicester City and Newcastle United are chasing his signature, according to rumour. The Leeds press manager leans in when the part Dutch part Indonesian defender responds: “I am happy here. But you never know. I do want to better myself constantly, of course.”

The Romantic Struijk

His fave spot in the team? Left Centre Back. His role model? “Virgil of course. His confidence, his charisma, some opponents simply get intimidated by that already. I watch his games and study him. He was a candidate for the Ballon D’Or as a defender! How good is that!? I want to grow to that level. It’s a high aim to go for but I want that. I want to become one of the world’s best. It’s the ambition at least.”

In September, Struijk was facing Van Dijk, which would be a black day in Pascal’s short career. He tacked opponent Elliott and the youngster of Liverpool ended up in hospital with a complicated ankle fracture. Struijk got red carded and a two-match ban. The whole football world was confused. Even Elliott himself said the red card was ridiculous. “He told me too, I went over to him and he immediately waved my apologies away. It was a clean block but his ankle got stuck under my trailing leg. It was an accident. Virgil asked me what was going on and I told him, that I didn’t know, I hadn’t even noticed at the time. Virgil sent me a supportive message after the game, which did me the world of good.” The young defender hopes to spend more time talking to Virgil, about football, about defending, about anything… And preferably, in Zeist! The home of Oranje.

Pascal was born in Belgium. Both his parents are from The Hague, but Struijk senior had a software company in Belgium and when he was 4 years old they moved back to The Hague. Struijk played 3 matches for Oranje U17 and hadn’t heard from Zeist since. Until Erwin van de Looi, Jong Oranje coach, called him for the Euros under 21. Robero Martinez, Belgium NT manager, called him as well. “I actually considered Belgium. He did have a good story for me and I decided to get my Belgium passport. Because of Corona i wasn’t able to travel to Belgium so that is now all on hold.”

Red carded vs Liverpool

“I don’t want to rule out the Belgium NT. I mean, their defence is getting older but the team itself is a top notch team. It’s not a disgrace to play for the Red Devils, by no means. But my heart goes out to Oranje of course. But I am not sure if Oranje has that with me. I never heard since that Van de Looi call. I would enjoy it if the KNVB would simply let me know they’re following me. That in itself would be grand. People tell me Van Gaal has a similar way of working as Bielsa so I hope to feel right at home with Oranje.”

Struijk’s grand parents are from Indonesia and they have also invited the central defender. “But no, Indonesia is not an option. You know what, if by next year no one shown interest, I could even be selected for the England team! I would be here for 5 years and considered a footballing Englishman, hahaha. That is very unlikely of course, but who knows. My ideal scenario: the Dutch NT of course. And at the coming World Cup, if possible.”

At the end of the interview, the press manager asks: “So what did you say earlier about El Loco?” Struijk: “I talked about the book. and that the gaffer is a bit crazy. But in a good way!”

The press manager: “Then it’s fine, hahaha.”

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Danjuma: Van Gaal’s missing winger?

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.”

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Spectacular start Oranje after 13 years…

It took 13 years for Oranje to win at a Euros again! After 45 minutes, my title for this post was “Everything but the goals” but after 90 minutes, we saw 5 of them. And all beauties too!

With the news that Eriksen will be ok (as a person, maybe not as a football player), things couldn’t be better.

Next time, I would be fine with Oranje just keeping a lock on the backdoor and not allowing the opponent a way back into the game. Because we did end up sitting fairly uncomfortable on the edge of our seat, with Ukraine getting back to 2-2!

But Man of the Match Denzel Dumfries ( a title he’ll have to share with Frenkie and Stefan de Vrij for me) had other ideas. The former Sparta man had never scored for Oranje and decided to start doing it now.

Fun to read all the negative comments now, after this match. I believe Dumfries and De Roon were the biggest targets of the criticasting vinegar pissers :-). I will withhold from being to celebratory about it…

But the facts are the facts.

