WHEN Newcastle United’s World Cup players returned to training following their extended summer break, there was one thing new arrival Siem de Jong was determined to do before anything else.
Picking up the ball and placing it on the penalty spot, the Dutchman instructed his compatriot, Tim Krul, to get ready in the goalmouth.
A month or so earlier, Krul had captivated a worldwide audience as he came off the substitutes’ bench in the final minute of extra-time during Holland’s World Cup quarter-final with Costa Rica and produced two decisive penalty saves to send his side through on spot-kicks.
At the time, de Jong had been cheering himself hoarse with a group of fellow Dutch supporters, but having joined Krul in the Magpies ranks after making a £7.5m move from Ajax, the 25-year-old was determined to bring his new colleague back down to earth with a bang.
“I was looking forward to Tim getting back, and the first thing I was always going to do was take a penalty against him,” said de Jong, who was a surprise omission from the Dutch World Cup squad given that he had won the Eredivisie title with Ajax in each of the last four seasons.
“After everything that happened in the World Cup, I’m sure he probably thinks he’s unbeatable at penalties, but I had to show him different and bring him back down to earth a bit.
“It’s been a great summer to be a Dutch football fan. It was a great run in Brazil, and fantastic to watch. I had to have a couple of late nights because of the penalties, but it was worth it to see the team play so well.
“I suffered a little bit when I had to get up the next morning, but I don’t think anyone expected them to get as far as they did. To get third place was fantastic and I thought it was a really great achievement.”
Newcastle have gained a reputation as something of a French finishing school in recent years, with Graham Carr’s contacts on the other side of the Channel resulting in a succession of signings from Ligue 1.
However, with de Jong and Krul being joined by Vurnon Anita and another summer signing, Daryl Janmaat, there will be a strong Dutch quartet battling for firstteam honours this season.
Patrick Kluivert was Newcastle’s most high profile Dutch import prior to the latest influx from the Eredivisie, but whereas the striker was coming towards the end of his career when he turned up on Tyneside, the latest crop of talent should be approaching the peak of their combined powers.
Traditionally, Dutch players have done well in the Premier League, with a tradition of producing technically accomplished footballers arguably giving those moving from Holland an edge over their English equivalents, who have been schooled in a culture that often overlooks the importance of core skills.
“In Dutch football, we tend to keep possession for a much longer time and you see a lot more of the ball and learn how to deal with it,” said de Jong, who made an instant impression as he scored with a fantastic long-range strike in his first friendly appearance at Oldham last month.
“You also tend to have a bit more time to rest.
“Teams wait a little bit longer for their chances, but here in England it goes up and down, up and down, and it also tends to be a bit more physical too.
“You have to think faster and move faster over here.
But it’s good for me to be able to play over here and improve those types of things. Hopefully, I can improve myself and also help the team.”
Having been offered a range of options when he decided to leave Ajax, de Jong consulted a number of close friends before agreeing to join Newcastle.
In particular, he spoke extensively with Tottenham duo Jan Vertonghen and Cristian Eriksen, who both recommended a move to the North-East.
“I spoke to some of the guys I’ve known down the years, and they were all really positive about playing in the Premier League,” he said.
“I spoke to Jan and Cristian because I played with them for a long time at Ajax and trust what they have to say.
“I used to hang out with them outside of football, and they said I would enjoy living and playing in England, although they warned me it would be really fast here, with more running and more getting up and down the pitch.
“It’s going to be a little bit different, but hopefully I can bring a bit of my own style to English football and play some good games.”