The Thomas Vermaelen interview: part one
Earlier this year Walter Broeckx approached Arsenal FC with a request for an interview with Thomas Vermaelen, who is not only a compatriot of Walter’s but also from the same part of the country.
Arsenal were incredibly helpful in arranging the interview, and this interview which was conducted (naturally) in Flemish is now on the Arsenal Benelux web site. Walter very kindly granted Untold the exclusive rights to the interview in English.
For the benefit of those of us unfamiliar with Flemish culture, Flemish football, and the Antwerp area of Belgium the article starts with a brief review by Walter of the region and Vermaelen’s early career and how this fits into what we know of him at Arsenal.
Thomas Vermaelen was born on 14 November 1985 in Kapellen.
But he lived in Stabroek when he was a kid with his family; a little town situated in the shadow of Antwerp, the “capital” of Flanders.
Antwerp is one of the biggest harbours in Europe. If you look from Stabroek in the direction of Antwerp you can see the gigantic harbour facilities and factories that bring work to the region.
He started his football career for Germinal Ekeren, a town near Stabroek and a near neighbour of Antwerp. Germinal Ekeren then merged with Beerschot and the new team for whom he played was named Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen. He then went to Ajax and after a short loan spell in RKC, also in Holland, he made it to the first team of Ajax. He became a captain in the Ajax side and then he joined Arsenal in the summer of 2009.
From there on the rest of the story is mostly known to us. The scepticism of many fans that he was too short to play for us changed into admiration after a few weeks. Yes, he was only 1,81 meter tall (or short) but his ability to jump, his attitude and his scoring ability silenced all the early critics. For his killer look and his goal scoring record he soon got his nickname : The Verminator.
Walter Broeckx: When you were a kid was it football morning , noon and night from the moment you could walk, or did you get involved in other sports when you were young?
Thomas Vermaelen: It was mostly football I must admit. I used to play with my brother and a nephew of mine. But I also liked to play table tennis when I was a kid.
WB: Were you one of those kids that when school was finished you threw the satchel in the hallway and took the ball back out?
TV: No, not really because school was also very important.
WB: According to official data you started playing at Germinal Ekeren in your childhood. Is this true? Have you never played for a local team in Stabroek?
TV: No I never played for the local team in Stabroek, Germinal Ekeren was my first club.
(Note: Germinal Ekeren was a first division team in those days. Stabroek is a team in the lowest divisions in football in the Antwerp county)
WB: What position did you start playing in the youth?
TV: When I started in the youth teams and I always played as a defender.
WB: How old were you when you first knew or thought: Maybe I can become a professional footballer?
TV: The first time I thought of having the chance of becoming a professional player was when Ajax came knocking on the door. Before that I had never thought about it and was just enjoying my football.
WB: After the merger between Beerschot and Germinal Ekeren you also played in the youth teams of the merged club. What did you really think as young kid of the merger?
TV: I had no problems with that. I just wanted to play football and whatever the name of the team was I didn’t care at that time.
WB: Are there some trainers you’ve learned a lot from and have some good memories in your youth?
TV: I owe a lot to my uncle. He was very important in the beginning of my career. And if I have to pick one youth trainer it has to be Danyy Veyt.
(Note: Danny Veyt was a former first division footballer who played 12 games for the Belgium national team. Veyt was a striker and played for some 10 years in the highest division in Belgium. After his career he became trainer and in this job he took care of Vermaelen at one point)
WB: How old were you when you went to Ajax? What was your reaction and the reaction of your parents, when asked to go to Ajax at that age?
TV: was 15 at that moment and I wanted to leave home immediately. I really liked the idea and was very happy with it. My parents were also happy although naturally they had some reservations at first. They were a bit more worried than I was. So they were a bit more cautious, but I think that is normal.
WB: Where did you stay in Amsterdam in the beginning? Did you live in a home with some sort of foster parents that took care of you or did you have to stand on your own feet form the start?
TV: I stayed with a foster family and it was all very well organised by Ajax.
WB: How was the reception at Ajax in the beginning itself? Did they throw you in the deep end to see if you could swim?
TV: The reception I got with Ajax was very good. They helped me with everything. They took care of school, and the foster family. They arranged transport from my home to the training. They made all the arrangements that were required for me. I’m very grateful for that.
WB: How fast did you turn from being an “Antwerpenaar” (an inhabitant of Antwerp) to a “Amsterdammer? (an inhabitant of Amsterdam)
TV: I have always stayed an Antwerpenaar. That is what I have been from the start. But I must admit, I picked up a few things when living in Amsterdam but that is only natural when you live there for a few years like I did.
WB: Your career actually started when you were with Ajax and you went on loan to RKC. Was that your own choice at that time or was it Ajax that decided for you? How was it for you at RKC and how do you feel about it now?
TV: It was my own choice at that moment to go to RKC. And it all went well. I just wanted to play more and I did play more there than I ever could play at Ajax at that moment. I learned a lot that year it was a very good choice.
WB: Once back at Ajax then your real career started. Which trainer are you the most grateful of at Ajax?
TV: Koeman was the trainer that gave me my first ever chance to play a game for Ajax so I owe him a lot. But the most important trainer for me when I was with Ajax was Danny Blind. He really gave me full confidence and backed me to become the player I have become.
(Note: Danny Blind was a former Ajax defender and international for Holland – one of the most popular players from Ajax in the last 20 years who also was manager in the years that Thomas played in Ajax)
WB: Ajax won several competitions. Of which you have the best memories?
TV: De Dutch KNVB cup wins against AZ and PSV are the most memorable things off course. Those are the things that keep coming back when I think of those years.
WB: You were appointed captain at Ajax at a young age and as a foreigner. What did you think? Were you shocked that the trainer chose you?
TV: For me, it was a very big honour to become captain of a team like Ajax. But in fact it did not come as a total surprise to me. I felt the manager had full confidence in me and becoming the captain was just a result of that.
(c) Walter Broeckx 2010
On Saturday 1 May the second half of this interview, dealing with the transfer to Arsenal, and the past year, will be published.
- Arsenal v the team that will present a giant toothbrush to our captain
- Arsenal squad for Europa League game
- The abuse of female footballers is appalling, but there is a wider context
- Why Arsenal v Glimt might be tougher than the game against Tottenham
- Is the team that passes the most, the team that gets the best results?