In spite of being known for his rough physical plays on the pitch in Europe, Nigel de Jong brought an air of sophistication and joviality while speaking with reporters today at his press conference. In a complete switch from the casual Friday appearance of his counterparts Ashley Cole and Jelle Van Damme at a similar event, Nigel donned a tastefully buttoned up black polo to match his no nonsense attitude towards soccer. There were no jokes about the beach or LA’s Hollywood allure. He’s here for one reason: to play soccer and become a part of an American sports tradition.
“I’m looking forward to the season and let’s see what we can do this year and go as far as possible as a team.” – Nigel de Jong
It’s been about one week since Nigel de Jong came to the LA Galaxy and he wasted no time getting in two days of practice before the Cali Clásico in Las Vegas this past weekend. There are few doubts about his fitness level – he showed promise while playing 55 minutes in that match and coordinated well with his new teammates.
“It’s not easy after a long travel distance from Europe. [There were] two good training days and my first 55 minutes [of play] under my belt. So I felt very good. It was easy to adapt. The guys are very easy going [as is the] good staff who’ve made me feel very welcome.” – Nigel de Jong
The murmurs however, are all around de Jong’s reputation for rough-plays, which has preceded him. Given the nature of eternally good-guy Stuart Holden’s injury that accelerated the end of his playing days, and a 2010 World Cup Final still fresh in people’s minds where de Jong infamously did not receive a red card for kicking Xavi Alonso in the chest (a decision which even Howard Webb later regretted), there’s no denying critics of de Jong have just cause for alarm.
Yet somehow Nigel de Jong has not accumulated slew of red cards, which suggests a level of field intelligence that he no doubt will apply to the pitch here, while also bringing a ‘touch of necessary evil’ to LA’s midfield. Still, he doesn’t care or mind the white noise around him. The results on the pitch speak for themselves.
“If you know me a little bit more, I don’t care what other people say. It’s not about the reputation. It’s about the winner’s mentality that you have to show on the pitch. It’s about winning and getting those three points in your pocket, and leave the pitch with that. It’s never been a problem in my career. I’m 31 now so think I have a lot of experience knowing that. The best thing for me to do is just be on the pitch. I’m not really a talker [off] the pitch. I do my best on the pitch. I let my feet speak. And do my best I can do for this team.” – Nigel de Jong
All concerns aside, there was an element of lightheartedness surrounding de Jong as Bruce Arena beamed with pride beside him. There was a brief interlude on his love for American sports:
“I’m a big NFL fan… I’m a Steelers fan. Can I say that here? I’ve been a big sports fan since I was little. That made it, for me, even easier [to sign]. I love American sports. I’ve always followed it. In Europe, it’s a little bit difficult because it’s during the night… I’m glad that I’m here now so I don’t have to stay up so late.” – Nigel de Jong
Most of all, Nigel de Jong is eager to become a part of American sports culture, something which we take for granted here all too often:
“It’s the total package. If you see what America, what the United States can offer you apart from playing football. It’s the lifestyle, it’s the sports culture, the way people think about sport in general. It’s not only soccer….
The sports culture is so big and I always wanted to experience that, sooner than later. I always wanted to finish my career off in America. How good is it that I can be here still in my prime and be a big asset and a big part of a team like the LA Galaxy, the biggest team in America?” – Nigel de Jong
It’s not all fun and games, though. As the season progresses, Nigel de Jong rounds out a long list of leaders that Bruce Arena is gambling will inspire the Galaxy’s younger players.
“Nigel’s experience and his leadership will be tremendous for our young players. We see that already. With Nigel [de Jong] and Robbie Keane, Stevie Gerrard, Jelle Van Damme, Dan Kennedy, Ashley Cole [who are all] experienced players and are having a great influence on our young players. I think our locker room is in great shape. They step out on the field. They train the right way. We’re hopeful on game day the same attitude is going to be there. And I think we have strong leadership with our club this year. We’re going to ask Nigel to be a strong leader as well.” – Bruce Arena, on what Nigel de Jong will bring to the Galaxy
Too often in the past year or two LA lacked a certain bite on the pitch, which Arena readily admits to:
“I think it’s something we missed last year, last couple years. We [now] have some experienced players that bring that to us each and every day.” – Bruce Arena
At the moment, LA Galaxy is a a mixed amalgam of skills and players from around the world, and the coming months will likely prove Bruce Arena to be a master when it comes to putting the elements together into a humming team. “Our next challenge is to take all these pieces and form them into a great team,” Bruce Arena enthusiastically concluded.
NIGEL DE JONG PRESS CONFERENCE (BY LA GALAXY)