Interviews

The big interview: Nigel de Jong – "I liked being the underdog at Man City. People only knew United, but we wanted to change that"

Nigel de Jong interview
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Did you have any other options when Man City bought you from Hamburg in 2009? How did you find playing for Mark Hughes?
Ryan Rhodes, via Facebook

I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Mark Hughes gave me. I had a brilliant relationship with him and still do to this day. He had a very strong character and he was a winner, and that reflected in the type of training sessions he put on. They were always very intense and competitive.

I signed for City when they were around 11th or 12th in the Premier League and I had offers to go to other big teams, but they painted a great picture for me. They told me I’d be the first of many major signings and I just needed to be patient. They said if I stayed at the club long enough, I’d see the results. I believed them, and it was an opportunity to play in the league I’d watched since I was a kid. I liked being the underdog. People only knew about Manchester United but now we wanted to change that.

What do you think of Manchester as a city? Did you enjoy living there?
Mark Waugh, Didsbury

It rains for about 11 months a year in Manchester, so I’d say it’s never going to be one of my top holiday destinations. But apart from that, the atmosphere in Manchester was always great. I enjoyed some of the best times of my career in the city. It’s not quite as big as London but there’s still so much to do. The city was usually buzzing during the summer and I loved going to a pub to have a Sunday roast. I’d rate Manchester highly, but I won’t live there after my career because of the bad weather!

How big a cultural shift was it when Roberto Mancini replaced Hughes as Man City manager?
Ralph Williams, via Twitter

Well, Mancini is Italian, so it came as no surprise that he was tactically excellent. He had a different mindset to Hughes; he placed lots of emphasis on defensive positioning. First of all, he wanted you to be defensively stable and then think about the second step. As a team and individuals we underwent a pretty big transition under him. Both Mancini and Hughes turned the club around. We won nearly every trophy under Mancini, so it was an incredible time and he deserves a huge amount of credit.

Did you really believe City could turn things around on the final day against QPR and win the title?
Jimmy Truman, via Facebook

We were 1-0 up, playing a side battling against relegation, and then out of nowhere they came from behind and were winning 2-1. At that point, we all started to look at each other and think: ‘It’s not going to happen, is it?’ You have this negative thought process initially, but we refused to give up and Mancini then made some offensive changes by bringing Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli on, so we had three strikers on the pitch.

Thank God it all worked out. The way it ended was just crazy, and it’s something you’ll never see again. That moment as Sergio Aguero scored, in terms of happiness and relief, was easily the best moment of my career. It’s what football is all about: passion, emotion, winning. I can remember sprinting towards the corner flag where Sergio was celebrating with his shirt off. There were grown men in the stands in tears! Everyone was bamboozled by what had just happened. I’m so happy that I was part of it.

People always go on about how tough you are – do you think your technical ability is underrated?
Roger Brucht, via Facebook

Yeah, but that’s pretty normal if you’re a defensive midfielder. I love playing in that position because I understand the impact I can have on the team. People never talk about Roy Keane’s technical ability; they just talk about his physical attributes.

People forget, to play in my position you’ve got to have technical ability to guide the team. You’re in front of the defence and also have to feed the attacking third, so you’re in the middle; you’re key. My passing rate at every club has always been good because I love to play football – I was taught to play with proper technique at Ajax.

Stuart Holden and Hatem Ben Arfa both suffered serious injuries from your tackles – did you mean to hurt either of them?
Johnny Powell, Devon

No, I’ve never deliberately hurt anyone. I’ll always go in hard when it’s a 50-50 ball but I don’t want to hurt anybody – they were just unlucky challenges and unfortunately they had to sit out a part of their career to do their rehab, which I don’t feel good about. But football is a contact sport and sometimes you will get injured or injure someone. I would always go into a 50-50 harder than the other player because I didn’t want to get injured myself. I spoke to both guys after. I left it a bit of time and then got in touch with them, and we had a chat about it. Everything’s cool now, it’s done.

You’ve faced so many great players and sides in your career, but just how tough was it stopping Spain’s passing style during the 2010 World Cup Final?
Howard Wright, via Facebook

Really tough, as even though I could see their passing momentum building, they still played with a speed and confidence that I couldn’t stop. I like to pick-pocket balls off opponents and I wasn’t able to do it. We decided to stay compact, try to not let them play out from the back, and we felt we’d have a good chance to win on the counterattack because of their high line. Arjen Robben had a big opportunity to score in the second half from that exact game plan but couldn’t quite finish it off. They had an incredible team, though: Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta and so many other players who were all in their prime.

COUNTRY

  • 2004-15 Netherlands (81 caps, 1 goal)

How disappointing was it to concede so late when you’d done so well to stay in it?
James Parker, via Twitter

It was devastating. I had come off after around 100 minutes because we were already preparing for penalties. But then Iniesta scored after 116 minutes and we barely had any time to respond. We all had to walk past that trophy, back into the dressing room, and see the massive disappointment on each other’s faces.

It was disappointing because that’s the biggest stage for any footballer and the chance to win that prize comes once in a lifetime, maybe twice if you’re lucky. It was really disappointing but we could be extremely proud of what we achieved as a team in 2010.

NEXT: And what about that tackle?