The centre-back joined us at the Jazz Café in Sandbanks to discuss his laid-back nature amongst the hectic world of the Premier League.
You seem to be one of the calmest footballers around, where does that nature in you come from?
It’s hard to say, you know. I’ve been brought up really well by my parents and that’s just the person I am. I think I’m the sort of person who’s not always in the foreground, I’m behind people and trying to learn from them, seeing what’s going on. I’m not a person who the main attention is on, but I don’t know why that is.
In your family, do you have brothers and sisters, and are you the loud or the quiet one?
I have one brother, and he’s the loud one and I’m more the quiet one, so maybe that’s part of it. Basically, my brother is a copy image of my mum and I’m a copy image of my dad and my dad’s a little bit quieter as well, so I think we’re a little bit similar that way.
Has your dad been a big footballing influence on your career?
Yeah, he gets very emotional and he’s very involved in football. He loves football himself, so we always used to play football outside, with my brother as well. For my mum it’s sometimes difficult because there are three men in the house who just want to play football and watch football, but she’s got into it now as well.
What are your dad and brother like in terms of watching your games, do they criticise you?
Yeah, they do. They know a lot about football and my brother played as well, they say the right things, they try to help and not put too much pressure on me, although that’s difficult because they’re always on me. They always watch the games and my dad always wants me to do so well that sometimes he has to leave the room – too much pressure for him!
You’re calm most of the time, but what irritates you? Either in football or away from it…
In football it’s when we lose, I hate that. Outside of football? Nah, I’m quite easy going. Sometimes my missus, it’s hard for her because when I met her everything was straight but I was a bit more laid back. She’s had to adapt to me a little bit and I think she has over the years.
Does that mean she has to nag you around the house?
Ooof, yeah! To be fair, she does a lot for me so I can’t complain. Over the last few years I’ve tried to be more productive in the house and tried to do more stuff because sometimes I get too lazy.
What was it like for you at 16 and coming to Chelsea? That must have been a huge change for you.
I was really excited when I came over, it was a new country and new challenge without my parents. My brother came too but he lived alone and I just saw him at the weekends, but I liked it so much. It was such a big thing in my career, I learned so much from it, but I was already quite independent anyway.
When I was 13 I went to Feyenoord and I had to take the train there every day, stay there the whole day and then come back again at night and do the same the day after. I was quite independent at a young age and already doing many things that maybe some people don’t do. I felt confident coming to England when I was 16, it’s only been big positives so far.
Where does that confidence come from, is it that you’re good enough to be at Chelsea, good enough to be brought to London?
It’s not even confidence, I think I like challenges. If you don’t do it and something goes bad you’re going to think ‘I should have just gone for it’, and I didn’t want that feeling. That was one of the main reasons that I came, I wanted to take the opportunity and take the challenges, then I can’t say afterwards that I didn’t do it and ask why not. Luckily it went good.
Then you went from London, one of the biggest cities in Europe, to Bournemouth, which has a very different sort of pace. How have you fitted in here?
I like it really a lot, the life is different, it’s much more busy in London and it’s much more quiet here, but I like it. We have a little dog, me and my missus, we walk the dog at the beach, also with Ryan Fraser and Dan Gosling we walk the dogs as well. There are things to do, it’s not like London where you can have dinners and all those kind of things, but the normal life for me here is perfect.
The successful players we’ve had here at Bournemouth have seemed to fit, and you seem to fit with us as well, would you agree with that?
I think the whole team is very professional, everyone wants to do the right thing and the new players want to do that straight away and everyone is helping each other and pushing each other to do the right things.
On the training pitch every day we work so hard, the intensity’s so high, but the manager demands that of us, that’s what’s making us grow every year. We learn so much from the manager and it’s been a good step for me to come here, to learn from him and from the team as well. It’s a great team and the lads are very good with each other, that’s quite unique, and I’m just enjoying it.
Having watched the manager as a player, he reminds me of you. Maybe he wasn’t the tallest, the strongest but he was rarely beaten and read the game so well, have you heard this comparison often?
He’s said to me a few times that he was in a similar position to me and also with the same ‘problems’ as me, not the biggest, not the tallest, so you have to play the game a bit differently. We talk about that sometimes and what he thinks, it’s funny that you say that as well.
Were you like that as a young lad, knowing you needed to read the game better than other players?
I think so, and because I played in different positions I learned the game from every position and learned to deal with stuff. I developed different things, I can jump quite high maybe, and do other things – I just try to be me, I don’t look at other people, I just try to learn from the gaffer and make myself better where I can.
In terms of those positions, you were a left-back at Watford, you first came here as a midfielder, are you now definitely a centre-back?
I’m enjoying it as a centre-back, in the last few seasons I’ve learned so much and I’m still learning. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve had good games, so up and down obviously, but it’s a position I keep learning. When the opportunity comes to play a different position I’m not going to say I don’t want to play it but at the moment centre-back is probably the main one.
We’ve seen you in other roles this season, how did it feel to go back to those other positions?
Having played them so many times before it makes it a little bit easier but the positions are completely different. At Chelsea in the cup I was in midfield and fitness-wise and everything it was different from centre-back.
You have to adjust but I enjoy the opportunities in other positions as well and try to learn from them.
At Chelsea you were probably a smaller fish in a bigger pond, but now here you’ve quickly become one of the main men. How hard has that been to adjust to?
It’s quite easy. At Chelsea I was a young player, looking up to the other players and trying to learn from them and see how they deal with stuff on the pitch and off the pitch, that helped me so much coming here.
Over the last few years I’ve played a lot of games and I think I still have a lot of things I have to develop, trying to be more of an influence on and off the pitch with talking, trying to help people and making sure the team is on it. I’ve been working on that this season, there’s still lots of work to do but I’m working on it.
I guess your last challenge was to prove yourself in the Premier League, what’s your next challenge?
It’s hard to say, every year you want your stats to be better and to try to improve as a player. Every game you play 100% and try to become better as a player. Every year you get more experience, that’s exactly what I need and at the moment I’m just enjoying the football.
The team is doing well and every year you have new challenges, this year we had challenges through December time and had to ask ‘How do we come out of it, how do I come out of it?’ after a few bad games. You learn from that every time and I need to keep doing that and see what happens.
You often have a smile on your face and it seems like after all the hard work you’ve done to get to where you are, you appreciate being here now…
That’s true, I try to enjoy it as much as I can because my whole life I’ve been working hard for it. There are a lot of things that people don’t see, you do the hard work and a lot of people, like your family, do stuff for you – my brother came all the way to England to help me so when it’s going well you just have to enjoy it.
Even in the tough times I try to change this as well, in the tough times in the last two seasons or so, like when we’ve lost at home I used to stay in the house and not come out and be seen. Now I’m trying to change that mentality and try to leave the game behind, obviously reflect on it but then try to move on.
And we have the beautiful beach at Sandbanks behind us, that’s not a bad place to go…
Yeah, that’s true, very true!