x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Idol times for De Jong

With an absent father when he was growing up in Amsterdam, Manchester City's Dutch international midfielder Nigel de Jong had to look elsewhere for role models.

De Jong, right, tracks Middlesbrough's Adam Johnson during a Premier League match last season.
De Jong, right, tracks Middlesbrough's Adam Johnson during a Premier League match last season.

With an absent father when he was growing up in Amsterdam, Manchester City's Dutch international midfielder Nigel de Jong had to look elsewhere for role models. One of those idols was Clarence Seedorf who has the same Surinamese background as De Jong. The veteran AC Milan midfielder, says De Jong, has shown him that football does not last forever

During his glittering career at clubs like Ajax, Real Madrid and Milan, Seedorf has won four Champions League medals, but has thriving businesses and is renowned for his charity work. "He was my inspiration, one of my biggest idols," says de Jong. "He's still hungry even now. It doesn't matter if he's 33 or 34 and has four Champions League medals. He still wants to win his fifth, his sixth and his seventh.

"I think, for me, he's the perfect role model in what he is doing on and off the pitch. He's like my big brother and he's a real professional. When I was younger he was one of the first big footballers who had charities going on in the world. "He has just met Nelson Mandela in South Africa and that's not for everybody. You see how respected he is in the charity world. "You can raise the bar with football. It's known throughout the world and if you can give something back then that's good. I can only hope to follow him. My first priority is football, but when you have spare time why not?

"I am an ambassador for the kidney foundation in Holland. My mother has a kidney disease so I know how it is. I was small when she found out, four or five. It was hard, but it's a part of life. At 24 and with an economics degree, De Jong has an old, sensible, head on young shoulders. His ferocious nature on the pitch is in contrast to calm off it. Having been encouraged to study by his mother, he did not want to fall into the trap of footballers who have fluttered their fortunes away. A classic car business with bases in Germany and Abu Dhabi, is his future.

"It's a bit of an import and export," adds De Jong, who earned the nickname 008 after he purchased a black Aston Martin DB9. "Going back to Seedorf, he has his own jewellery and his own MotoGP team. It is business and he is developing himself as a person. I am still a young lad, but football is not forever. A lot of players have a downfall when their careers come to an end, but I try to experience new things and always look ahead and the future."

De Jong is full of optimism ahead of the start of the new Premier League season on August 15 after the club's summer spree, despite the disappointment of not playing in Europe. "In my seven years of professional football this is the first year I won't play in a European competition. On the other side, it might help us in the league. Everybody is hungry to do well and will be fitter for the next game instead of playing Saturday, midweek, Saturday.

"I hope we can now be Manchester's dominant team. The city is blue already. I was amazed by that when I first came and looked around it. But now on the expectation side and the performance side, it can be blue, not only red." akhan@thenational.ae