Few nations have produced stellar forwards with the same regularity as the Netherlands, who can reminisce about the goalscoring exploits of some of the game’s greatest names. From Johan Cruyff to Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp to Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Dutch have rarely lacked a clinical frontman to put the finishing touch to their fine football.
The latest in line could be a young striker at FC Twente. Now into his fourth season in the Eredivisie, 21-year-old Luuk De Jong has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence. He spent just a single season at De Graafschap before joining Twente, who won the championship in his debut campaign. Having already reached double figures for 2011/12, and become a regular in the Netherlands squad, the future looks bright for the Swiss-born star.
FIFA.com caught up with De Jong for an exclusive chat about Twente’s aims for the current season, his relationship with strike partner Marc Janko and brother Siem De Jong, playing for the Netherlands national team, and his ambitions for the future.
FIFA.com: FC Twente have been in title contention for each of the past few seasons, and came so close last campaign. What are the club’s aims for this year?
Luuk De Jong: This year we also want to try to win the title. But it is going to be a difficult season, like always. Last year we were so close, so we hope to win the title again this season.
Twente have started well in the UEFA Europa League. Can the team make a run towards winning the trophy? Would the current side be strong enough to compete in the UEFA Champions League in years to come?
We started very well in the UEFA Europa League, to finish as first in our group. After the group stage I think it is going to be tough to win the trophy, but you never know how far we’ll get. The UEFA Champions League is always tough to compete in for Dutch teams like us, because of the team budget and salary. Last season we did well and ended third in the group stage.
You have developed a strong partnership with fellow forward Marc Janko - what kind of chemistry do the two of you have? Do you like to compete to see who can score the most goals?
Marc and I are good friends. When we play together it is really difficult for the opponent to defend, because we are both dangerous, but different, strikers. The opponent can never defend us both, they sometimes lose us. Sometimes in training we like to compete to see who can finish the most crosses or things like that. It keeps you sharp and focused.
You have shown your versatility in playing several different forward positions. Is there one in particular that you would prefer to play, as an out-and-out striker for example?
I prefer to play as a central striker, but sometimes it is better for the team that I play behind the central striker. I’m not a player that complains really fast, but my future is as a central striker, that’s my focus.
This year you earned your first call-up to the senior Netherlands squad. How did you find playing at international level?
First of all I find it a great honour to be called up for the national team. I’m just 21 and I can still learn a lot. Playing, and especially training, at international level is really good for my development, training with strikers like [Klaas Jan] Huntelaar and [Robin] Van Persie.
Do you believe you can earn yourself a place in the squad, and starting XI, for the UEFA EURO 2012 finals? Either way, how far do you think the Dutch can progress in the tournament?
I will be happy if I’m called up for the UEFA EURO 2012 finals. I know I’m not going to play a lot, but I’ll be ready whenever the coach needs me. I think we are one of the favorites to win the title, with Spain and Germany. But it is a tournament – you never know what happens.
Who were your footballing heroes growing up? Did you attempt to model your style on the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Ruud van Nistelrooy?
When I was young I never had a football hero. Later on when I started playing for the first team and wanted to develop myself, I looked at views from other strikers: the finishing, the movement, the clever things. That made me the striker I am now.
How much family competition is there between yourself and your brother, Siem? Does it feel strange or enjoyable when you play against each other?
At first it felt a little strange to play against each other, because we were used to playing together in the youth. But after a few games it started to be more fun. We always wish each other the best and try to look at each other’s games. And our dream is to play together again one day.
You are now into your third season at Twente. Do you have plans for the future? Several English clubs have been linked with a transfer for you – would you be interested in a move abroad?
I’m still very happy playing for FC Twente. But every player has dreams, mine is to play in a nice foreign competition one day. And the Premier League is a really nice competition. I don’t have real plans for the future - I’ll see what comes my way.