Mainz pulled off one of the signings of the winter transfer window in bolting down Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong. The 33-year-old was an English Premier League champion with Manchester City as well as a FIFA FIFA World Cup finalist with the Netherlands, but what else is there to know about the Amsterdam-born enforcer?
bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the decorated defensive midfielder…
Born to a Surinamese father and a Dutch-Indonesian mother, De Jong will line up for his seventh club across six different countries if he makes his Mainz debut against Hannover at the HDI Arena next Saturday afternoon as expected. De Jong already counts Ajax, Hamburg, Manchester City, AC Milan, LA Galaxy and Galatasaray on his footballing resume, and has won league titles in the Netherlands and England along the way.
2) International nearly man
A stalwart of the Netherlands national team from 2004 to 2015, De Jong featured in six of the Oranje’s seven games at the FIFA 2010 World Cup, helping his side to the final against Spain. The Dutch lost 1-0 to the Spanish in Johannesburg, with De Jong lucky to stay on the pitch after a dangerous challenge on future Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso. “Having seen it again from my armchair, I would red-card him,” said English referee Howard Webb after the game. “I don’t regret anything,” was De Jong’s impenitent reaction. The midfielder also helped his nation to third place at the 2014 competition, which a Bundesliga-infused Germany won.
3) NFL fan
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a battling midfielder who earned the nickname der Rasenmäher, or the the Lawnmower, during his spell at Hamburg, De Jong’s favourite sport away from the beautiful game is football of the American variety. “I’m a big NFL fan”, he said on signing for the Galaxy soon after the Rams moved back to Southern California from St. Louis in 2015. “In Europe it’s a bit difficult because it’s during the night.” A Pittsburgh Steelers fan, De Jong nonetheless petitioned for former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. to be recognised as the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2016.
4) Originally an attacking midfielder…
De Jong may have long since earned a reputation as one of the most feared midfield enforcers in world football, but he began his career much further up the pitch. De Jong played just shy of 100 games at first club Ajax, winning the Dutch Eredivisie title in 2004 as well as the Johan Cruyff Shield and AFC Ajax Player of the Year in 2005, but he did so as a creative midfielder and even a forward. It wasn’t until 2007 that he was converted at Hamburg under the watchful eye of compatriot Huub Stevens. Back-to-back European finishes for the Bundesliga’s only ever-present club followed.
5) A knack for important goals
With 10 years of shielding the defence under his belt, De Jong has nonetheless reached 21 senior professional goals. Quality, not quantity, is De Jong’s modus operandi, though. He scored his first ever goal at the age of 18, ensuring a 1-1 draw for Ajax against Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League; sealed HSV’s winner when they inflicted upon Bayern their first ever defeat in the Allianz Arena in March 2006; bagged his first and only international tally against Iceland to book the Netherlands’ ticket to South Africa in 2010; and scored the winner for Milan against Inter in the Derby della Madonnina in May 2014.
6) He can pass too
De Jong played 21 times as Manchester City ended their 44-year wait for the English league title in 2012, but he arguably enjoyed his best season in light blue the previous year, when he finished the campaign with a 90 percent pass completion, outstripping the likes of Luka Modric – then of Tottenham Hotspur – and the Croatian’s former North London rival at Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas.
7) In the blood
Nigel’s father Jerry was also a footballer who played in defensive midfield, most notably for PSV Eindhoven. Whilst he didn’t scale the same heights as his son, De Jong senior did represent the Netherlands three times. The pair were estranged around the time De Jong junior joined the Ajax youth academy aged eight, but they built bridges when the younger became a father himself in 2009. “As a little boy I saw my dad as my absolute idol,” recalled the new Mainz man. “I would watch his football games on video for hours on TV. I called my dad after I had become a father and soon he was stood there on my doorstep. I needed him there. We’re all the same blood.”
8) Remember the date
Born on 30 November 1984, De Jong shares a birthdate with the first ever international football match, contested between Scotland and England at Hamilton Park Crescent in Glasgow back in 1872. Gary Lineker, winner of the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup and now the presenter of Match of Day, was also born on this day in 1960, while his first day was Evel Knieval’s last in 2007 – the American stuntman who passed away at 69 after a daring career that would have made even De Jong wince.
9) Wheeler-dealer with a difference
Away from the pitch, De Jong is also the co-founder and CEO of Continental Cars, a specialist car dealership based in Hamburg which boasts Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Aston Martins among its stock, and fellow professional footballers as well as Gulf state oil sheikhs as clients. Wife Winonah opened a fashion line when the couple were in Milan after De Jong’s encouragement, too. “Some people say footballers are thick and not bright enough to be entrepreneurs,” said De Jong. “But when I see that a company has potential, I move the borders and go all the way for it.”
10) Yet grounded
He may have enjoyed a glittering sporting career, with a business one that seems set to follow, but De Jong remains as humble as they come. One bundesliga.com correspondent shared a flight with the player from Manchester to Munich in 2012. De Jong flew economy class, with priority boarding the only extra he was compelled to order. In terms of ability, experience and attitude, Mainz may just have signed the very man they need to motor away from the relegation places in the Rückrunde.