Frank de Boer realised that Wijndal is not comfortable in the 5-3-2, while Van Aanholt is. He made the switch. Like we hoped he would. He played Daley Blind for 60 minutes, because the Ajax man is not 100% match fit, but we want him to be. After his 3 months angle ligament injury, he needs to be brought back to 100% and this match will have done wonders. Although, he almost didn’t play at all.

Blind: “Christian is a close friend. His family and mine are always in touch. And when I saw what happened, I was almost in shock, plus my own experiences with my heart issues came back too. I couldn’t sleep and felt really down. I almost decided to let this match go… But I’m happy I did play. All the emotions did come out when I was subbed off, and probably also the tension in my body from trying desperately to get fit in time. This match meant a lot.”

Both he and Van Aanholt would get 60 minutes, as both players are still not 100%.

Otherwise, Frank went with his trusted eleven and the performance proved him right.

I personally think Marten de Roon played a super first half. I’m not his biggest fan, but it was clear what his role is in that first 45. He mopped up many a ball in midfield and kept pressure on the Ukraine, with his tough physical challenges. He is also used to cover as RB for when Dumfries is up and away. I think De Roon was fine!

Dumfries definitely showed he made some progress. His first half was a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, he made use of the space in front of him and was a constant threat, but his finishing in the first half should have been better. As the whole team was a bit toothless in that first half. We should have been 3-0 up at half time. Denzel could have had 2, Wijnaldum could have scored and even Van Aanholt was face to face with the goalie suddenly.

Normally, not taking your chances can result in an upset, but Oranje added a gear in the second half and they really grabbed Ukraine by the neck and suffocated them. The two goals were justified, with a good role for Dumfries, but allowing Ukraine back into it was weak and unnecessary. The subbing of Blind and Van Aanholt was probably part of the cause although Yarmolenko’s shot on goal was really top drawer. No goalie would have stopped that ball. The second goal was a waste. The pressure on Zinchenko wasn’t there, resulting in a De Vrij foul and free kick. And our defending was bad. Weghorst was marking the wrong side and I think De Vrij or any other player should have been attacking that ball earlier.

Still, Oranje fought back and a perfect Ake cross resulted in that Dumfries header. You see, he does know how to head a ball.

I think the performance was quite good overall. Frank de Boer is correct in his comments post-match: “I think the players do understand this 5-3-2 after all” and he is right. They looked good. And sure Ukraine is not Spain or France, but still. It’s a good step forward.

As per usual, Wijnaldum, Memphis and Frenkie de Jong were playing at their usual level. Wijnaldum leading by example. Frenkie relentlessly looking for openings and Memphis a constant threat. He didn’t score or assist today, so that might be poor, considering his usual output, but he played a good game.

Weghorst still has massive debates with the ball at times. His passing, his flicks, his touches, it’s not top level and never will be. But he compensates a lot with his mentality, work ethics and physicality.

I personally think De Vrij played sensational as well, while Timber played as if he has 20 caps to his name. He had some moments in the game where he could have taken a bit more risk, dribbling into midfield, but that will surely come. The future is bright.

I do believe things will only improve from here. This was a massive confidence booster (and three points of course) as the usual vinegar pissing had started already amongst Dutch analysts and “experts”. This win will settle the team. It will further strengthen De Boer’s belief in the system and players like De Roon, Dumfries, Timber and Weghorst will take a lot away from this game.

Daley Blind had another hour of football under his belt and will be back to total fitness when/if we get to the knock-out stages.

Winning your first match is key!

I think Frank will not change much vs Austria, on Thursday, if everyone is fit. He might pick Wijndal instead of Van Aanholt (depends on who plays right wing for Austria I guess) but he won’t change too much, I don’t think. A draw vs Austria and a win over North Macedonia will probably get us top of the group…

 

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Predictions and Ukraine analysis

My friends, it’s been 7 years but we’re back at the top level. Sadly, my web developer and myself have not been able to reach the knock-out stages of the Website update League :-(. We wanted to present you with a cool Football Pool for the Euros, with real prizes to boot, this last week but the code simply doesn’t want to do what we want…

We tried until just now, but it is too hard. Our apologies! No Football Pool this time around…

So, we will lead this post with my predictions.

