James Rowe interviews FC Basel’s Dutch international Ricky van Wolfswinkel about his transfer from Vitesse Arnhem to Basel last summer, his time at Norwich City in England, and his love of Portugal and Sporting Lisbon.
You transferred from Vitesse Arnhem to FC Basel last summer. Are you enjoying your time at FC Basel so far?
I am really enjoying being at FC Basel. From the moment I came here, the club have been fantastic. It is a great club, and the people that work here too. The atmosphere is very relaxed and we all work hard together, and that helps us to get good results on the pitch and it’s a pleasure to be here.
What do you believe to be the main strength of the current FC Basel team?
We have very good players and we have a good team that gets on well with one another on and off the pitch, and that helps with our team spirit. We have a skilful manager in Raphael Wicky and quality players who fight for one another.
Do you believe you have a chance in the upcoming matches against Manchester City in the Champions League?
In football, you always have a chance. I believe that Manchester City are one of the strongest teams in the world, so some might say our chances are quite small.
Over two legs, you would think that Manchester City would progress, because they have a good chance to win the Champions League [as a whole], but we will give everything and stick to our game plan as best as possible.
We are also going to enjoy the occasion. We did very well during the Champions League group stage to reach the last 16, and we want to continue the good work in the matches against Manchester City and attempt to reach the quarter finals.
You played for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal for two seasons. How do you look back on your time at the club?
It was wonderful and one of the happiest times of my career so far. The club was very good to me, and the supporters too, and the lifestyle is Lisbon is fantastic.
Portuguese people are very friendly, and Sporting Lisbon is my club and I still follow them. Bas Dost is playing there now and I get on well with him, and I am pleased to see one of my friends doing so well for Sporting Lisbon.
What is it like to play in the Lisbon derby between Sporting Lisbon and Benfica?
I must say that playing in the Lisbon derby is one of the great matches that I have played in my career and also difficult to explain.
The people that live in the city and work alongside one another are on opposite sides during that match. You have two teams in one city, and the stadiums are also in close proximity to one another. You cannot compare this derby to other derbies in Europe.
I have also played in the Rhone derby between St Etienne and Lyon which is a fantastic game, but it does not come close to the Lisbon derby. That is the best derby that I have ever been involved in.
You played one season in England for Norwich City. How do you look back on your time in England?
It was a difficult period. I scored on my debut against Everton, and then after that, things did not go as I had hoped. I am a striker that likes to play football, and we had difficulty playing in the Premier League which meant we were relegated. It was tough for everybody involved.
In England, managers continue to pick and bring in new players. I believe that, even during my time there, or even shortly after I left, Norwich City contracted 4 new strikers.
Top level football can be ruthless at times, especially in England. It is a shame, but we tried our best, and I did enjoy my time at Norwich City.
Do you believe that the environment and manager played a part in things not working out as you had hoped at Norwich City?
I felt good at Norwich City. I enjoyed living in the city, and it was a relaxing environment. It was just on the pitch we did not play well enough.
We played a very direct style, and I did not like that. We were fighting for our lives in a relegation fight, and I was only getting long balls played up to me.
I found our style of play difficult to accept and things were not going well, and it did not work out as I had hoped.
I was fully convinced of my decision to go to Norwich City. The good things give you experience in life, but also the bad experiences as well. I just put this down to experience.
You were loaned out to Spanish side Real Betis for the 2015/16 season. Did you enjoy the challenge of playing in La Liga?
I loved playing in the Spanish league, and it was a good fit for me. There were many technically gifted players in Spain.
I really enjoyed my time at Real Betis, and I signed on loan on the last day of the summer transfer window which meant I had to fight my way into the team, but there were also lots of things going on off the pitch [at the club] which did not really help things.
But I managed to play many matches and I really enjoyed playing for Real Betis.
In October 2017, I spoke to your former Vitesse Arnhem teammate Kelvin Leerdam about winning the Dutch Cup final against AZ Alkmaar last May. You scored two goals to help Vitesse win their first every trophy. How do you look back on that final in Rotterdam?
I am really proud of what we achieved at Vitesse Arnhem last season. I came through the youth team at Vitesse and I know what the club means to the fans. I was delighted to return to the club and I know how long Vitesse fans have had to wait for the first trophy in their history.
The feeling after we won the final was amazing — such pride. I scored the two goals, but we all worked hard as a team, and it was a real team effort to win the trophy for Vitesse and the city of Arnhem.
Your father-in-law, Johan Neeskens, was a tremendous player who had a great career. Did he ever give you one specific piece of advice that has helped you in your career?
Everybody knows what type of player Johan Neeskens was. He was a player that worked really hard on the pitch and that is what he taught me.
You can play a good or a bad match but you must always work hard and give your all, and that was the basis of his game too, which helped him to achieve what he did in his career. He conveyed to me that ups and downs are part of life as a professional footballer.
Could you say who is the best player that you have ever played with?
In terms of a teammate, I would say Rafael van der Vaart. We played together at Real Betis. If you train with him and work with him, you realise that quality that he has.
It was great to play with him and we had such a good connection on the pitch, and we understood each other’s game. He created great chances for me, and I still believe that Rafael van der Vaart is a world class player.
Who is the most difficult opponent that you have ever faced?
I played with Norwich City away at Old Trafford against Manchester United. At that time, [we] were playing a very direct style of football with playing long balls. I was playing as a striker, and I was up against Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, and those two together are monsters.
With the long balls coming in, it was really tough. They are both world class players, and it was very difficult to play against them.
Finally, Ricky: who is the best manager you have played under?
I have had a lot of managers during my career, and I learned a lot from many of them. But I must say that the manager that helped me a lot in the beginning of my career was Hans Westerhof at Vitesse Arnhem.
Maybe Hans Westerhof is a surprising name for you. He was my manager at Vitesse Arnhem, and he gave me the chance to play regularly for the club . He was an ideal manager for me at that time in my career. In my debut season, he put an expensive player on the bench in order to allow a young player like me to gain experience and play matches at the highest level in the Netherlands.
He gave me so much confidence, and that was the basis upon which my career was built on. I am grateful to him for that.
Van Wolfswinkel’s FC Basel face Manchester City in the last sixteen of the Champions League, with the home tie on February the 13th, before travelling to Manchester on March the 7th.