Frenkie De Jong speaks about growing up, playing with Lionel Messi, and Barcelona's Dutch influence.
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UEFA.com is running a series of UEFA Champions League Q&As every Friday in the coming weeks.
This week, it's a recent sitdown with Barcelona and Netherlands midfielder Frenkie de Jong.
UEFA.com: There have been so many famous Dutch players at Barcelona over the years – what do you know of them?
Frenkie de Jong: Since I started following football closely, there have not really been that many Dutch players at Barcelona. When I was very young there was Mark van Bommel and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, and later Ibrahim Afellay and Jasper Cillessen.
When I started following football closely though, I followed [Lionel] Messi and he is still the best. But there is a special connection between the Dutch and Barcelona as a club because many Dutch players were successful here.
Dutch people have a connection to Barcelona, and people here speak very positively of the Dutch. Ronald Koeman, who is our national team coach of course, is very famous here because of his winning goal in the European Cup final [in 1992]. And of course, Johan Cruyff is very important for the club.
What was it like when you first started training with Messi at Barcelona?
At first, it was strange because when I was 12, just in secondary school, he was already the best in the world. He was not an idol really, but I always found him to be the best player. He won the Ballon d'Or back then so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it. Now I get to play with him and that is definitely special.
How did it feel to grow up in the world of football with certain demands and restrictions, and a need for discipline?
I came into the professional youth academy at a young age, so I grew up with that. Of course, there are some sacrifices that need to be made. You are often away from home for a long time. When you are young, you get picked up by a van in the morning and come back late at night.
I have never felt that I have missed out on anything in my life. I have enjoyed almost every day and every moment. I would not want to do anything differently. I would have to go from my home to the club in a van which took about an hour and a half. We had to pick up three other boys on the way, but it was fun with those guys. I do not regret anything and I would not have done anything differently.
Tell us about last season, when things went very quickly – you became a starting player and then were five seconds away from the Champions League final.
Yes, last season was amazing. We had to start in the third qualifying stage of the Champions League, we had to survive that to even qualify. That went well so we were happy to have made it to the group stage. Then we went through, eliminated Real Madrid which surprised everyone, and then Juventus.
That match against Tottenham, I must admit that I have not completely got over it. Not that I think about it every day, but speaking about it like we are doing right now, or when I watch clips from the match, it gives me goosebumps sometimes. It would have been a great and unique opportunity to win the Champions League, or play the final, with Ajax.
It was a fantastic season for you and for Ajax, but also for Dutch football in general.
I do not think people expected that, as the Dutch league doesn't compare to the big five leagues. People did not expect that a Dutch club to ever go that far, that one could potentially reach a final. We did not make it to the final, but almost. It was a big surprise for everyone and I think Dutch football did well, also in the coefficients. It brought back the belief that it is still possible.
How big is Johan Cruyff's influence at Barcelona?
It is huge. You really notice that, when you talk to people about football, it comes up quickly when you are Dutch. They credit him for playing a large part in how Barcelona is perceived now. His vision for football has had a major impact here. They are eternally grateful to him.
Ajax and Barcelona are comparable in that respect. Cruyff has had a big influence on both clubs. You notice it in terms of playing from the back, well-organised game, 4-3-3, those types of things. I don't want to say he made the club, but the people are very respectful about him because he started the philosophy at Barcelona which is still here.
How are you doing personally? Have you found your place?
I have found my place, I feel at home here, at the club, in the team, in the city, where I live. I definitely feel at home. I play a lot which is good, but I do believe I can do a lot better.
What if you become the next Dutch player to win the Champions League with Barcelona? Unless I am mistaken, there are very few. Perhaps only Ronald Koeman, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Mark van Bommel.
That is possible. It is not as if a club wins the Champions League every year, it is very difficult to win. I do not know what it would feel like, as I have never won it, but it would be wonderful. The main reason I came to Barcelona is that I think it is an amazing club. I have always felt that I wanted to play for them. A nice benefit is that you have a good chance with Barcelona to win the Champions League.
This interview was conducted in September 2019.