And I predict an Oranje win, of course. I have to!

But yes, I do see France, Belgium, Spain are ahead of us. And England! Probably Italy too. And one can’t rule out Germany, ever. Nor can you rule out Portugal.

So we are probably 8th in the top 8, but I can see us win. Traditionally, the World Cup title holders perform badly after a win (Spain being the exception to the rule). So France is out. We’ll play Germany in the Round of 16. I don’t care who else is left standing but we’ll beat them all. We do well against stronger teams, and we’ll pounce on the counter.

We’ll beat England in the finals, while Belgium and Spain play for the 3rd spot.

I will focus my attention on the Ukraine game now and will come back to address the criticism by some Oranje fans here ;-).

Ukraine has had an eventful past few years, with a complete overhaul as their main story. The Shakhtar Donetsk core of the team replaced by the Dinamo Kiev core. Coach Shevchenko was forced to refresh his team. Before the 2020 summer, they weren’t beten for 18 months. After the Corona restart, they imploded and lost six out of eight games.

Spain beat them 4-0. France was more ruthless: 7-1. They conceded 22 goals in 8 games. Shevchenko went the same route as De Boer, implementing a 5-3-2 and it wasn’t a full blown success. This time they kept France at 1-1  but that was also the result vs Finland. When they started their practice games for this tournament, they shelved the 5-3-2. And got the exact same result playing Bahrein: 1-1.

It seems the abandoned the 5-3-2 and will be playing a form of 4-3-3.

In this system, Atalanta midfielder Malinovskiy and Man City left back Zinchenko are key, in midfield. In the 5-3-2 system, the coach can’t play these next to each other. Dribble king Yarmolenko is also lost in the 5-3-2 so it seems unlikely they’ll be starting like that against us.

Defensively, Ukraine plays a 4-1-4-1, which is clearly the hand of assistant coach Mauro Tassoti, the former team mate of Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard at AC Milan. The former world class defender has learned his lessons from magician Arrigo Sacchi: always protect the centre.

They don’t play the high press game, like Kiev used to do. They don’t mind sitting and press with the full backs.

For us, the options are behind their defence line. Their lines play compact so there will be space to run into. This would beg for the use of Donyell Malen. The Ukraine defenders are not too comfortable in spaces and having to deal with speed.

We need to be very careful when we seem to be dominant, for instance with dead balls or corner kicks. Turkey scored twice from a Dutch corner, basically, on the counter and Ukraine seems to want to do this too, as they recently demonstrated against Cyprus. Other than that, they’re not a counter team anymore. The most likely forwards are Marlos and Yarmolenko, two players who want to get the ball to feet.

This is Ukraine breaking vs Cyprus

And Turkey on a break vs us…

With the Zinchenko and Malinovskiy on the pitch, Ukraine tends to want to play a pass and move game, not unlike the Dutch.

Based on this, using the 5-3-2 against this 4-3-3 seems ridiculous and unnecessary. Anyway, the cliche opinion that Ukraine is a counter team is obsolete. They do defend compact, zonal, and they like to build up from the back. Our chances is with a quick ball over the top. If there is no pressure on the ball in midfield, we should be able to penetrate and create chances.

I say: 3-0 for Oranje.

I hope Frank will play 4-3-3 in this line up

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Oranje does job half

The task was clear. No room for discussion: a win and lots and lots of goals. Because goal difference is next in line if countries finish level at points. Then it’s number of goals scored and lastly it’s the results between said countries.

Oranje only did half the job. But not for lack of trying. Oranje had around 35 attempts and only scored twice. Tally off two as these were headed on the bar and the rest was blocked by a sublime goalie, a heel, knee or elbow… A frustrating evening for a team bolstered by the presence of 5,000 fans. Who loved everything they saw.

