Tommy Setford: 'England’s coaches see a lot of potential in me'

Setford Verhaal Header 1920
Setford Verhaal Header 1920

To many Ajax fans, the name ‘Setford’ does not sound like a new last name in the youth academy anymore. While Charlie regularly plays for Ajax U23, his younger brother Tommy is pursuing his career at Ajax U18. Born in Haarlem, the goalkeeper slowly followed in his brother’s footsteps and represented England’s U17 team during the World Cup in Indonesia.

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Tommy Setford has been playing in Ajax’s youth academy since the U8’s. Now, he plays his matches for Ajax U18. Although the young goalkeeper was born in Haarlem and possesses a Dutch passport, he doesn’t play international matches for the Dutch team. Due to his father’s English nationality, Setford can play for both England and the Netherlands. The goalkeeper chose the first option, which resulted in him being able to travel to Indonesia for the World Cup for U17 teams.

"It’s a great honour to play for England. It’s the land my father’s from, so I play for him a little. But they appreciate me at England: the coaches and goalkeeper coaches are happy with how I do things”, Setford says. The KNVB has approached him, but he doesn’t see a reason to switch. “Not only are the U17 coaches happy with me, but the U21 coaches and the first team see that I perform well in England. They see a lot of potential in me.”

But okay, the World Cup in Indonesia. That didn’t go the way England expected it to because after surviving the group stage, the three lions lost the match against Uzbekistan in the first knock-out stage. "There was some laziness with us during that match because we conceded a goal within the first ten minutes. A defender started haggling and lost the ball, which caused them to be in front of me all of a sudden. I could block the first attempt but didn’t stand a chance against the rebound.” Setford and his team lost 1-2, and the tournament ended.

Despite that, the seventeen-year-old looks back at the World Cup positively. "Personally, I played a great tournament and got to show myself on a big stage. Things go very differently in Indonesia. People are lying in the streets, it’s very humid, and you hardly breathe fresh air”. The football experience was also different. “We played against Brazil in a stadium that could fit eighty thousand supporters. That stadium was half filled during our matches, so we played for around forty thousand people.”

However, Setford was not very impressed. "I must admit that I don’t focus on that. People always think it’s very strange when I say this, but I only focus on the match when I’m on the pitch. I don’t care if forty thousand or forty people are watching.” Of course, he has some healthy tension ahead of the match, but that doesn’t bother him. "Team members are always surprised I’m still singing in the dressing room ahead of the match, but I just see it as a normal match.”

Setford was supported by his father in Indonesia. "Only my father flew in; Charlie had to train and play at Ajax. My mother was working. If we had reached the final, she would have come too, but unfortunately, we didn’t make it that far.” After a group stage match against Iran, the Dutch Englishman could see his father in the stands. "I could see my father, but there was a lot of security and Indonesian fans standing before him. After a bit of pushing and pulling, I could hug him. That was a wonderful moment”, Setford says, smiling.

The moment in Indonesia shows the strong bond within the Setford family. This connection is not only with his parents but also with his older brother, Charlie. Although both brothers find themselves in a unique situation in the Ajax youth academy, they pursue their own paths. "People might think that we talk a lot about football and goalkeeping at home, but that's not really the case. We wish each other the best, but I want to ensure I am the best. Of course, we know that the moment when we become 'competitors' is approaching, but we don't discuss it much."

Even in terms of goalkeeping, the brothers have little to discuss at home. "Charlie is a very different goalkeeper than I am. We have similarities, of course, but he plays much more calculated. On the other hand, I play more based on intuition. Nevertheless, I often make the right choice when I'm in goal. It’s not like we analyse each other's matches at home. We acknowledge when the other has played well, but that's all.”

Now that Setford is back in the Netherlands after participating in the World Cup, his focus is on the competition with Ajax U18. "I had to adjust a bit when I came back; the weather in the Netherlands is very different from there. In the first few days, I felt quite dizzy and nauseous, but I've gotten used to it by now. I do feel a bit more tired after the training sessions here because I played almost every game for England. They let me skip training occasionally to prevent injuries. I do notice that difference."

At the beginning of his time with U18, the goalkeeper needed some time to adapt, but he is finding his spot in the team. "Especially in the build-up, I initially struggled to find the right solution quickly, but it's improving now. I hope to successfully complete my time with U18 this year so that I can make the move to Ajax U23 next season."

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