Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong looks at joining the Galaxy as an adventure
Nigel de Jong insists he isn’t coming to the U.S. for the money. And if the $500,000 bargain contract he signed with the Galaxy isn’t evidence enough, he hopes his words are.
“The biggest [thing] was just a new adventure playing-wise and football-wise,” he said by phone from Milan, Italy. “It is a different culture, it’s a different kind of system and it’s a different championship.
“For me, this was the total opposite of a competition in Europe. It was just the best move in this moment.”
A bruising defensive midfielder, De Jong has played in four of Europe’s top leagues, leaving his home in Amsterdam at 21 to join a team in Germany. He made subsequent stops in England and Italy but said the U.S. was always the ultimate destination.
So when he fell out of favor with AC Milan Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic last fall, he decided to make the move sooner rather than later, agreeing to a buyout of the last three years of his contract with the Italian team to join the Galaxy.
“Being 31, I’m still in my prime,” he said. “This was the perfect opportunity to just come now, when I’m still fit instead of being 34 or 35 and then come to the MLS almost before being retired.”
De Jong is one of three European players the Galaxy signed in the last week, following England’s Ashley Cole and Belgian Jelle Van Damme. They will be counted on to fortify a defense that collapsed at the end of last season, when the Galaxy gave up 10 goals in its last three games, all losses, en route to its earliest playoff exit in Bruce Arena’s seven full seasons as the team’s coach.
De Jong, a two-time World Cup starter for the Netherlands, is the most important of those acquisitions. Not only is he the youngest and most fit of the three, but he’s the most imposing as well, with the French sports daily L’Equipe once rating him among the world’s most violent players and a Spanish website ranking him among the world’s 10 dirtiest.
“They’re very good footballers and they’ll improve us defensively and that’s where we went wrong,” said midfielder Steven Gerrard, who joined the Galaxy midway through last season.
Gerrard struggled with the traffic and the climate after moving from dreary Liverpool, England, to Southern California. But De Jong is familiar with both, having spent two months rehabbing an Achilles’ tendon injury three years ago with a physical therapist at StubHub Center.
“I know the players already,” said De Jong, who met Arena, Galaxy captain Robbie Keane and others during his visit. “I loved it. It was a different kind of setup and a different kind of system.”
In other words, a different kind of adventure. And to De Jong, that’s just as valuable as a big paycheck.
“Playing in a different country, I would never trade it,” said De Jong, whose travels have helped him learn five languages. “You get to know other cultures and it’s always good. You can grow not only as a football player but also as a person.”
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