Oranje practised against France in March 2014. Van Gaal didn’t call up Nigel de Jong. He wanted to use Clasie in midfield. He knew what De Jong could and couldn’t do. The AC Milan destroyer seemed to smirk when confronted with this, as if to say “you wait and see, I will play at the World Cup”.
Holland got muscled off the pitch against France. Our complete midfield was too light against the Pogba’s of this world. In the meantime, Nigel was outstanding for AC Milan week in week out, even taking the key free kicks and scoring goals with his head. Nigel returned in the squad and into the team.
And became the Man of the Group Stages for Holland, along with Arjen Robben.
Sadly, it seems his World Cup is now over with a serious groin injury. It’s too early to call maybe, but it doesn’t look good.
Vilified in 2010, declared a hero in 2014. This is the opportunistic game that is football.
Nigel as ball boy with future coach Clarence Seedorf
De Jong’s story is quite remarkable. Son of Jerry de Jong, former Oranje international, but hardly knew his dad. He came through the Ajax development system and was known as a creative, dynamic midfielder, scoring many goals, most notably the one in the European Cup competition against Thierry Henry’s Arsenal. He was Ajax’ Player of the Season in 2004 but lost his spot in the season following and was disgruntled with his treatment.
He made his international debut in 2004 but was overlooked for the 2004 Euro tournament. when Hamburg SV came for him, he gladly made the step to the Bundesliga. HSV paid 1million euros for the midfielder. Huub Stevens, his coach at HSV, turned the attacking midfielder into a defensive block in midfield. Stevens recognised De Jong’s tactical vision and physical strength and motivated De Jong to work and focus on this role. “He said to me: as an attacking midfielder, you will be sub top in Europe. As a defensive mid, you can become world class. I believed him. And he was right. I am no Messi or Ronaldo or Robben. I do not have that quality. But I can definitely hold my own in a competition of defensive mids. I think I would be among the best out there.” A knee injury kept De Jong out of the World Cup squad of 2006, although he was on standby in case any of the other midfielders had to bail out.
Marco van Basten used De Jong next to Orlando Engelaar in the 2008 Euros where he played outstanding.
The metamorphosis was spotted by many European top clubs and in 2009, Manchester City manager Mark Hughes signed him on their quest to the European (and English) top. They paid 25 mio euros for the midfielder. He became a fan favorite in his first season and added grit and professionalism to the second Manchester club. He won the FA Cup and the EPL title with Man City, before he was sold on to AC Milan in 2012.
De Jong was also a starter for Oranje in the 2010 WC campaign and played every game bar the semi finals vs Uruguay due to suspension. Demy de Zeeuw played for him. In the finals, De Jong infamously hit Xabi Alonso in the chest with his studs, which got him criticised globally and he was the symbol of the “Ugly Dutch team of 2010”. In the same time, he had a couple of incidents on the pitch in England and with Holland against Australia in a friendly, which prompted coach Van Marwijk to not select him for a spell. De Jong never publically commented on this and would later say that “there will be no words that would convince people otherwise… being silent and playing your game is all you can do. Everyone has the right to their own opinion. I don’t think I can change that or should try to change that. What counts is what my family thinks and what my coaches think. The rest is irrelevant.”
He suffered injuries in the first half of this season in Milan and Van Gaal ignored the blocked midfielder for a while to try out different players. But with the absence of Strootman, the loss of form and fitness of Sneijder and the lack of experience of our defence it became apparent that De Jong could and would play an important part in Brazil.
His tremendous concentration, leadership and commitment has earned him many compliments this tournament. Van Gaal, after the Australia game: “I don’t like singling out individual players but if I have to, I will name Nigel de Jong as the man of the match.”
In an interview, recently, with Helden Magazine (Hero Magazine, about football players and ex players): “I used to really get off on doing a cool trick with the ball. A little flick or a step over. But I came to realise that many players can do so. There are 100s of players in Europe who can do a cool trick or two with the ball. They practice this day in day out. But I also realised there are maybe only 10 players who can execute the perfect block tackle. And enjoy doing it. Seriously. There are not that many who can do this. I like to think I am one of them. The perfect block tackle to me is much more satisfying than a step over or a Cruyff turn. I get off on stopping an opponent. And in all honesty, I focus on getting the ball, but if I don’t get the ball, I will settle for the man. One of the two will be mine. I cannot allow both of them through.”
De Jong is 29 years old and back in demand in the EPL. Arsenal is supposedly zooming in on the midfield block while Man United is being named as his new club as well, what with Van Gaal being their new coach. “I wouldn’t mind returning to the EPL. But I am at an age where I will need to make the right decision and it really needs to be a good deal for me.”
All was looking so good for him. He was revered by his mates and his coach, while the media and fans at home again realised what a power house and important player he is. That, plus the fact he realised this could well be his last World Cup gave him the extra energy to support the youngsters and to bring Holland closer and closer to the finals.
De Jong is very positive about the chances of Oranje: “This 5-3-2 is a perfect system for this group and the circumstances in Brazil. These tournaments are tough, physically, mentally. We play with lots of young, untested lads, who have played Eredivisie and some international games with Young Oranje. Hell, most of the Feyenoord players haven’t played any European games of note. So the way we are approaching this tournament might not be to everyone’s liking, but it does do what it needs to do for us.” De Jong doesn’t want to compare with the 2010 World Cup.
Nigel with a juicy tackle on Brazil’s Kaka
“Totally different. New group, new staff, new stage… We need to stop comparing with the past but simply deal with the present.”
And the present is, that De Jong is most likely out for the rest of the World Cup. I’m sure the interest in his services for next season will remain but Van Gaal will need to look for another option in midfield.
He does have a couple: Wijnaldum has played on the center mid spot but will be considered too light for the role. De Guzman has been tested there but Van Gaal declared that he doesn’t consider the Swansea man an option for the role. Clasie and Blind play in this role for their respective clubs, but might be considered too light against really tough opponents (France, Argentina), while Fer could be considered once he is fit again or even Dirk Kuyt. Even Cillesen commented that he is worried that Kuyt might take his role in the next game!