"Everton have made me a happy player,” says the versatile defender, who seems to have discovered home at last after 27 La Liga appearances during his first overseas experience with Atletico Madrid. The Ajax academy graduate has found the ideal stage for his approach at Goodison Park, able to let his physical and technical attributes shine against Premier League opposition. He was called up three times during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers and offers coach Bert van Marwijk a number of additional options, given his ability to play at centre-back, full-back and even as a holding midfielder.
Fresh from competing in the 2001 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina, Heitinga made his Eredivisie debut aged 17. His career was underway but a string of injuries to both knees slowed his progress until he hit top gear in 2003/04 and helped Ajax secure their most recent Dutch league title. Weeks later he travelled to UEFA EURO 2004 and converted his penalty in the quarter-final against Sweden, just six months after making his international debut.
Handed the Ajax captaincy after the departures of both Rafael van der Vaart and Tomas Galasek on the eve of the 2004/05 campaign, Heitinga quickly fell out of favour with new coach Danny Blind. With Julien Escude taking his place in the side, the defender became a frustrated figure on the bench despite retaining the faith of Oranje tactician Marco van Basten, who named him in his squad for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. That helped him recapture his starting place at the Amsterdam ArenA, where his crunching tackles and tidy distribution featured prominently over the next two seasons before his Atletico switch. Called up for EURO 2008 as well, he has been a fixture in Netherlands squads for the last two years and celebrated winning his 50th cap on 18 November last year.