Luuk de Jong may only be 22 years old, but he can already look back on an eventful and successful career. After making his professional debut as an 18-year-old for De Graafschap in the Dutch Eredivisie, he matured into one of the most feared forwards in his homeland with Twente. In doing so, De Jong, who was born in the Swiss town of Aigle, continued a tradition started by famous predecessors such as Marco van Basten, Dirk Kuyt, Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
The imposing player's talent did not go unnoticed by the Netherlands’ selectors, nor at Bundesliga club Borussia Monchengladbach. Having earned his first cap for the Oranje in February 2011, De Jong moved to Germany last summer, after signing a five-year contract with Die Fohlen (The Foals).
“My team-mates have been great at helping me settle in," he told FIFA.com. "I spent the first few weeks in a hotel, but now I’m looking for a house. I’m very happy to have taken the step of moving to Gladbach. It’s a great club with a strong team and fantastic fans.”
De Jong’s reputation preceded him upon his arrival at Gladbach, surprise fourth-place finishers in the Bundesliga last season. He won the Eredivisie title in 2010 and the KNVB Cup the following year, hitting 39 goals in 75 matches. However, the No9 has yet to truly find his feet in Germany, having managed just a solitary goal in eight competitive outings.
“Of course it’s harder to play in the Bundesliga than in the Eredivisie, that wasn’t a surprise for me," De Jong remarked. "Every match in Germany is very difficult. The games are incredibly fast and the physical demands it puts on you are high. You don’t have much room and the tempo is a lot quicker.
"I aim to keep improving and to develop further as a player. I want to support the team and am working hard to ensure that we are successful together.”
Following the departures of three of Die Fohlen's key players - Marco Reus (to Borussia Dortmund), Dante (Bayern Munich) and Roman Neustadter (Schalke) - De Jong has joined the former UEFA Cup winners in a transitional phase. After failing to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage, Gladbach are now participating in the UEFA Europa League. In their first match they were held to a goalless draw by AEL Limassol and on Thursday host Fenerbahce, who drew 2-2 with Marseille in their opening game.
“It’s hard to say what’s possible in Europe because we were drawn in a tough group," De Jong said. "But I’m confident we’re good enough to be successful."
Dutch pecking order
On a personal level, it will be important for De Jong to rediscover his goalscoring touch in order to maintain his place in the national squad, for whom he has so far made seven appearances. In 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying, De Jong has recently been called up by coach Louis van Gaal, although he is yet to take to the pitch.
“I know where my place is, and that’s behind Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar,” said De Jong of his role. “But if I get the chance to play, I want to show what I’m capable of.”
Former Bayern Munich coach Van Gaal presently has little reason to change his team. With two victories from as many games, the Netherlands are currently second in Group D, level on points with leaders Romania. Next week the Dutch host Andorra in Rotterdam, before travelling to Romania four days later for a high-profile encounter.
De Jong said: “Games against supposedly inferior opposition are never easy. That was clear to see recently when Spain only managed a 1-0 win in Georgia. We can’t underestimate Andorra and have to be fully focused and determined against them.
"The match against Romania will be a different proposition of course. They’ve started qualifying with two wins and will have plenty of confidence. It’ll be a difficult task.”