“As a goalkeeper, you always try your best to make good saves, but I think you can really show yourself when facing a penalty.”
His reputation as ‘The Penalty Killer’ was one of the few elements of Michel Vorm’s game that preceded his arrival at Swansea City from Utrecht. However, after six months in the Premier League, the Dutchman has proven to be one of the buys of the summer 2011 transfer window and top goalkeepers in the division.
He has already had the chance to show off his most famous trait, saving spot-kicks against Wigan Athletic and Fulham, arguably earning his side four points in the process, and it’s not just blind luck that gets results. “I do a bit of homework before every match,” Vorm told FIFA.com. “Not that we study teams, but with the internet now you can find videos of the penalty takers from every team, and those kind of small things help you stop a penalty.”
Intriguingly, Vorm feels that one of the major things preventing keepers saving more strikes from 12 yards is their acceptance of the inevitable goal. “A lot of goalkeepers, if they concede a penalty, in my opinion they don’t look like they do everything to stop it," he said. "If a spot-kick is taken and scored, they think, ‘Ok, it was a penalty, there was nothing I could do about it’. I put more pressure on myself to really stop it. Obviously you have to be a bit lucky, but that’s one of those things that can make a difference for your team.”
It’s this kind of self-belief that has seen the 28-year-old rise from being a respected understudy in the Netherlands squad and high performer at a mid-table Eredivisie side to a challenger for Maarten Stekelenburg’s place in Bert van Marwijk's starting XI and one of the surprises of the 2011/12 Premier League season. An opening game against big-spending Manchester City, having only completed his move five days previous, was something of a testing start to his time in Wales, but despite a 4-0 defeat, Vorm still came out with flying colours.
“It was quite easy to adapt because the way we play is quite similar to the way we play in Holland and with the national team, so that made it easier for me to settle in," he explained. “Of course you have to show your qualities and I knew I had the talent. I’m confident, but I was playing well from my very first start and first impressions are very important. I couldn’t have imagined a better start than this.”
Since then he has just gone from strength to strength, and with Swansea’s impressive results against Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Arsenal still fresh in the memory, some of the country’s biggest clubs have begun to show an interest. However, Vorm is just talking it in his stride.
“If you play very well at a club like Swansea, which of course is not the biggest club in the league, keep a few clean sheets – nine already – and stop a few penalties, it is normal that people are going to talk about you in a positive way.”
Stekelenburg challenge, Surinamese pride
This expansion of reputation has left him challenging for a place between the sticks for the Netherlands at UEFA EURO 2012, which was ultimately one of his drives for a move to England. “Me and Stekelenburg both played in the Eredivisie, but because he went to Serie A, it was important to prove I can play at the highest level and show Van Marwijk my qualities.
“He knew them before, but now at this level maybe he will look at the situation a bit differently. But I think also that Stekelenburg does very well, so I hope to not make the choice easy for Van Marwijk, but he always makes logical decisions.”
Vorm has no intentions of upsetting the apple cart, however, and is clear of his position in the Oranje set-up having so far made just nine appearances. “I know my status in the national team is as the second-choice goalkeeper, but I think I have shown every week what I am capable of if Van Marwijk needs me.”
Vorm nevertheless feels his place in the squad has developed. Despite being on the bench at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where the Netherlands were edged by Spain in the Final, he feels the experience has set him in good stead for the trip to Poland and Ukraine.
“I’d never been to a major championship and everything was so big - the attention, the matches, it was amazing for me to see for the very first time. Of course you want to play but the situation will be very different if I am number two in 2012.”
If Vorm does make an appearance at EURO 2012, he will become the first goalkeeper with Surinamese roots to represent the Netherlands at a major tournament. Suriname-born Stanley Menzo was the last shot-stopper from the former Dutch colony in the Oranje squad, amid a plethora of outfield stars. Having inherited the connection through his father, it’s a legacy that Vorm is honoured to be a part of.
He said: “There have been so many good players from Suriname, or with parents from Suriname, and I think it’s something you have to be proud of. Players like Clarence Seedorf, [Ruud] Gullit, [Frank] Rijkaard, [Edgar] Davids, all very big players. It’s also something Surinamese people are very proud of. If I am in Holland they say how proud they are to see me playing for Swansea and being part of the national team.”
It remains to be seen if Vorm can help the Netherlands to silverware, and he’s aware expectations will be high following their second-placed finish at South Africa 2010. Beginning the tournament in a group also containing Germany, Portugal and Denmark has given them no scope to climb through the gears though. Vorm admits that, while they will be self-assured on 9 June, the recent 3-0 friendly defeat by the Germans proved that if they are missing any of their biggest stars, it will be tough.
“We know we have got the quality, and showed during the qualification games that we have a very good team. When the pressure is on during the European Championship, it is going to be our best chance to show what we can do. If everyone is fit, and we have the confidence as always, I think we will just be aiming for the final. I think the only target for us is to win a cup. If you want to win the cup you have to beat everybody, and it starts against Denmark.”
The lingering pangs of defeat suffered in Johannesburg may well be what drives the Oranje on towards this year’s climax in Kiev, as it’s clear the pain is still somewhat raw. “It still gives me an ugly feeling to think that we could have won it,” Vorm revealed.
What better motivation is there to go one step further?