With his football dream fading in Holland former Ajax midfielder Roly Bonevacia has found that the land of the long white cloud has reignited his football career, proving that the A- League can provide opportunities for youthful footballers on the continent.
Bonevacia is a graduate of the Ajax’s youth academy and he spent 12 years playing for the club from the age of 10.
The former Dutch international youth player is revelling in his new surroundings at Wellington Phoenix and is a major part of why the club has surged into the top four of the A-League.
“I felt like Dutch clubs/people took me for granted.” said Bonevacia about why he chose to move to the Phoenix.
“I didn't play as much games as I wanted to. I needed to play more and feel important. Ernie Merrick convinced me that was exactly what I was going to be doing in New Zealand.
“Coming to Wellington and finding myself back here is the best feeling ever. I'm having fun again, I feel appreciated and needed.
“I wake up to the most amazing view every morning and the people are really kind.”
Bonevacia didn’t know much about the A-League before he arrived in Wellington, citing a snobbish attitude in Holland that’s aimed towards the Australian competition.
“I watched some games but I didn't know much about the A-League,” he said.
“I wanted to go to Wellington open minded and see for myself what the league and the team was like and make it my own.
“Europeans are very 'critical' about the A-League. They don't believe it has much potential for young European players but I want to prove them wrong.
“If there's anything to improve at all (about the A-League), it will be small changes such as facility improvement and training ground expansion.”
Bonevacia made 57 senior appearances in the Eredivisie for teams like Ajax, NAC Breda and Roda JC, and with the A-League season past its midway point the 23-year-old says the standard of both leagues are closer than critics in Europe would expect.
“The standard is higher than Dutch/European people think,” he said.
“I'm 100 per cent sure our team would make the top (at least the sub top) in the Dutch Eredivisie. I think it's a great platform for young players to show their quality and to develop.
“You travel a lot in the A-League, we're not used to that in Holland. I used to complain if we had a three-hour bus drive, looking back I should have been relieved it was only three hours.
“Except for the temperature, the A-League and Dutch first league look very much alike. Good quality players, much ground play. But I think it's even more similar to the English league because of the high intensity of play.”
Fourth-placed Wellington Phoenix are on 28 points, the same amount they finished on last A-League season.
Bonevacia points out that the new players that have come in have been a big part of this season’s turnaround.
“The Phoenix already had some good players but they were missing key players to make the difference,” he said.
“Now our team is complete, we understand each other and that results into good performances, the team really connects, we work well together as a team instead of individuals.
“I feel like I have grown a lot as a player and developed another style of playing without losing my personal touch.”
Bonevacia feels that the Phoenix have already achieved success by proving many of their critics wrong and that the team deserves recognition for their positive results.
“At the start of the season the Australian teams did not treat us with much respect,” he said.
“They probably thought we weren't worthy playing in 'their' league, I guess that has changed now.
"Our goal for the season was top six, but I think our new goal is to stay in the top four and see how far we can get.
“For me, my team already won by showing the A-League what we're worth! No matter where you play you will always have certain people who think you don't belong there.
“The Phoenix has just as much potential as all the other teams in our league and we knew that from the start. We just had to make some changes.”
Bonevacia says those changes were instigated by Wellington Phoenix head coach Ernie Merrick.
“He (Merrick) finished the puzzle by adding new players and putting them on the right spots. I really like his style, he loves to play attacking football and ground play," he said.
“Ernie Merrick believed in me and I don’t want to let him down.”
Born and raised in the Netherlands to parents from Curaçao - part of The Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean - Bonevacia made his senior debut for Ajax in the 2010-2011 season but only made one league appearance before he moved to NAC Breda.
Bonevacia played for the yellow army for a season and then spent the next two years at Roda JC before making the move to Wellington Phoenix
“They have taught me everything I needed to know,” said Bonevacia about his time with Ajax.
“They turned me into a technical player, able to fit in any kind of team and playing style. My Ajax debut with Martin Jol was a dream come true.
“It was a difficult time when that dream started falling apart. Everything changed, I was lost and underrated but now I found myself back.
“I played amongst big players such as (Luis) Suarez, (Miralem) Sulejmani, (Vurnon) Anita, (Nigel) De Jong and (Daley) Blind - just to name a few.
“It's great to play amongst high-quality players but I've learned to demand the highest out of my own performance in order to take my team to the next level instead of leaning on others.”
During his time in Holland, Bonevacia also played for the Dutch international under-17s and under-19s youth teams.
“It was fantastic, I was very honoured to be selected,” said Bonevacia.
“I’m still in touch with my former u17/u19 and Ajax team-mate Ricardo van Rhijn who is now a Dutch international.”
Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Check out Episode Five of his latest Football Snobcast: The Asian Cup Experience with co-host Rob Toddler.comments