The Kuching-born Belgium Under-19 international talks to FourFourTwo about himself, playing in the 2015 UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifying, and Sarawak laksa…
According to this website, you're a half-Belgian, half-Malaysian. Is it true?
Yes, you are right. My father is a Belgian and my mother is a Malaysian from Kuching, Sarawak who moved over here due to their marriage more than 20 years ago. But I was born in Kuching and thus also hold the Malaysian citizenship.
Tell us a little bit of yourself.
My full name is Dion-Johan Cools – ‘Johan’ coming from the famous Johan Cruyff, whom my father is a big fan of. I am 185cm tall, and will turn 19 this June 4th. I love sports with a keen interest in golf besides football. I’ve only played for three clubs in my youth – Tempo Overijse, RSC Anderlecht and Oud-Heverlee Leuven (OHL). I signed my first professional contract with OHL after I finished my secondary school to pursue my dream.
Have you ever been to Malaysia?
Yes, I used to go regularly to Malaysia, as my mother’s family is still there and I love the food especially the famous Sarawak laksa and the chicken rice! People there are really nice and I also take the opportunity to golf with my father, since the weather here hardly permits us to do so for a big part of the year. However, due to the higher level of football as I grow with age and my studies, I have not been there for the last three years.
Do you know how to speak the Malaysian languages?
Regrettably, no, though my mother taught me how to say ‘terima kasih’ and some words of her local dialect.
How did you get into football?
The football blood runs in the family as both my grandfather and father were footballers. They bought me my first ball when I was just one year old! So, it is natural that I joined our hometown football club at five – the entry age. Looking back, I’ve already played 14 years of football at my age!
What is your biggest strength as a footballer?
I knew that I must have the talent as other clubs started to scout me when I was six, but my parents have always wanted me to maintain a good balance between football and school. What is important for a footballer is to have the basic technical control and ability to read the game, which is a must. I have also been told that I have the potential to be a modern right back, having both the defensive and attacking instincts. I have always loved attacking football and I will play the ball forward as quickly as I can when there’s space for my strikers. Thus, my long passes and crosses are be added as my strengths besides having a strong heading game which can be useful in both defence and attack.
You recently played for Belgium Under-19 and narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2015 UEFA European Under-19 Championship, losing out to Russia. Disappointed?
Indeed it was a disappointment to lose out narrowly to Russia, who were the favourites in our group. Though we were out, I like to look at the positive side because I scored two goals and made an assist during the qualification process and also had the chance to play and score against England, a very strong team with players from Chelsea, Manchester City and so on.
Have you ever considered playing in Malaysia?
I’ve actually asked my mother if the possibility is there, but realistically I will need to advance my trade here in Belgium first before I can be ready to play in Malaysia. My current club, OHL, have the possibility to return back to the Belgian Division One and my sole focus is to put my effort to achieve this goal at the moment.
If Belgium's senior national team does not contact you, will you consider representing Malaysia?
It would be an honour for me [to represent Malaysia].
(Pictures: Dion Cools)