CARSON, Calif. – Since an early age, Nigel de Jong has been drawn to the United States.
Throughout his storied career in Europe, the 31-year-old Dutchman has looked to the United States for inspiration and entertainment.
Whether it was watching his hero Charles Barkley as a child or waking up in the early morning on Sundays to watch his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, the midfielder has been to the sports culture in the United States.
His passion for American sports culture was one of the reasons why de Jong jumped at the chance to join the LA Galaxy after finding himself on the outs with A.C. Milan in recent months.
“[The last six months] were difficult because it was the first time in my career that it happened to me. I’ve always been a regular and a starter throughout my career,” de Jong said during Tuesday's introductory press conference. “You have to deal with that as well; you can’t do anything about it. It was between the coach and me. I couldn’t do anything than just waiting for my moment. Now I’m here, and I’m happy to get a chance overseas in a country that I really prefer.”
“I think that it helped a lot that I’m still a fan of the sport culture. Since I was young, I always watched the different sports and enjoyed the way that America embraces sports are way different than Europe. I liked that,” he added. “I came here a couple of times for holidays and my rehab [in 2013], and I had a good feeling of how the culture really is. That’s why I always said that if I had the opportunity to come to America, then I would do it. Luckily, the opportunity came, and it was first on my list even though I had other European offers.”
Like other players before him who have made the move from Europe to The States, the chance to live the American lifestyle was appealing for the two-time World Cup veteran. Despite major offers from Europe, De Jong saw his chance to move to the U.S. as the “total package.”
“You see what the United States can offer you apart from playing football as well. The lifestyle, the way people think about sports in general. Not only soccer, but there are also so many sports out here. It’s why the culture is so big,” he said. “I always wanted to experience that. I played in four countries already, and my next step has always been America. I always wanted to play soccer in America. How good is it that I can be here still in my prime and be a big asset and a big part of a team like the LA Galaxy, the biggest team in America?”
Already a fan of the NFL and NBA, de Jong is no stranger to Major League Soccer either, having kept a close eye on the league during his final years in Europe. Having finally made the move to America, de Jong is eager for the opportunity to immerse himself in a sports culture that he has long admired.
“I’ve been a big sports fan since I was little. That made it easier for me because I love American sports, I always followed them in Europe,” de Jong said with a smile. “It was difficult to follow because it was always during the night, lot of the games, but I would stay up and watch those games. I’m a big fan; I’m glad I don’t have to stay up so late anymore.”
Now that he’s in Southern California, will de Jong renounce his Steelers and support the newly named Los Angeles Rams? Only time will tell.
“We have an NFL team here now, you've got to be careful,” Galaxy boss Bruce Arena told his new midfielder.
“I know, I know,” de Jong admitted. “They’re not in St. Louis anymore.”