IN THE SPOTLIGHT - Mike van der Hoorn

30th November 2016
In The Spotlight

Mike van der Hoorn may still be finding his feet in English football, but the big man with the long name has grand ambitions - and knows he needs to build a reputation at Swansea City. Here the centre-back talks opening his eyes in Amsterdam, Holland hopes and having a bright future at the Liberty Stadium.

Mike Adrianus Wilhelmus van der Hoorn has the big name.
Now he wants to build a big reputation.
Swansea City's summer recruit from Ajax dreams of landing a regular spot in the Holland squad having been called up once by former boss Louis van Gaal.
But before he can think about international football, van der Hoorn stresses, there is a need to focus on thriving with the Swans.
This is a player who hopes his future will be orange. To make it happen, he must thrive in black and white.
Danny Blind's decision to summon Leroy Fer for the Netherlands' World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg earlier last month proves that unlike some national bosses, perhaps, the Dutch coach has an eye on events at the Liberty Stadium.
Fer has turned a few heads in the early months of this season, thanks largely to an impressive haul of goals from midfield.
Hence Blind came calling when Tottenham's Vincent Janssen was forced to withdraw from the Dutch camp.
Fer did not feature against Luxembourg - he was an unused substitute - but his involvement in the party at least showed that he is in the manager's thoughts.
The target for van der Hoorn is to ensure the same can be said of him.
His last call-up to the national team came back in the spring of 2013, when van Gaal was in charge and a young van der Hoorn was shining at club level for Utrecht.
That summer, van der Hoorn went to the Uefa European Under-21 Championship, making two appearances as the Dutch side reached the semi-finals.
Come pre-season ahead of the 2013-14 campaign, van der Hoorn's promise persuaded Ajax to pay close to 4 million euros to take him to Amsterdam.
But since moving to the Dutch capital, van der Hoorn has not been required by the national team.
He hopes that given time, switching to Swansea will change all that.
"I grew up at Utrecht," says van der Hoorn, who joined the club which also produced Michel Vorm at the age of 14.
"My first year in the first team there was great. I was named player of the year and I was called into the Holland squad by Louis van Gaal.
"Then I played at the under-21 championship and left for Ajax, and I haven't been involved since.
"After I joined Ajax, I didn't play much at the beginning and in that situation you don't get picked for the national team, that's how it goes.
"But of course I would like to get back into the squad. You want to play for your country and that's a big goal for me.
"I think the Dutch national coach watches every game in the Premier League because it is such an important competition.
"And I think to have a chance of getting called up, I have to play a whole season here at Swansea. That's my first target - to play a lot more games for my club."
He had to be patient in the early weeks of his stint as a Swan, with no Premier League appearance coming until the back-end of September.
Even then, van der Hoorn was only called on by Francesco Guidolin because Federico Fernandez was injured.
When Bob Bradley took charge of his first Swans game, at Arsenal early last month, van der Hoorn found himself on the bench once more.       
But the following weekend, he was pitched back into the side alongside Alfie Mawson for the goalless draw against Watford, and there began his first run of games in a Swans shirt.
More recently there has been another stint among the substitutes, but van der Hoorn has at least been given his first proper opportunity to impress.
"I have enjoyed it," he says. "I played alongside Alfie. He is a strong defender - he likes to put a tackle in just like me. It's enjoyable having a player like that next to you.
"But also we have Jordi (Amat) and Fede. They have a lot of experience of playing for Swansea and they don't want to sit on the bench.
"We are all competing with each other and that's good.
"You know every time you play that if you have a bad match, you can be out of the team."
Guidolin may have given van der Hoorn only limited chances, but Bradley has shown faith in the 6ft 3in centre-back since he arrived in SA1.
And van der Hoorn is enjoying life under the former USA coach.
"It has been a different kind of training for us, with more fitness involved and more intensity," he explains.
"He is a normal guy. You can speak to him whenever you want and that's great.
"He said to me that I have done well, but he wants to work on the closing down and also my footwork.
"For taller guys, that can be difficult sometimes. He wants to work on that and I agree with him."
Only just 24, van der Hoorn is living away from his homeland for the first time in his relatively young career.
Yet with his long-term girlfriend alongside him - plus two cats and a new dog - he appears to have settled into life in Wales with ease.
He insists he was not very good at English in his schooldays, but like so many other Dutch players who have represented the Swans, van der Hoorn has an impressive grasp of the local language.
In fact, van der Hoorn suggests, the biggest changes he is having to get used to are on the football pitch.
"The Premier League is very different from Holland," he says.
"In Holland, the average age of the players is maybe 21 or 22. Over here, you play against the real big boys.
"You feel that with the pace of the game and also the strength of the players you are up against.
"I am just 24. I am maturing and I feel that I have some power, while my height also helps.
"I want to be a powerful centre-back, but I also want to be able to play long passes and use the ball well. I want to combine all the qualities you need."
He may not have played as often as he would have liked at Ajax, but van der Hoorn reckons spending three years with a club renowned for their footballing philosophy did him no harm.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Doing things the Ajax way made van der Hoorn think differently about the game.
"I played 40 or 50 games for Ajax, and just being at the club opens your brain and your eyes," he says.
"The training is so specific. The way they think, the way the train and play and the way the tactics are - it all makes you think much more about football.
"It improved me as a player because I think about the game a lot better than I did."
Nevertheless, van der Hoorn did not have to consider his options for too long when the Swans came calling in the summer.
There was just one season remaining on his contract at the Amsterdam ArenA, meaning Ajax were keen to sell.
The likes of AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund were touted as potential suitors, as were Turkish club Trabzonspor.
But it was the Swans who moved fastest to strike a deal to secure van der Hoorn's services.
"There were some clubs interested and there was a lot of speculation, but Swansea came in very early and I thought it would be a good move for me," he says.
"The chance to come to the Premier League meant it was not a difficult decision."
When he signed in July, van der Hoorn was not anticipating that his new club would be in the Premier League's relegation zone come early winter.
He was not the only one.
Yet he remains optimistic about what can be achieved this season.
"We haven't had the results we have wanted," van der Hoorn acknowledges.
"For me it has been good to get some games, but I am a bit down when we lose. I really want to win every match.
"But I think we can get better. We have had some very tough fixtures, especially at home, but now we have some games against teams who are nearer to us."
The need to succeed week-in, week-out was drummed into van der Hoorn at his previous club.
"At Ajax, you have to win every game you play," he adds.
"It's a different kind of challenge for me now. Ajax are a club who expect to be at the top of the table, while we know now that just staying away from relegation is our target for this season.
"But in a way it is exactly the same. Because of the league position we are in, the pressure is there in every game to try to win."