FIFA World Cup: Total working-class heroes

A life beyond football, claims de Jong, came from the difficulties he endured during his childhood.

Written by Aditya Iyer | Updated: June 6, 2014 11:11:59 am

Total Football, it was said during Germany ‘74, was but the common Dutchman’s reflection of its avant-garde society. As Holland’s music and literature scene thrived with refreshingly new thoughts, ideas and innovations in the early 1970s, the very definition of art floated freely in the country’s marijuana-soaked air — inspiring its footballers such as Johan Cruyff to pioneer a most silken game.

The Holland of 2014 does not play Total Football. Far from it. The runners-up from the previous edition in South Africa are known to play a far more ‘normal’ brand of football, thanks to its working-class players. Meet Nigel de Jong, a crucial component in the Dutch starting eleven, who is known as much for his entrepreneurship as for his presence as a holding midfielder.

“Some people say footballers are thick and not bright enough to be entrepreneurs,” de Jong once said. “But when I see that a company has potential, I move the borders and go all the way for it.” Sure he can. When not kicking the ball about at the San Siro for AC Milan, de Jong spends his time far more constructively that most of his mates. His car dealership company is not just a hit in Europe, but has currently expanded to the Middle-East as well, where oil barons and business tycoons are said to be among his clientele.

A life beyond football, claims de Jong, came from the difficulties he endured during his childhood. Born to a single mother living on the benefits of the state, de Jong decided to make a career outside of sports. Just as Holland’s striker Dirk Kuyt did, who ensured that he learned his father’s trade of being a fisherman by joining him daily on his trawler in the North Sea.

“I am not your typical Dutch player like Cruyff, Gullit, Van Basten or Rijkaard,” Kuyt is quoted as saying. “I always knew that. So I told my father to teach me everything (about fishing), I told him I wanted to be just like him.” In fact, Kuyt’s wife Gertrude, is a bird of the same feather. Far from being your typical footballer wife, she is a round-the-clock nurse at a local hospital, who only took a break to deliver the couple’s first child.

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