James Rowe interviews Swansea City defender Mike van der Hoorn about his time at both FC Utrecht and Ajax in the Netherlands, and the challenges of playing in the Premier League.
In 2016 you signed for Swansea City. Are you enjoying your time at the club, and what is your opinion about the skills needed to perform well in the Premier League?
It’s wonderful to play Premier League football. Swansea City are a great club to play for. The people here at the club are really down to earth, and the environment is really nice too. The Premier League is really physical and all the opponents have such quality strikers with very physical attributes. Every team has a great striker, so you cannot afford to lose concentration at any moment during matches.
You played for FC Utrecht for two seasons (2011-2013). How do you look back on your time at the club?
I have wonderful memories of my time at Utrecht. I came through the youth set up there in order to become a professional footballer.
They gave me a chance in professional football, and I will always be grateful to them for that. During my time there, we had a great squad, and I still have contact with a few of players.
My highlight during my time there was when we won the play-offs in order to qualify for Europe. That season was very special indeed.
You moved on to Ajax in (2013-2016). How do you look back on your time at Ajax? Did you have a highlight of your time at the club?
My time at Ajax was full of ups and downs. I had difficult times at the club as footballer, but it made me stronger, and I managed to go on to achieve what I wanted, while at the beginning of my time at the club I felt that was not going to be possible.
I had to wait a long time to get my chance at Ajax, which I managed to take, and I came out of it a mentally stronger player. My highlight was definitely becoming [Eredivisie] champions with Ajax [in 2013/14]
Swansea City have recently hired Carlos Carvalhal, who has managed to make a very good impression so far. What are his qualities as a manager?
He is someone who has managed to get the squad pulling in the right direction, especially in terms of belief that we can win matches again, and therefore the positivity is slowly coming back amongst the squad.
Because at times this season we struggled to be positive, and there were times where we thought ‘when will the positivity return to the squad?’, but Carvalhal has managed to turn it around.
Are you looking forward to the FA Cup 5th round replay against Sheffield Wednesday, and is the FA Cup a welcome distraction from the Premier League?
I believe that we have done well to reach the 5th round of the FA Cup and we have a chance to reach the quarter finals — the further you go in the cup, the more exciting it becomes.
The FA Cup is a fine distraction from the Premier League because it gives us a chance to keep playing matches and keep in our rhythm, and that enables us to get quicker into the form that we want to be in.
I believe that to be an advantage for us and we want to win against Sheffield Wednesday who are very strong in the Championship and also in the FA Cup this season. The match is certainly not going to be easy.
As someone who has a lot of Premier League experience, is there a particular match that has stood out for you during your time in English football?
There have been many, and I enjoy playing in the big matches against the big teams. They are very special matches both home and away. You also notice the little differences in the run up to those matches.
When you play well in those matches, you feel good about yourself because of the quality of the players on the pitch.
Could you say who is the best player you have played with so far in your career?
At every club I have played at, there have been players that have stood out. At FC Utrecht, I always though that Nana Asare was a great defender — he is now playing for KAA Gent in Belgium.
When I first arrived at Ajax, Christian Eriksen was playing there, although he left shortly afterwards, and in the few weeks that I trained with him and played a few matches, he was always the best player on the pitch. At Swansea City? Gylfi Sigurdsson, especially last season — he was in great form, and he is a tremendous player ”
Who is the most difficult opponent that you have ever faced?
In terms of strikers, Sergio Aguero, and I also played twice against Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Swansea against Manchester United and also for Ajax in the Champions League v Paris Saint-Germain. It was difficult because he was so big and so strong and he could do everything with a football.
Who are the managers that have helped you the most in your career so far?
I learned an awful lot from Jan Wouters and Robbie Alflen at FC Utrecht. At Ajax, even though I did not play very often in the beginning, I have a lot to thank Frank de Boer for, because he kept believing in me, and he also played a big part in helping me become a better footballer.
Finally, Mike: you have played in the Netherlands and also in England. Do you have ambitions to experience another foreign league in the future, or would you prefer to stay in the Premier League?
I would prefer to remain at Swansea and play Premier League football until the end of my career. If I could chose, that would be my preference.