Oranje walked off the pitch while being applauded by the grateful fans, grateful for the match and for the fact they could be there. The team got the message. They needed to attack. And attack they did, but the canons weren’t aimed properly, with Memphis in particular more and more frustrated if he was again thwarted by the courageous Latvians.

The Dutch had 96 touches in the Latvian box, that is a record from the start date Opta started to tally these things, in 2013. The previous record was 51 (!) touches, against Estonia.

Did we give most if not all of the players a low mark against the Turks, this time around all players got a decent rating, after the game. They played fresh and created chances, but the goal tally was a disappointment. Overall, Steven Berghuis – scoring his first goal in 5 years for Oranje, after 25 attempts on goal, Mathijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong were awarded the highest rates.

A further analysis of the game gives us some interesting insights. Frank de Boer’s name is said to be synonymous with square and back passes: “knitting”, as we call it. De Boer takes a stance against that, and justly so. “We have has a high pace of circulation in the past games and a quick pass forwards. We have Blind and Frenkie in key roles and their biggest strength is the vision and forward pass. In the Turkey match, we played a back pass to Krul, our first, in the 83rd minute!”

Which is logical, as this photo above shows what the second half vs Turkey looked like. Turkey had 11 players behind the ball, on their own half protecting their lead. To break open an opponent like this, you sometimes need to knit the ball from left to right and back again, just to spot that moment of lack of concentration. It may seem like knitting, but it’s basically prowling. Under Koeman, for instance, 25% of all the passes Oranje played, were between the two centre halves. That is a lot.

A difference with the Koeman Oranje is that under De Boer, vs Latvia, the flanks became important. Using Luuk de Jong as target man will further emphasize this.

This opportunity for Klaassen in the 6th minute is a typical example of the sort of football Oranje plays, using the wide men and the half spaces for penetration.

Dumfries and Berghuis are on the right flank. Wijnaldum pops up in the half space and makes a darting run deep. The only real option he has now is to chip the ball in, which he did. This almost resulted in a goal.

A similar example in the second half. Wijndal and Dumfries will stay a bit more inside when the team is building up, but in the final third they both play very wide, allowing the left and right wingers (Memphis and Berghuis) to move inside. In this case, it’s clear what is coming: a cross from the right.

Instead of knitting football, we can call this casino football. The difficulty to get it right is high. You can cross balls in or use the half spaces, but the final ball usually ends up in a melee of legs and players. It’s actually a turn around situation that gifts us the first goal. Memphis repossesses the ball, De Jong pulls several opponents in with his run and Dumfries makes a dummy run to give Berghuis the space to come inside and use his wand of a left foot. Luuk de Jong scored from a corner in the second half with a good header. As Frank de Boer called it: A text book header.

This Latvia had drawn twice against the Far Oer Islands and lost at Malta. So goals were bound to come. And we only had one iffy situation where they could have broken 3 v 2 as our full backs were both on their bike forward, but Wijnaldum snuffed out the danger.

There was one more opportunity with a long ball but the speed of Wijndal and a perfectly timed tackle were enough to stop the threat.

When De Boer was asked what would have been a more proper score for this match, he said: “That is easy. We should have scored 8 goals or so. We know the goal difference can be key and we shot ourselves a bit in the foot. But the lads don’t head the ball on the cross bar on purpose, of course.” De Boer was positive, otherwise: “I did enjoy watching them, we had energy, we were constantly threatening but it was also frustrating to see that the ball simply would want to go in… I did think the one attack was even better than the next. We went left, then right and through the middle. But we were unlucky. Their goalie played ever so well or a defender helped out. I can’t remember when we were this dominant last against a nation like Latvia.”

