IT says everything about the high standards Rav van den Berg sets for himself that the Dutch defender only deems his first season at Middlesbrough as "pretty good".

In his first year in English football, the centre-half - who is not yet 20 - started 33 of Boro's 46 Championship games, captained Michael Carrick's side and cleaned up at the club's end of season awards.

Boro had high hopes for van den Berg when he arrived from PEC Zwolle last summer but he's exceeded expectations by establishing himself so impressively and so quickly.

Well, maybe not his own.

"Did it exceed my expectations? I was hoping it would go as it did, let’s put it that way," says the confident teenager.

It's no secret that van den Berg was very much in-demand last summer, with some of Europe's biggest clubs chasing the defender.

The reason he opted to move to Boro rather than the likes of Dortmund, AC Milan or Ajax was because he valued the importance of regular football. Carrick's side fell short this season in their bid to win promotion to the Premier League, but van den Berg - who won the club's Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year prizes - says he knows he made the right call in joining Boro last summer.


"In my first season I’ve won two trophies, which is amazing," he said.

"Of course, there have been a few ups and downs, but we ended the season quite well. Some things can go better, 100%. But if I look at the season overall, I am okay with it.

"It’s a new experience for me in the Championship. In Holland, it’s always all about playing football - ball on the ground, no long balls. Here it’s more like what I would describe as ‘real football’ - long balls, physically demanding. The positive thing for me is that, for my age, I’m quite big and tall. So I had that going for me.

"Of course, in the beginning, I had to adjust a little bit. Things are a little bit different here and you have to play a bit smarter, using your body and stuff like that. I feel like I’ve learned a lot and I’m used to the league now. I’m really happy with the decision I made to come here and I’m really happy here right now."

He added: “When I first arrived, the team had a great end to last season. Unfortunately they didn’t manage to go up, which was bad luck. For me, then arriving into that setup, of course I know my own abilities, but you can’t come straight into a team like that, particularly when I’m so young as well. So there was doubts about how much I would play, but I knew I had to just come and show my ability. I think I did that quite well."

Van den Berg impressively demonstrated his versatility, covering at both right and left-back, but it's in the heart of the backline where he's most comfortable and shone in the second half of the season. In the final months of the campaign, he was partnered by Matt Clarke, and with both Darragh Lenihan and Dael Fry set to return from long-term injuries for the start of pre-season, Boro are well stocked in the centre of defence ahead of next season.

Van den Berg has made a big impression on Boro's fans in his first season on Teesside - and vice-versa.

“I think they like me, and I like them back," he said,

"In the game they are so passionate and support us really loudly. After the games too though, they stay to meet you and it shows how much they like you and how much they love the club. It’s different here to what I’m used to. It’s more like a connection, like a family. I’m really happy to have their support and to receive their votes for the award means so much."