In the spotlight... with Leroy Fer
7th September 2016In The Spotlight
There is a corner of the Caribbean where Swansea City have a whole new set of followers.
Already a star in Curacao, Leroy Fer is determined to shine in South West Wales.
Fer has been smiling all summer having secured a permanent move to the Liberty Stadium on the back of a loan spell last season in which he showed plenty of promise.
The challenge now facing a player who was once likened to Patrick Vieira is to deliver week-in, week-out in Swans colours.
Should he manage that, there will be celebrations in Curacao, the small island nation located just off the Venezuelan coast that the Fers call home.
"My parents were born in Curacao - my whole family is from there," Fer explains.
"I wasn't born there, but I go back to visit as often as I can and when I do it feels like home.
"As a kid from nine months old I went with my dad to visit Curacao.
"We would go for a month or even six weeks at a time. I grew up there as well as in Holland, and now it's my regular holiday destination. It's nice and sunny - never cold.
"I love it. All my grandparents are there, as well as some uncles and some cousins. It's always nice to go back."
Yet it is not only members of the Fer clan who are now following the Swans from afar.
A large chunk of the 150,000 population take an interest in how a player with Curacao in his blood is getting on.
"It was a Dutch colony, so the people there follow Dutch football," Fer adds.
"But the Premier League is the biggest league in Curacao - they show the games on the telly and a lot of people follow them.
"Football is the biggest sport and the World Cup is big.
"Because it's a small island and my parents are from there, everybody was happy when I scored in the World Cup (against Chile in 2014). Everybody was supporting Holland through the tournament.
"I think the whole island was happy when I went there on holiday after that!
"Now they know about Swansea City. Every week when we play it's in the newspapers in Curacao."
Fer wrote plenty of positive headlines thanks to his performances at the back-end of last season.
The Swans were on the hunt for midfield cover after Jonjo Shelvey completed a £12 million move to Newcastle United in last season's winter transfer window.
Their search led them to West London, where Fer was playing Championship football for Queens Park Rangers following their relegation from the Premier League in 2015.
When the Swans came calling, the 26-year-old jumped at the chance to return to the top flight.
Initially Fer was a squad player in SA1, with boss Francesco Guidolin admitting he did not know much about his new man in midfield in his early days at the club.
At that stage, with the likes of Leon Britton, Jack Cork, Ki Sung-Yueng and Gylfi Sigurdsson competing for places at the heart of Guidolin's team, there were some doubts about exactly how many chances Fer might get to impress.
Yet by the end of the campaign, Fer had shown his range of qualities as he chalked up a healthy tally of 11 league appearances.
Fer had come into a Swans side whose form improved after a painful first half of the season, and played his part in key victories over Arsenal, Norwich, Aston Villa, Chelsea and West Ham.
By the time Guidolin's team played out a 1-1 draw against Manchester City on the final day of the season, the home fans were singing Fer's name.
Guidolin described Fer as a "good surprise", acknowledging as the curtain fell on 2015-16 that he would welcome the opportunity to work with the Dutchman again come the start of pre-season.
Fer had been keen on the idea of a permanent move down the M4 from the outset, and by early July he was a fully-fledged Swansea player.
Fer has achieved his first target by convincing the Swans hierarchy that he was worth a three-year deal.
The next goal, he explains, is "to become very important for Swansea City".
"I want to get goals and assists while also doing the defensive side of the game," Fer adds.
It is that blend of skills Fer brings to the table which saw Cor Pot, a vastly-experienced Dutch coach, liken him to Patrick Vieira when they worked together at Netherlands Under-21 level a few years back.
"Patrick Vieira is a very big name!" Fer says in response.
"It was very nice of him to say that because Vieira was a player with so many qualities. Maybe I am similar in terms of how I try to play football - I would certainly love to be as good as him.
"I think Vieira is a player who defensively was very strong. He was the captain, a leader on the pitch and a big personality. He was a box-to-box midfielder, he could score goals but he would also defend as well.
"I followed him when I was a little boy and he is someone I have looked up to."
Not that Vieira was one of Fer's very first heroes, for he played as a striker until his mid-teens.
And even when he made the senior breakthrough at Feyenoord - a club he joined when he was just 10 - at the age of 17, Fer's best position was still up for debate.
"I played all over the place," he remembers.
"When I made my first-team debut I was in midfield, but in the second or third game I played right-back, then I was used as a striker.
"In the end, in my second season with the first team, I just played in midfield."
By then Fer had picked up a nickname which, given his physique, would still be apt today.
The Swans' newest midfield recruit is a gifted ball-player who is capable of spraying passes with either foot.
But at 6ft 2in, he is also built for the physical battle.
Hence at the age of 16, he was dubbed the Bouncer by Jean-Paul van Gastel, who was then a member of staff in the youth set-up at Feyenoord and is now assistant coach at the club to boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
"When I was 16, I played with guys who were older than me - 17 or 18 - and I would still be stronger than some of them," Fer says.
"That's why Jean-Paul van Gastel used to call me the Bouncer."
Fer ended up leaving Feyenoord in 2011 for FC Twente, where he played under Steve McClaren among others, before switching to English football when he signed for Norwich City three years ago having seen a proposed move to Everton collapse.
Another player who said farewell to Feyenoord in 2011 was Georginio Wijnaldum, the attacking midfielder who this summer joined Liverpool from Newcastle in a £25 million deal.
Fer was delighted to see the man he describes as his best friend in football land a move to Anfield - and he is already eyeing the Reds' visit to Landore at the beginning of October.
"I joined Feyenoord when I was 10, and Georginio came to the club when he was 14 I think," Fer says.
"We played against each other in younger Dutch teams. When he came to Feyenoord, we connected straightaway.
"He is a bit younger than me, but we took similar steps in our career. He was 16 when he made his debut; I was 17.
"Playing in the first team together after we had grown up together was a dream come true for us. Because we connected so well off the pitch, it helped us when we were playing.
"He went to PSV Eindhoven and I went to Twente. We have gone different ways in our careers now, but we still speak regularly.
"I played against him in the Newcastle game at the end of last season. That was a disappointing day for us.
"But this season playing twice against him with Liverpool is going to be great. I am looking forward to both those games already."
Wijnaldum versus Fer will be a midfield contest to keep an eye on.
But then on the evidence of last season's loan spell, Fer should be worth tracking every week.
Certainly, Curacao will be watching.