Tahith Chong has been called the "Curaçao Arjen Robben" and rubbed shoulders with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Manchester United, but now he's ready to plot his own course with Werder Bremen.
bundesliga.com sat down with the promising 20-year-old winger for an exclusive interview…
Chong: “Yeah, obviously I just love to watch football. I watch every single game that’s on TV. I’ve seen them play a couple times – not only last year but I think even before that. I think they had a couple of Dutch players in the past who also played here. So, of course I have looked at them a couple of times.”
bundesliga.com: You have been in England for the last few years, and before that the Netherlands, but that's not where your story began…
Chong: “So, I was born in Curaçao. It’s a small island in the Caribbean. Obviously, that’s home for me. That’s where all my family and everyone is. Then, when I was eight, I moved to Holland and then got to play at Feyenoord Rotterdam from eight until I was 16. And obviously from 16 I moved to Manchester. But I think Curaçao, if you look at it on Google, it speaks for itself. Obviously, a beautiful island with sea and everything. It’s amazing. Some people call it 'Cura-dise'.”
bundesliga.com: Is it true that as a young kid you didn’t really like football? When did that change?
Chong: “So, it was the 2006 World Cup. Before that, I never watched football. My dad was a football player also in Curaçao, he played a couple of years also in Holland. He lived in Holland in his younger years. So, my dad is a football freak. Everything for him is football, football. He always used to ask me when I was like five or six, ‘come play football, come watch me play, you can play also’. I was always like ‘no, that’s not my sport, I don’t like it at all’. I think 2006, because the World Cup in Curaçao is big. Everyone watches it, the whole environment, you know football is on. So, I remember the 2006 World Cup – that was the first time I watched football. I was watching the final, it was France against Italy. I don’t know why but I was for France in the final. I remember when Zidane headbutted Materazzi, and I remember after the game I was crying because France lost. I didn’t know anything about football at the time. After the World Cup, I was like to my dad, ‘yeah, I want to play football’. Obviously from him knowing in the past couple of months, years, that I didn’t like football – he didn’t believe me. So, he was waiting to see whether this was a one-day thing, where he’s asking to play football and then stops. Months went by and I was still asking – ‘I want to play football’. After a while, it was my mum that told him ‘let the boy play football’. That’s where it all started, I think.”
bundesliga.com: At the age of eight you left Curaçao for a trial in the Netherlands, how did that come about?
Chong: “So, after a year or two playing football, I think my dad saw ‘okay, he can play football’. Like I said before, he used to live in Holland, so he kind of knew how Holland was in football and stuff. During the period, a couple of months before, he went to Holland to look at the level, see how they play over there and stuff and he came back and was like ‘yeah, I think my son can play there’. So, through my dad’s nephew, we got a trial through John de Wolf, a legend at Feyenoord. He actually arranged for me to go on a trial there. I think I was on trial for two months or so, and then after that Feyenoord said: ‘we’ll take you’. I think I went back to Curaçao to finish my school that year. After I finished, my mum and dad and me, we all moved to Holland, obviously.”
bundesliga.com: In Rotterdam they called you ‘the Curaçao Arjen Robben’ – how much of an honour is that?
Chong: “I think it’s a big honour. Obviously, Arjen Robben is a big, big player. When I used to be small, I used to look up to him and liked his game. I think I’ve mentioned before, the players that I used to look up to were Arjen Robben, Ryan Giggs and Lionel Messi. So, to have that honour is big but I have got massive, massive steps to take before I can get to that level. From my side, it’s something you look forward to, keep developing as a player. But, like I said, I have loads of steps to take in my development to finally get there. But Arjen Robben was one of the best wingers in his time, in his prime. So, for me there is a long way to go. But obviously honoured as a player to have that mention.”
Watch: Robben's Top 5 goals for Bayern Munich!
bundesliga.com: How difficult was it moving from Curaçao to the Netherlands at such a young age?