Both Memphis and Wijnaldum were subbed by the coach and both were not too pleased. “I can understand that. It was frustrating for them as they wanted to score more goals and felt they could. But we are not doing this with 11 players. We have 24 capable lads and they are all part of this process and deserve a chance. It’s a team process. And Wijnaldum has played a lot of games for Liverpool and I wanted him to take a rest.”

Next up Gibraltar. The task again, is clear. Three points and lots of goals!

You can expect the following line up:

Krul

Dumfries – De Ligt – Frenkie – Blind

Klaassen – Wijnaldum – Van de Beek – Gravenberch

Berghuis – Luuk de Jong – Memphis

Result: 1-0, Ryan Babel (sub) scores in the 92nd minute.

Just kidding, it will be more than 5 goals of course, with Luuk de Jong and this time also Memphis on the score sheet.

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Choices by Frank de Boer

There are around 17 million National Team Coaches in The Netherlands. And of course, you lot as well :-). And we all know better.

Frank de Boer is officially the only guy whose choices matter. For him the job to select the right squad.

There were some question marks about his selections. Let’s discuss.

Luuk de Jong v Wout Weghorst

The lanky Wolfsburg striker is showing glorious stats for years now and is one of the most prolific players in Europe. Still, Frank doesn’t want to rely on him for the supersub role. Understandable: we don’t need him as a 9 in the starting line up, as we have Malen and Memphis for these roles. Frank expects Wout/Luuk to come in as a battle-ram, as the extra striker who will wreak havoc in the box and use high balls to head them in or towards a team mate. Luuk de Jong is the better of the two in those situations. On top of that, Luuk has been part of the team already for years now and Wout wasn’t. Bringing Wout in and cutting out Luuk is a risk. Weghorst is not a great header of the ball and if the switch ends up not working, it will be tough to get Luuk back into the zone, with Oranje. Your Oranje blogger agrees with Frank de Boer on this one!

The stats are in favour of Wout

Maarten Stekelenburg v Marco Bizot

Frank drops Bizot. I am not disappointed. The AZ goalie is not having a strong season and is quite clumsy on the ball. He’s not a natural goalie. While Stekelenburg oozes talent and technique. And of course, experience. He is also known as laid back so won’t make it hard for Cillesen, who will be Frank’s #1. Ever since Onana’s ban, Stekelenburg is impressing as Ajax’ goalie. I am with Frank, again.

Maarten rules in the air

Rick Karsdorp vs Tete/Veltman/Dumfries

Karsdorp is having a bluster of a season, with many assists and penetrating runs. He’s doing better than Tete at Fulham, although he too is doing ok. Playing regularly, at least. Joel Veltman is playing really well, actually, at Brighton. Was named Man of the Match recently and impresses in England with his touch. He is to Brighton what Daley Blind is for Ajax! And Dumfries is beyond debate. His mentality, personality, being captain at PSV and his experience in Oranje, he will never be dropped. So Frank decided to keep the players in who were part of the squad in the past 3 years. With Tete and Veltman capable of playing centrally at the back as well. Karsdorp himself responded: “I didn’t expect a call up. People around me spoke about it, but I am very aware I have not demonstrated it in the past 3 years. So I can’t expect anything after 6 months. I need to keep on doing what I am doing and hopefully my turn will come one day.”. As much as I like Karsdorp, I think Frank makes the right decision.

Veltman happy in Brighton

St Juste vs Pascal Struijk/Nick Viergever/Gouweleeuw

With Stefan de Vrij out and Ake a question mark (even Daley Blind has just returned from injury) we have some issues centrally at the back. Perr Schuurs and Timber are needed at Jong Oranje, so Frank opted for St Juste. He’s a right footed defender, like De Vrij, and can also play right full back. Against the opponents we are facing now, it shouldn’t really matter. I am not in a position to complain about this choice… Again, spot on!

