It’s been a big year for Atiba Hutchinson. Moving on from the comfort of perennial champions FC Copenhagen, where he picked up the Danish top flight’s best player award after five seasons with the club, the versatile and rangy Canadian has not missed a beat since a summer move to the Lowlands and Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven. He has helped the 21-times Dutch champions to a first-place finish in their UEFA Europa League group and first place in the Eredivisie with a four-point cushion as the Christmas break approaches.
“I’m finding my form,” the 27-year-old Ontario native of Trinidadian extraction told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “I’m at a good age right now, when the little things you pick up along the way really begin to show through, and you have more composure.”
Hutchinson’s fine form has not gone unnoticed at home. Last week he was voted Canada’s player of the year for 2010, edging out such veterans and long-time standouts as Dwayne De Rosario, Paul Stalteri and Julien de Guzman. “It’s a proud feeling to accomplish something for your country and to be recognised,” added the midfielder, as soft-spoken off the pitch as he is courageous and influential on it. “It’s a big award and I’m thrilled about it.”
We have a lot of variety and versatility in the team at the moment. We are gelling more and more, and every year it gets a little better.
The player’s performances in a Canada jersey have been no less impressive than those over in Europe, where he has been since making his debut with Osters of Sweden at the tender age of 19. He took part in his second FIFA U-20 World Cup in UAE in 2003 and that same year made his senior team bow while still a teenager. Relying on his athleticism, raw speed and power in those early days, Hutchinson has gone on to establish himself as a true team leader for the Canucks, playing in four CONCACAF Gold Cups and picking up his 50th cap this year. “He has worked hard,” said Canadian national team coach Stephen Hart, one of Hutchinson’s biggest advocates. “He always answers the call to represent his country.”
The player’s versatility on the pitch is one of the main reasons he’s prospered through the years, landing now in one of Europe’s top leagues. “I’ve been playing right back for the last three or four games,” he said with a half-laugh. He is far more comfortable in a central midfield role with the freedom to push up into attack, or even as a withdrawn striker. “I played there [defence] a few times when I was a kid back in Canada, so it’s not the most familiar position for me. But I’m just happy to be out on the field and doing my part.
“The game in Holland compared to Sweden or Denmark is much more about possession, speed of play and expressing yourself,” he went on. “That’s what I love about the game, and I hope to do more of it when I get back into my usual position.”
Canada keen for Gold
While Hutchinson’s star is very much on the rise overseas, Canada’s fortunes have been less of a success story in recent years. “We need to make it back to the World Cup,” he sighed. “A lot of people back home are anxious to see us get back there as we’ve not done it since 1986.” Last time out, in qualifying for South Africa 2010, Hutchinson and his cohorts failed to even reach the final regional preliminary stage, losing out to Mexico and Honduras in August of 2008.
And although it’s been a long and agonising wait to get back and set things right on the road to a World Cup, Hutchinson is eager to take things one step at a time. “First there’s the Gold Cup to think about,” he said, slamming the breaks like a model professional. “We have a lot of variety and versatility in the team at the moment. We are gelling more and more, and every year it gets a little better. This tournament is our complete focus right now,” he added about the biannual North, Central American and Caribbean Cup of Nations which kicks off this summer in the United States.
“We can’t make the same old mistakes; we need to be focused and ready to fight,” he concluded, with steel in his voice. “We need to make sure we do everything we can.”