Chong: “I think, especially my mum and dad helped, because they moved also. As a young lad, you don’t realise all the sacrifices your parents make. They made it easy for me. Obviously as a young boy, you don’t understand everything that’s going on. You just want to play football. They helped me to just focus on that football. And I think everything aside from that, they were dealing with it them two. As a young boy, you don’t understand. But now that I am older, you understand all the sacrifices and all the things they have done for me to be here where I am now. Massive shout out to my parents.”
bundesliga.com: The next step was signing for Manchester United at the age of 16. What did that move mean to you and what went through your mind when you signed?
Chong: “I think it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world. So, at that age, you just want to do your best. As much as you want to do your best and everything, you’re just happy, it’s a proud moment. Not only for me, but like I said, my family and my parents. For all the sacrifices, to see me keep making steps in the football world, it’s nice. So, it’s nothing but good for me.”
bundesliga.com: At one point you were training with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. What was that like?
Chong: “At Manchester United, at that time, I think I was just 16 or 17. But if they needed a player or something, then I think once or twice I trained with them. Then after a while, he remembered my face, so would come across in the gym and would speak to me every once in a while. Yeah, so once or twice I trained with the first team lads. Obviously, he’s a big leader, on and off the pitch. Every once in a while, because he can speak a bit of Dutch still, he used to play at Ajax also, so off the pitch he used to try to help me and speak to me on stuff I can maybe improve. So, that definitely helped also, he has been a help.”
bundesliga.com: What are your goals and ambitions with Werder Bremen?
Chong: “I think most of the time I like to speak as a team, rather than just myself. I think as a team, this year we want to perform well, do the best we can and try to win games. As a footballer, once you step on the pitch, you want to win every game you play in. But, like I said, as a team, we just want to improve this year and keep improving game by game. Like I said, we will just look at it game by game and try to do our best in those games.”
bundesliga.com: Bremen were almost relegated last season, was that a factor when you were deciding whether or not to come here?
Chong: “No, like I said, I watched some of the games. I think they had 11, 12 players injured at one point. So, they had loads of injuries last year also. So, I think it’s hard to judge a team that has loads of injuries. Other than that, every season is a different season. Once I had spoken to the coach and the players here, you get a feeling for the club. You don’t think about what happened last season. You just want to improve this year and enjoy the football.”
bundesliga.com: You must have settled in pretty quickly here as you have already scored three pre-season goals for Bremen?
Chong: “Yeah, once your teammates help you off the pitch, it makes it easier on the pitch to play your game, help the team and play as a team. Off the pitch, like I said, they helped me settle in. Everyone came to speak to me straight away, which helped massively on the pitch.”
bundesliga.com: Who is your best buddy on this Werder team and why?
Chong: “I think best buddy up until now has been Felix [Agu]. I think first day I came in I was in the room with him also. Kind of the same age as me, so same taste and everything. Watching the same things, same music taste. I think we clicked straight away, which again made it easier.”
bundesliga.com: What would you like to achieve as a professional football player at club and international level?
Chong: “I think as a player everyone would say that same thing. Everyone dreams of playing in the Champions League, the World Cup. For everyone, the answer will probably be the same. But I think from where I am now in my career, it’s a bit of a hard one to answer because obviously you’re so focussed on this season and so focussed on doing the best for my team and developing as a player. So, for now, the complete focus is on this season and after you see what happens as a player and you see how you develop. But, for now, I think the focus is completely on this season.”
bundesliga.com: What has been the best moment of your life so far?
Chong: “I think overall everything that makes me happy has to do with my family. Seeing my mum and dad smile, seeing my mum and dad happy, or even my brothers and sisters happy. For me, that’s it. Tick, done. That’s the most important thing for me. Football wise, it would probably be the Champions League game against PSG, when United won the tie. Football wise, the most beautiful moment I have had probably.”
bundesliga.com: What has been the most difficult moment of your life so far?
Chong: “Probably when I was injured. I did my ACL, my knee. That was six months into when I got to Manchester. I turned 17 in December and first game back from Christmas, first game back I did my ACL. I think they call it in German Kreuzband. I was out for 10 months. I think that was probably the most difficult. Obviously as a footballer, when you’re injured, especially for that long, and going into the club and seeing your friends always going out to play football and you’re not able to. I think it’s tough. But as a footballer, you have to deal with it and during that period I think I learned a lot – on and off the pitch. It’s helped me a lot to develop me into the person, not only the footballer, but the person I am today.”