A favourite of both Marco van Basten’s and Bert van Marwijk’s, Nigel de Jong has not always been considered an automatic starter since Louis van Gaal became Netherlands coach. It was only as the FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign neared its conclusion that this tough and vastly experienced holding midfielder returned to the side as Van Gaal began to formulate his final plans for Brazil.
Few have ever questioned the ability of a player who has been operating at the top level in Europe for over a decade, starring for Ajax, Hamburg, Manchester City – where he cost £18 million – and, most recently, AC Milan. At 29, De Jong also has plenty of first-rate football ahead of him.
There have, though, been question marks over his discipline, with Van Marwijk famously suspending him from international duty after a typically fierce tackle while in action for City resulted in a leg-break for Hatem Ben Arfa. "I have a problem,” the then coach said, “with the way Nigel needlessly looks to push the limit."
However, critics of the midfielder’s aggressive style of play often overlook the fact that, in his entire career, he has been red-carded only once – and that was almost eight years ago, and for a second yellow card. At his best, De Jong remains one of the finest defensive midfielders in the game and could yet prove as influential for the Oranje in 2014 as he was at South Africa 2010.