Afellay: Work, enjoyment, progress

Maturity is a term often invoked when assessing a young player’s progress, whether a lack of it is being blamed for failure, or a surplus cited as a reason for success. After seven years in the Dutch Eredivisie, PSV Eindhoven’s talented ace Ibrahim Afellay is certainly prospering from the addition of maturity to his already considerable list of qualities. The 24-year-old Dutch international is currently enjoying his best season ever, having notched five goals already for his club and shone for the Netherlands in the absence of Arjen Robben. So good has he been, in fact, that he was recently snapped up by the club of his dreams, Barcelona, and will be joining up with the Catalan giants in January.

Spotted by PSV at the age of 14, the future Blaugrana attacking midfielder rose through the side’s ranks before making his debut at 17 in the Dutch Cup. He celebrated his maiden Eredivisie appearance ten days later and opened his scoring account the following season. Yet despite being touted as the great new hope of Dutch football, he struggled to impose himself last term as fitness issues plagued his initial progress. With those frustrations now behind him, he sounded confident yet grounded when he spoke to The issue of his future destination was carefully placed off-limits, though, with Afellay fully focused on serving the PSV cause as best he can. Ibrahim, would you say you’re enjoying your best season or does it just seem that way because you’re scoring more goals?
Ibrahim Afellay: It’s definitely one of my best seasons – my most consistent, anyway. It’s the result of the work I’ve put in and my experience, because I’ve been in this PSV team for a few seasons now and I feel good in it. Added to that, going to the last World Cup with the Oranje really helped me progress. It was a necessary step and very important in my ongoing development.

How do you explain the success you‘ve been having recently?
I’m more experienced now and more mature. Above all, I’m not on my own in this: we work as a team. We’ve got a mix of youngsters and senior players who fit together very well and you can see that in our league results. I keep learning every day, whether it’s with my club or the national side.

You’ve spent your entire career so far at PSV. Has that stability helped you?
PSV are ‘my’ club. I learnt everything about every aspect of professional football here. Of course, in addition to all the resources the club puts at your disposal, you need to have the talent and desire as well. You have to be mentally ready to go out and get what you want. It’s a long-term process, but if you respect that, it can lead you to having a great career.

You were labelled a future star of Dutch football at a very young age. Has that hampered your development at all?
I don’t think so. You know, in football pressure is ever-present. Even in the PSV youth teams, it’s there. There’s a lot of competition and the need to get results never goes away. This is one of the biggest clubs in Europe and you have to win every match. I’ve never seen myself as a star and I don’t need that to motivate myself. The pressure you put on yourself is fine. When you know what you want or where you want to go, you don’t need outside influences to make you want to perform. And, honestly, I’ve never felt those kind of pressures.

What is the best lesson you’ve learnt since turning professional?
I’ve been at PSV a long time and this club has given me the chance to be competitive at the highest level. I’ve learnt three things here: to work hard, to enjoy myself on the pitch and to progress step by step.

Speaking of steps, which ones have you already made? Do you think you’re already playing to the best of your potential?
I don’t think I’m at my best level right now. I’m still young and I’m learning every day. I still have loads of room to improve. In football, you’re still learning right up to the day you retire. Every day is a new challenge. When you work hard and love what you’re doing, you progress. It’s a process that never ends.

You may not have played much, but how did you enjoy your experience at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™?
It was a fantastic experience, something that will stand me in good stead for the future. I learnt so much there by being surrounded by all those great players from Europe’s top clubs. Honestly, when there’s that level of competition, it’s difficult to have an issue with not playing every game. But I gave everything during training to show the coach that I was ready if he needed me.

Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are both on the shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d’Or. Which of the two do you think deserves to win, or are you backing another player?
They both deserve to win; they’re fantastic on and off the pitch. I don’t have any other favourite; I hope one of them wins it.