As a people, the Dutch are renowned for being laid-back but Ajax right-back Gregory van der Wiel shows more appetite than most to live up to his national stereotype.
FourFourTwo magazine reported that, after making his third appearance for his country in the 4-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Macedonia in April, he was spotted at a snack bar outside the Amsterdam ArenA, eating a hot dog with some old school friends while still carrying his official Dutch team bag.
The 21-year-old landed himself in hot water in October, meanwhile, when he was ruled out of the Netherlands’ friendly game in Australia with concussion but felt well enough to attend a Lil’ Wayne concert and then posted a photo of himself with the American rapper on Twitter.
The incident drew a rebuke from Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk, but while van der Wiel’s off-pitch antics have not always delighted his coaches – his attitude prompted Ajax to farm him out to satellite club Haarlem when he was 14 – his on-pitch performances certainly have.
A graduate of the famed Ajax youth system, van der Wiel began his career as a right-sided centre-back but was moved to full-back by former coach Marco van Basten, who felt he could better harness the Amsterdam-born youngster’s pace on the flank. Van der Wiel made his first-team debut in March 2007 aged 19 but it was in the 2008-09 campaign that he made the right-back slot his own. By last summer he had made his debut for the Netherlands, scored his first goals for Ajax and been named the club’s Talent of the Year.
The comfortable manner in which the Netherlands qualified for the World Cup allowed van Marwijk to ease van der Wiel into the national fold and after making his debut in a friendly against Tunisia in February, he started both qualifying matches against Scotland as well as the win against Macedonia.
Van der Wiel has three goals to his name in the Eredivisie already this season, having scored against both reigning champions AZ and arch-rivals Feyenoord as Ajax fight to keep pace with league leaders FC Twente. The fleet-footed full-back has also started Oranje‘s friendly matches against Japan (3-0), Italy (0-0) and Paraguay (0-0).
Arsenal, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Juventus were all rumoured to be tracking his progress earlier this season. His agent Hakim Slimani claimed in December that Manchester City were poised to make a move, but stressed that his client had no desire to leave Ajax. The player himself, however, makes no secret of his ambition to play in one of Europe’s top leagues.
“I definitely want to move abroad one day, but I’m extremely happy with life at Ajax for now,” he said. “It’s great to hear that a big team such as Arsenal are keeping tabs on me. I feel like the Premier League will be perfect for me. Robin van Persie has told me a lot of promising stories about the Premier League, Arsenal and Arsène Wenger. Maybe he can put in a good word for me some day.”
Van der Wiel used to play in a van Persie shirt during street games as a teenager, but his current idol is Barcelona’s flying Brazilian right-back Daniel Alves. “We do have the same style, we both play the whole right flank – creating combinations, taking a man on, crossing the ball in and scoring,” van der Wiel says. ”I feel much better on the flank than centrally.”