PSV Eindhoven’s training session may have finished half an hour before, but there is no sign of Atiba Hutchinson at the team bar. For while his team-mates are sitting down to relax and unwind, the Canadian international has opted to stay behind for an extra workout with the club’s assistant manager.
Clearly no stranger to hard work, Hutchinson knows better than most the importance of going the extra mile. “It’s been a long process to get to where I am now,” the versatile midfielder told FIFA.com. “If I’d had a European passport, things would have been easier. I’ve had to put in a lot of work.”
Hutchinson was a relative unknown when he arrived in Sweden aged 20, but it was not long before he secured a move to Denmark and Superliga side FC Copenhagen. He was the Danish top flight’s player of the season in 2009/10, and after last summer’s move to PSV he seems to finally be enjoying the fruits of his labour. “I’m very proud and happy. I’m making the most of it and we’ll see what happens next. I’ve always taken things one step at a time.”
Away from the pitch, Hutchinson’s calm, composed manner makes him almost unrecognisable from the warrior-like player who has become such a fan favourite at the Philips Stadion. Raised in the suburbs of Toronto by parents from Trinidad and Tobago, the 28-year-old has played over 3,000 minutes in the Eredivisie this season, with more than half of that time spent as an emergency right-back.
A tall, imposing figure, Hutchinson has provided manager Fred Rutten with valuable defensive cover this season. “The manager put me in there very quickly [at right-back] and I played in defence throughout the first half of the season,” said the Canadian, an occasional centre-back for the national team. “It was a very steep learning curve, as I was trying to settle into a new team in a league I didn’t know.”
The technically gifted Hutchinson has since returned to his preferred midfield role, but he has had to learn to curb his natural attacking instincts under Rutten’s management. “I like to play a passing game and get forward,” said the four-time Danish champion. “But I have a more defensive role here, so I have to wait for the right opportunities to run with the ball.”
Hutchinson feels the move to the Netherlands has allowed him to blossom as a player. “I’d had my time in Denmark and I wanted to move up a level and continue my development,” he explained. “This is the perfect league if you want to mature and develop your game. I’m well suited to the style of football, which is more technical than in Scandinavia. Possession is very important and there’s generally a more attacking philosophy.”
As a fan of the pulsating football of the English Premier League, Hutchinson naturally harbours dreams of one day playing in England. “If I manage [to play for an English club] then I’ll have achieved everything,” said the PSV man, who, 11 years ago and with financial help from his parents, crossed the Atlantic for unsuccessful trials in Hungary, Italy and Germany.
While playing in England would be a great accomplishment, Hutchinson admits that he does have other, loftier ambitions. Indeed, the midfielder has not given up hope of representing Canada at a FIFA World Cup™. “Qualifying for the World Cup is still an objective,” said the former Helsingborg player.
“I’m always proud to wear the Canada shirt and I hope we continue to move forward, because Canadian football has been heading in the right direction for two or three years now,” he added. “We’ll soon have a third team in the MLS, our team approach is more positive and the coach’s system is working well.”
Hutchinson has already represented Canada at two FIFA U-20 World Cups, in 2001 and 2003, and he is once again set to play a key role for his country at this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has high hopes for the current crop of Canadian talents plying their trade in Europe and America, but believes that mental strength will be a crucial factor if the national team is to succeed.
“Sometimes we get a mental block and it costs us dear,” explained Hutchinson, who claims he is “never recognised in the street at home”. “We switch off too easily. We need to be able to win games that are under our control, especially away from home where we’re particularly vulnerable. We need to learn to be more like warriors.”
‘More’ is certainly the buzzword where Hutchinson is concerned, and he is a player who proves the maxim that the harder you work, the greater the rewards.