After 3 years in the wilderness, Danjuma is now Orange’s Hope in Scary Days ( Dutch expression).
VI Pro visited Danjuma in warm and smouldering Valencia, where Danjuma lives next door to Jasper Cillesen. Only a few months back, he lived in Bournemouth. Another coastal town, but one where an umbrella is always needed. He played his games in the Championship, competing against Rotherham and QPR. Now he’s one of the most valuable players in La Liga, won a MOTM award in the Champions League and he has a pool in his back yard. On top of that: he’s back in Oranje!
“I played Real Madrid already, and soon it’s Barcelona. Last year, Millwall away, now Bernabeu. But the best thing, is that my dad can follow me. He never saw me live in Bournemouth due to the Covid stuff. But he’s with me now in Valencia. He saw me live playing vs Young Boys and I gave him my shirt afterwards. He had to dry a tear or two. This is worth a lot to me.”
He’s 24 years old but has seen a lot already. Born in Nigeria, but raised in Oss. Started with the amateurs in Oss, then PSV’s academy. He went to NEC when PSV didn’t offer him a contract. After NEC he went to Belgium for Club Brugge and Bournemouth. After his last season in the Championship, he had many big clubs courting him, including Mark van Bommel’s Wolfsburg. “It was hectic, we had many conversations but the talk with Unai Emery was the best. Some clubs wanted me too badly, it became unrealistic. They would make me skipper and they promised me the world. Emery was very clear. He had followed me for 5 months and saw all my games and immediately told me how I would become a better player. He was honest and highly critical. He tested my knowledge and I realised I get happy when I talk about football with people who are more knowledgeable than me.”
“Emery said to me: you can become a very big player and Villareal can be a bigger club. Lets do this together. And I am here now, at this unique club.”
And so it is. Vila Real is a town of 50,000 people. Similar to a mid-size Dutch town. The local business man Roig decided to put 400,000 euros into the club, back in 1997. We’re 24 years further down and he has now invested 200 million in the club. And his most recent investment: a former player of Margriet in Oss.
Danjuma would become the most expensive player for the club. The vice president was the chair at the press conference introducing the left winger: “Some people by a Casio watch. Others buy a Rolex. We got ourselves a brand new Rolex!”
Danjuma laughs out loud when he thinks about it. “I sat next to him and I had no idea what he was saying. And I was dead tired. It’s been a long day and I wanted to sleep. So he was telling the world how good I was and I was sitting next to him as a big whiner hahahaha. But being the most expensive player for Villareal motivates me. If someone is happy to pay millions for me, I will do what I can to deliver.”
And he does deliver. He hasn’t been able to make his guest room in order, but after 15 official games, he’s got 7 goals and 3 assists. In terms of goal attempts, succeeded dribbles and expected goals, he is in the top of La Liga. And against Young Boys, again he got the MOTM award.
Arnaut is a fascinating kid. In now way arrogant, but very confident. When he was in the PSV academy, the coaches would ask the players about their ambitions. Most would say: play for PSV’s first team. Danjuma said: win the Champions League and win the Ballon D’Or. The coach told him to remain realistic. “Football is my life. I have done everything I can to succeed. I don’t want to say I will be the best ever or something and the chance I will win the Ballon D’Or is slim of course… But I want to do all I can to try and achieve it. I don’t mind failing, but I want to fail on my terms. All my moves were conscious ones: my move to NEC, my decision to play wingback at Brugge and at Bournemouth I was creating a more tough character. All by design, as they say in England.”
His drive was born in his youth. He didn’t have it easy. When he was young, his parents divorced and it left scars, even though Arnaut himself is not keen to discuss it in detail. But Youth Care got involved and he lived in three different foster families. In England, he told a journalist there were times when he slept in a car. “But I am not a victim. I think the drive is a family thing. My dad has it too. My brother has two master degrees and my sister has just graduated in England with honours. I have my HAVO diploma, as my dad told me I wasn’t allowed to play football if I didn’t at least get that. So I did.”
“I had it tough at PSV. When I moved to NEC, I decided to become my own master. I decided to work with my own masseur, my own nutritionist and my own physio. Tresor, a kid I used to play street football with, is also in my inner circle. We called him The Snake. And whenever I score, I celebrate to honour him . I really do have a team taking care of me, as I don’t think I would be able to do this all by myself.”
By now, opponents know who he is and at times he has double marking to deal with. “I talk with Unai about this. I need to re-invent myself all the time. Football is not just Unai’s number 1 priority. It’s also number 2 and 3, hahaha. I am the same. Did you know Unai watched 17 full matches of Man United a prep for the CL game we played against them? He is the best coach I have worked with. One example, his analysis showed I always make vertical runs. Always deep, in one direction. He instructed me to change it up. Sometimes run horizontal, from left to right. Or drop deeper and then go behind the defence. That sort of thing. He also wants me to gamble. I never liked making dummy runs, but now, when a deep ball is played to our #9, Unai wants me to gamble that the striker wins the duel. I already scored two goals as a result. He also doesn’t want me to track back. When we lose possession, two forwards stay up top. Me and another player. I love it. He uses me in my strength.”
“His pre match tactical talks are usually 1,5 hours long. And never boring. He sees everything. He comes up with things like: the goalie has bad eyes and in night games he is not as good. Shoot from distance. Or, their full back is running out of steam after 75 minutes. All these details. We ended 7 in La Liga last season, we want to end higher now.”
The lessons in the CL are harsh. We played Man United off the pitch in Manchester, but we stil lost 2-1. That guy Ronaldo scored the winner, who else? But we were really good. I did get the MOTM award. After the match, Ronald came to me and complimented me on my game. We exchanged shirts too. He’s really nice guy, actually. And he really wanted my shirt. In C Ronaldo’s home is a football jersey with my name on it, hahahaha.”
It seems Oranje ignored him in his time at Bournemouth. He himself has a different slant on it. “I started there with an injury and wasn’t a starter. That season we got relegated and I wasn’t good enough. In the Championship, I found my groove and I almost did get the invite to play for Oranje in a friendly, some time back but I just got another muscle problem and told them so, and as a result I was never invited. So there is no official record of it, but I know Zeist was following me.”
This time around, for the Gibraltar match, Danjuma almost declined the invitation! “Yes, but let me explain! I hadn’t seen my dad for a long time and we had plans for a Father-Son thing together. He’s now 74 years old and I don’t spend enough time with him. And that was in the international break. So when I got the call from Louis van Gaal I couldn’t say yes immediately. I called my dad and said: I will cancel Oranje if you want me too, because we had a prior arrangement. And my dad was: no no are you insane! Go to Oranje. I will come to the stadium and watch you play! And that was it.”
I highly enjoyed my time with Oranje. The players were amazing and I was so positively surprised with all the amazing support from throughout the country. Oranje is super special for me, to play with the best of the country. Nigeria has been chasing me too, but I really wanted to play for Oranje.”
With Van Gaal’s plans to introduce the 5 at the back again, Danjuma’s position seems solid in the squad. He played wingback many times for Brugge. “Not my favorite spot, I didn’t enjoy it much. But hey, if it’s needed, I ‘ll play. Left, right, wherever the coach needs me. I want to be important. The World Cup is a dream for me. Being good versus Gibraltar is not enough though. I know that when I play like a bag of potatoes against Montenegro or Norway everyone will forget about me. But trust me: Holland hasn’t seen me at my best yet.”
The Eleven I think Louis will field. And my prediction below that. What do you guys think?
Montenegro – The Netherlands 1-4
Danjuma, Memphis, Klaassen and Wijnaldum.