When Hamburger SV host PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, the German club's jet-heeled Dutch winger Eljero Elia can be expected to provide his usual repertoire of skills, speed, goals and creativity.
But by the time the Bundesliga side face the Dutch league leaders, Elia will also have been able to provide a good deal of background information on PSV. Prior to moving to Germany last summer, Elia had spent his entire youth and professional career in Dutch football.
He played for ADO Den Haag, AFC Ajax and FC Twente, during which he emerged unbeaten from numerous encounters with PSV. While Hamburg will hope Elia has brought that good fortune with him, the 23-year-old will also be able to provide inside knowledge on the man who shaped him at Twente, current PSV coach Fred Rutten.
"Fred Rutten made me into the player I am now," Elia explained to UEFA.com. "Sure, I had to do it myself too, but he helped me with a push in the right direction. He brought me into the big world, and told me repeatedly, 'Watch out for this, watch out for that'. Everything he told me helped make me a better footballer.
"Now, despite that, I have to do my best to put him and PSV out of the Europa League. I have to do my job. Also, my record with Twente is very good. I never lost against PSV in the two years I played there. Whenever I played against them, they always had big problems with me, which is why – when I was leaving – PSV made an offer and approached my agent to talk with me."
It was Hamburg, though, who emerged victorious in the competitive race for Elia's signature. Given how tough a struggle his Dutch peers, Royston Drenthe and Ryan Babel, have had to establish themselves at Real Madrid CF and Liverpool FC respectively, it seems Elia chose well.
Before the Bundesliga's winter break, the fleet-footed winger had managed 22 games, six goals and seven assists in all competitions, while his form with his club has made him a regular for his country since making his international debut last September.
"People helped me a lot with this choice, but the main thing is that I have a lot of confidence in myself. Also, having Romeo [Castelen] and Joris [Mathijsen] here as fellow Dutchmen helps. I want to learn from everyone, and they always point me in the right direction."
Nevertheless, Elia is aware the pressure on him and his team-mates is about to be ratcheted up a few notches. Hamburg is the host city for the inaugural UEFA Europa League Final, and expectation is rising that the home team can make it to that glory day on May 12.
"Yes, everyone in the city wants us to make the final and we want to shock all the teams across UEFA by competing in the final in our own stadium," he grins. "It's all in our own hands, and we'll give everything to make it.
"If we stay 100 per cent fit, then we have a very strong team with a lot of experience. But let's start with the games against PSV. When they come to Hamburg, it's going to be a really great night for me, my family and all the players."
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