St Juste rules in the air as well…

There are some questions about Strootman too. I can understand this, but I haven’t seen him at Genoa. Have you guys?? I do hear and read that he’s impressive again? If that is the case and if it is true that De Boer rates Strootman high “in the dressing room”, then I can imagine the call up. We don’t have Propper, Donny van de Beek will miss rhythm, it might be a good thing to have a pure defensive midfielder, who can read the game, play physical and can coach. I say, lets support the coach in his choices.

I do like to see Schouten, at some point, or Bazoer again… definitely Karsdorp too, and Danjuma, but for now, Frank needs to work on his squad for the Euros and I don’t expect many new players to come in. I believe Ihattaren might still have a chance to break into the squad, as does Gakpo but otherwise, I think a lot of spots are now taken…

A big question mark also, for Memphis!! The French Covid rules say that anyone leaving France for a non European country needs to go into quarantine for a week! This means, Holland playing in Turkey: Memphis can’t go back and play an all important match for Lyon! Which is ridiculous, as the French national team needs to play in Kazachstan, but they all were given exempts!! That doesn’t sound fair, does it! Memphis has even appealed to the French government, to get dispensation as well…

Who are your question marks?

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Big Move for Nathan Ake

Nathan Ake deserves to be a symbol. In The Netherlands, there has been a lot of criticism on players who left Holland before they made a name for themselves in the first team of their club, and signed for big money clubs abroad… Royston Drenthe, Karim Rekik, Ebicilio, Nazarite, Jeffrey Bruma, we have seen it with so many players who end up being ignored, being loaned out, losing momentum and ending up with mid tier clubs in Greece or warming the bench at Wolfsburg or decided to go back to the amateurs in Holland…

Nathan Ake is the big exception to the rule. He too left Holland when he was 15 years old. The skipper of the Netherlands rep team that made a name for themselves (with some of the players mentioned above) and was considered Feyenoord’s next big thing.

But Chelsea swooped in and sign the introverted Ake for the future… The best thing for Nathan, was the fact that he was with Chelsea for 3 seasons at least, before he turned 21 making him a home grown player, in England. That will have helped his transfer tremendously, as any club needs to have 8 home grown players in their squad.

Last summer, Guardiola was eyeing Ake already, but the transfer didn’t happen, for different reasons. This season, City has been struggling defensively and needed to get some fresh blood in quick. And City was also limited due to the number of home grown players needed in their squad. Ake was the ideal candidate.

Ake is not just a good fit due to his “English status”, but also because he fits like a glove in Pep’s tactical plans.

He’s not the tallest (180 cm) but he’s a great header of the ball (timing and powerful jumps), both defensively and offensively. He has great feel for space and positioning. He’s very good on the ball and finds footballing solutions easily. He’s quick and has the balls to defend high up the pitch, with space behind him.

A good example below of what Ake can do. In the away match vs Man United, there is pressure on the ball but a confident and composed Nathan Ake dribbles his way to safety.

Recognising when it’s a good moment to push forward is a key strength for players in Guardiola’s teams. John Stones is hailed for this quality, but his defensive work is highly criticised. Those qualities are better balanced out with Ake. See below.

 

 

On top of that, Bournemouth got relegated, meaning that the club will most likely be happy to off load Ake for a good price. Bournemouth’s former coach – and the man who signed Ake – can fully understand Pep’s crush: “Nathan is a symbol of consistency. He has performed really well for us over a long period of time. And not just on the pitch, he is just a top notch professional. He can play on different positions. We have seen him play left full back, defensive mid and centre back. He needed to get used to it a bit, but he’s really brilliant in that role.”

Ake is seen as one of the best CBs in the EPL but in the Dutch NT, he’s fourth choice, behind Van Dijk, De Vrij and De Ligt. Potentially also because Ake never played Eredivisie football and isn’t that well known in Holland. He started with ADO Den Haag, where Feyenoord picked him up really early on. He never made the first team but enjoyed playing in a team with his mates and a move to England wasn’t part of the plan. Chelsea came and Nathan said no. His dad changed his mind, by saying: “If you wanted to study somewhere, and Harvard accepts you, you’d take it! You learn a lot and should you fail you can always go to a lesser school.” Nathan decided to go and check it out and loved it.

