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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Does it frustrate you that people still talk about your tackle on Xabi Alonso in the final, rather than your individual performance?
Tom Dicks, Liverpool

No, it’s not that frustrating. You have to understand – that was something that happened on the world stage, an action that everyone saw around the globe. It doesn’t annoy me at all. I’m over it, and that’s football. I was lucky I was able to play the rest of the game. I just wanted to play the ball – that was my only focus.

I didn’t see Alonso coming because he was on my blind side. I didn’t expect to get sent off at the time because I felt it was obviously an unfortunate incident. I was lucky that an English referee was in charge, Howard Webb, because he’d seen many hard challenges in the past. I thought he would give me the benefit of the doubt because I put my hands up immediately after it.

Did you speak to Xabi Alonso after the final and have you discussed it since? Is it water under the bridge?
Raquel Barrett, Liverpool

We’ve seen each other but we’ve never spoken about that moment. It’s just a moment in football history. At the end of the day, he won a World Cup. It’s not something that will follow him in a negative way. We play a contact sport and sometimes you will get a red card for a lesser challenge. That incident came on the world stage so it gained a lot of attention. Maybe one day we will see each other, have a beer and laugh about it. Ultimately, he won the game and I didn’t. I think he had the last laugh.

THE OTHER SIDE Alonso: It felt like my body had been torn apart after De Jong's ‘tackle’

What has gone wrong with the Dutch team in the past few years?
Bryan Rudy, via Facebook

I believe the older generation of players were cut off too soon. Players from my generation weren’t really considered for selection after the 2014 World Cup and I think our experience could have helped the younger players. The transition was too fast. You can’t have a side consisting solely of youngsters with no experience. Every country goes through a phase of rebuilding – the same thing happened with Belgium and France. They missed some big tournaments and then came back a lot stronger. We will do the same.

Pep Guardiola angrily confronted you after your tackle on Joshua Kimmich against Bayern Munich in 2015. What did he say to you?
Josh Jenkins, via Facebook

He was just sticking up for his player, it was pure emotion. As a coach he is very emotionally attached to all his players. Pep had the right to express the way he felt and so did I. We’re men, not kids. We’ve both got egos and we wanted to defend ourselves. If he wants to say something to me, then that’s cool. It was just a little scuffle, really.

We miss you here in LA! How did you find your season with the Galaxy in 2016? And how far behind is MLS compared to the rest of the world?
‘LAG Explicit Rumors’, via Twitter

There’s no relegation system so there’s no real pressure, and because of that there’s no genuine sense of winning and losing. You might lose, but there’s always a next time and you know that you’ll always have next season to try to make amends, with no repercussions. That’s why the level stays the same each year. Soccer isn’t one of the biggest sports in America so there isn’t the same youth development as in Europe.

Bringing in more foreign players doesn’t help. The country needs to focus on youth development and make more children aware of soccer. I really enjoyed my time with the Galaxy, though – my manager Bruce Arena was amazing. We had a great team – me Stevie G, Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos and Ashley Cole. I was only there for nine months because I missed the competitiveness of European football, but I’m still happy I made the move.

Is it true you opened a car dealership while you were in Hamburg? Ever sold a motor to anyone famous?
Craig Gray, via Twitter

I love cars because my grandfather was a general manager for Ford in Holland and always had a brand new car every six months, which caught my attention. I always planned to do it providing I had the necessary funds. When I moved to Germany, one of the best places to live when it comes to cars, I decided to start up the business there. I met my partner around that time too, and 11 years later both the business and the relationship are still going strong. It’s really popular with footballers. Loads of players, like Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Kevin-Prince Boateng have bought cars from me over the years.

Are you planning to play on for much longer? Will you ever return to Ajax?
William Edstrom, via Twitter

I’m happy in Mainz at the moment, but I’m nearly 34 now. I see myself playing for maybe one or two more years and then I’ll call it quits. After that, I’ll just play with my friends for fun, drink a few beers and enjoy the rest of my days as a retired footballer.

This feature originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!

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