Al Ahli midfielder and captain Nigel de Jong in an Exclusive Interview with QSL Online
Nigel de Jong is well-known for his efficiency in the position of a defensive midfielder. The Dutchman has been playing a pivotal role in Al Ahli’s good run in this season’s QNB Stars League, which has seen The Brigadiers occupy the fifth place in the table as the tournament has taken a break after 15 rounds due to the ongoing Asian Cup in the UAE.
De Jong, who was a part of the Netherlands team that finished as runners-up at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and third at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, has famously donned the jerseys of Ajax Amsterdam (he is a product of the Ajax academy) in his native country, Hamburger and Mainz in Germany, Manchester City in England, AC Milan in Italy and Los Angeles Galaxy in the United States.
In an Exclusive Interview with QSL Online, the 34-year-old, who joined Al Ahli ahead of the 2018-19 season, gives his takes on a wide range of topics.
How have you found the season so far in Qatar?
It was a new experience for me. I was welcomed well and helped by everyone in the team.
At the competitive level, we had a rather slow start, but we made up for it as the QNB Stars League progressed.
How’s the level of competition in the QNB Stars League?
To be honest, I was very apprehensive about the standard of competition. But soon, I realised that the field is very competitive. The level is high and there’re many quality professional players around. There isn’t a big gap in points between the top teams.
You had previous stints in the leagues of England, Italy, Germany and the US, besides the Netherlands. How do you compare them with that of Qatar?
You can’t actually make a comparison between any of them. In some countries, all players aren’t professionals. But I can say that the QNB Stars League is in a league of its own. And I’m happy to be a good addition to the Al Ahli squad.
How do you find playing for Al Ahli?
Before coming here, I knew that Al Ahli is the oldest club in Qatar and they’re very proud of it. It has a rich history. All staff are doing their best and the players are willing to work. It’s really a good group of players and it’s all about the mentality.
How do you assess Al Ahli’s performance so far?
Overall, I’m satisfied. The team is doing well and has gone eight matches without a defeat. They include six wins and two draws. Personally too, I’m happy to have scored three goals as well.
What’re the targets of Al Ahli and yourself this season?
We want to finish in the fourth position and play in the Qatar Cup. Al Ahli haven’t been able to achieve that in recent times. That may also give us a chance to play in the AFC Champions League.
I’m also keen on helping this club finish among the top-four bracket. Presently, we trail fourth-placed Al Rayyan by only one point. We’re hopeful of doing that. All players now know their roles well.
How do you see the change of coach, with Spaniard Ruben de la Barrera replacing Czech Milan Macala after 15 rounds in the QNB Stars League?
It hasn’t been long since we started training under Barrera. For sure, the players have to adapt to his style of functioning.
Macala was a father figure to us. He has a great personality with rich experience of coaching in many countries.
Which team do you think are the strongest contenders for the QNB Stars League title this season?
At the moment, Al Sadd look the strongest. They’re scoring too many goals and can cruise to the title provided they sustain the momentum. However, it may be noted that Al Sadd suffered their only defeat against us when we won 4-1 in Week 10.
Al Duhail have lost the advantage to some extent with the loss of two key players (Ismail Mohammed at the start and now Nam Tae-Hee).
How do you see Al Ahli’s QSL Cup quarterfinal against Al Gharafa on Friday?
It’s going to be an interesting game. We had beaten Al Gharafa in the last round before the QNB Stars League took a break, thus making amends for our loss to them in the first leg.
However, this match is a knockout, so result can go either way, but we’re staying confident. Al Gharafa have some injury concerns besides having some players doing international duty for Qatar.
How was your experience with the Netherlands national team?
Our generation included a lot of players with great potential. We stayed together for 12 years and that made a huge difference.
How did you feel when the Netherlands lost in the final of 2010 World Cup by a late goal?
That was a big letdown for us, losing to Spain by Andres Iniesta’s extra-time goal. We thought we had almost lifted the cup. It was a lost opportunity. But that’s football.
What’re your expectations of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar?
It’s a foregone conclusion that it’ll be an amazing World Cup in 2022. It’ll be the first World Cup where one fan can watch three games a day because of the logistic advantage and proximity of the venues. From a player’s angle too, it’ll be a great tournament.