Ajax Podcast | Those eventful early years at Ajax, by Nigel de Jong

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Nigel de Jong made his breakthrough in 2002 as an eighteen-year-old playing midfielder for Ajax 1. Born and bred in Amsterdam, he has been an Ajax fan since childhood. Now aged 36, the midfielder talks openly in the latest Ajax Podcast about his tough childhood, one which eventually led to an illustrious career with Ajax 1.

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In this episode, we take an in-depth look at the career of this former Ajax player. De Jong's journey has seen many highlights, including his goal at Highbury against Arsenal, and several national awards. But it all began with things being tough at home.

Being a single parent, his mother Marja brought the young Nigel up alone, along with his brother and sister, in the Geuzeveld neighbourhood in Amsterdam. When his mother fell ill with kidney disease, De Jong soon became the man of the house. "That's why I've always been very protective. I was a little tiger. My family means everything to me. You may have friends in your life, but everything comes down to family in the end."

As a teenager, he listened to all his mother's life lessons. He watched his mother battling with her illness. Tragic as this was, it inspired him hugely. "She always used to say, 'You must give your all and work hard. Respect is something you have to earn'. That's how I became the player I am today."

Sneijder, Heitinga and De Jong
At Ajax, they soon recognised De Jong as a unique player. Danny Blind was head of youth coaching at the time and was aware of De Jong's huge appetite for success. "He grew up in the generation that included Wesley Sneijder and John Heitinga. We could tell early on that these three were going to make it to the first team. Nigel himself may not always have had the best technique, but his drive was always one hundred percent."

Blind could see it all too clearly. Trainer Ronald Koeman first called De Jong up in February, 2002. "When I told my mother she was over the moon, but immediately said, 'I can't take you, I have to go to the hospital. You'll have to go on the underground'."

"So that's what I did. And as I sat there on the underground with my red Ajax bag, nobody around me could tell what I was off to do. But I just sat there with a huge grin on my face."

As it turned out, his mother and friends would all be in the stadium later that evening. Ajax won that match where De Jong made his debut, beating AZ 6-2. "When they gave me flowers, I went over to my mother and gave them to her."

Star football player
De Jong matured into an important player for Ajax, which opened up a whole new world for him. The locals were proud: a true Amsterdammer in Ajax 1. "If you make it at Ajax, then people are proud of you. I was being invited everywhere and had the status of a star football player. I also learned how to say 'no' at a young age. Professional football players need their rest."

"But I admit, at the beginning of my career life was a rollercoaster. I was going like the clappers, on the go 24 hours a day at just eighteen. I could go out and have fun with friends. It started to affect my game. Again, it was mother who told me to take it easy and be on point for my matches for Ajax."

Following his breakthrough in Amsterdam, De Jong had a glittering career abroad with teams such as Hamburger SV and Manchester City.  There has been no second time round with Ajax. "There have been times when I came very close to returning to Ajax. For various reasons, that never came to be. But you never know, perhaps Erik ten Hag is listening? I'm always available. I'm Ajax through and through. Forever."

This episode can be listened to via JUKE and the Ajax channels and can also be found via all other podcast apps.

Don't forget to subscribe via your favorite platform so you never have to miss an episode again. Via JUKE you can also listen to the previous episodes of the Ajax Podcast.

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