He won’t be able to get a starting birth though, but he did develop well in London, playing with the likes of Terry and Lampard. Frank Arnesen is Chelsea’s TD and loves for the youngster to move to the first team squad, but Mourinho is the Chelsea coach and he is not the guy to help young talents. He’s about winning, like most coaches in the EPL. Ake still enjoyed working with Mourinho: ” I liked him a lot. I worked with him for two years and he can really touch you, motivate you. You’ll go to war for him, and he demands 100% every training again. He wants to see that fighting spirit. At that age, it was really important for me to work with him and experience that.”

Later, Ake was less positive about Mourinho, claiming he was dropped by Mourinho after having had a good spell of starting berths under Benitez. “At one point he humiliated me in training, when I made a mistake. He threw his pad on the ground and yelled: “do you want me to buy a real defender for 50 million euros”. He dropped me from the squad and left me broken. I never understood why, as I was voted young player of the year and had some good games for Chelsea.”

Chelsea’s Rafael Benitez, Nathan Ake during a training session at the Cobham Training Ground on 15th March 2013 in Cobham, England. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Chelsea agrees to do a loan deal with Watford for Ake and here he gets the first heads being turned. He plays left back, he scores important goals and keeps Watford in the EPL and reaches the semi finals of the FA Cup with Watford. When Chelsea wants to loan him out again in the next season, Ake prefers to go to Bournemouth. “I played against them a couple of times and they play good football. Pass and move, careful build up… Their coach Eddie Howe wanted me and I felt like he had a plan with me. He initially wanted me to play defensive mid, as I played there under Benitez at Chelsea for a bit. But the manager already told me he also saw a centre back in me.” Ake impresses in the role and becomes a key player. When he returns to Chelsea, it is because new coach Antonio Conte really wants him back. But Conte doesn’t use Ake that much and he has to watch the FA Cup finals from the stands, while he was in the team in the semi finals against Spurs to deal with Harry Kane. Successfully. When Bournemouth returns to Chelsea to get Ake permanently, the The Hague born mini Gullit jumps to the opportunity. Chelsea sells him for 20 mio euros and negotiates a buy-back clause for 40 million euros.

After a couple of good seasons, Bournemouth ends up being too small to withstand the onslaught from more ambitious clubs, and gets relegated.

Nathan’s rise to the top has gone via a long(er) and winding road, but he does prove that you can reach the summit when you leave the Netherlands so young. It’s a matter of working hard and keeping your head down and prove it week in week out.

At the NT, Ake has the bad luck that he has De Ligt and Van Dijk in front of him, same as Stefan de Vrij. The former Feyenoord defender was voted the best defender in the Serie A recently. What a feat for a lad from Rotterdam.

Ake, the silent power, the unsung hero, might well be Oranje’s secret weapon at next year’s Euros. He keeps on surprising people and seems to be making his way into one of the best footballing teams of the world.

Some Statistics:

Of all the defenders in the EPL today younger than 25, he only has to allow Luke Shaw and Hector Bellerin above him. The 11 times capped Ake played 146 EPL matches

Ake is not a safety before anything player, but his passing accuracy is 87.6%. Only 14 defenders with more than 1000 minutes of EPL football do it better than him.

Ake is only 180 cm tall but scored 6 headers this season in the EPL. Only 12 EPL defenders headed the ball more, defensively.

With Ake, Bournemouth won 29.5% of their games. Without him, it’s a lowly 12,5%.

Ake was taken on successfully in a one v one situation only nine times. Kurt Zouma (Chelsea) and Virgil van Dijk are the only two defenders whom experienced this less times (7 times only).

Like Virgil, Nathan hardly goes to ground. When he did do this, he won the ball 21 times out of 31 attempts.

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Justin Kluivert: I want to shine!

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.”

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