Siem de Jong Given Chance to Turn Page on Chequered Injury History at Sydney FC

Siem de Jong Given Chance to Turn Page on Chequered Injury History at Sydney FC

Monday, 10 September, 2018 - 09:45
Siem de Jong heads to Sydney FC to turn page on injury history. (AFP)
London - Louise Taylor
Steve McClaren was attending a funeral and his phone had remained switched off for some time. When Newcastle United’s then manager turned the device back on, a string of increasingly desperate messages urged him to get in touch.

He called back. “There’s been a freak accident at the training ground, it looks bad,” reported the voice on the other end of the line.” McClaren wondered “who?” before quickly adding: “Oh no, not again. What on earth has happened to Siem now?”

As he pointed his car towards Newcastle’s Royal Infirmary, McClaren learned that another player had caught Siem de Jong in an eye. The initial prognosis from the RVI’s eye unit was that the former Ajax and Holland playmaker could lose sight in it.

Happily such fears were eventually allayed – although it took an operation followed by some months of blurred vision before all was right again – but that episode merely confirmed a growing suspicion. It seemed De Jong’s body was designed more for a leading role in an emergency room TV drama than wearing Newcastle’s No. 10 shirt. If someone ever attempts to identify the unluckiest man in football, the Dutchman will inevitably make the shortlist.

During his three years in the Premier League, De Jong made only 22 first team appearances, scoring one goal. He was also sidelined for some months with a collapsed lung – the second of his career – which raised all sorts of uncomfortable questions about his body’s suitability for elite level professional football.

The overwhelming frustration is that De Jong – who also suffered a torn thigh in England – is most certainly blessed with the brain, guile, technical excellence and, above all, vision to change games.

During a pre-season friendly for Newcastle against Hearts in Scotland he provided a perfect cameo of his art. After controlling a dropping ball, De Jong swivelled sharply, confusing his minder with an 180 degree spin before bisecting the opposition defense courtesy of a perfectly weighted pass for Dwight Gayle to run onto. The delivery was so good that the striker’s connection proved seamless, enabling Gayle to unleash a first-time, scoring, shot.

When McClaren’s predecessor, Alan Pardew signed De Jong on a six-year contract, he talked of re-constructing his entire team and re-vamping his tactical blueprint around the playmaker. Blessed with an eye for goal and an uncanny knack of joining the on-pitch dots and linking play, De Jong was hyped as both a gloriously subtle “Dutch Master” and “the new Teddy Sheringham”.

By the time Rafael Benítez succeeded McClaren such analogies were all but forgotten. Like Pardew, Benítez spoke warmly, and wistfully of De Jong’s “quality” but concluded he was simply too fragile for the rigours of English football.

Benítez likes playing with a No. 10 but it spoke volumes when one of the world’s leading coaches opted to deploy other, infinitely less gifted, players out of position in that role, while offloading the one member of his squad surely born to serve as a trequartista.

“I’m disappointed about the last few years,” said De Jong on departing Newcastle in 2017. “The lung and the eye were a bit scary but I want to write a new story now.”

A loan move to PSV Eindhoven was followed by a “permanent” return transfer to Ajax who, in turn, have now transported their once all-conquering captain to the other side of the world for the next chapter of his story.

Sydney FC, coach Steve Corica and the A-League can only trust that a new climate will finally allow De Jong’s body to catch up with a brain which is invariably a good yard quicker than anyone else’s on almost any football pitch he steps onto.

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