Simons: Belgium have grown up
When Nuremberg unveiled new acquisition Timmy Simons in July 2010, boss Dieter Hecking gushed with praise for the Belgian midfielder. “We've always said we wanted a player with plenty of personality and experience for this very important position. By signing Timmy, I think we've succeeded."
A year on, the head coach has become even more effusive in his praise for the former PSV Eindhoven captain. “Timmy Simons is my most important man! He’s just fantastic, guiding his team-mates, cleverly picking the moment to tackle and win the ball, and always fulfilling his tactical duties," Hecking enthused.
Much-travelled defensive midfielder Simons is revelling in a golden autumn to his career. At 34, he is far and away the oldest member of the Nuremberg squad, which brings with it a special position in the dressing room hierarchy. “I'm more of a quiet guy, and I try and help the younger players wherever I can. The older you get, the more responsibility you have towards your team-mates," the player exclusively told FIFA.com.
Experience and hard work
At this relatively advanced age, Simons’ responsibility extends beyond his team-mates to encompass a certain discipline towards himself, specifically the need to look after his physique. Always noted for his prodigious work-rate, the Belgian leaves nothing whatsoever to chance. “I occasionally put in voluntary extra training," commented Simons, who has played every minute of all Nuremberg’s 43 competitive fixtures since he arrived in Franconia. "On holiday and in pre-season, I make it my business to be out on the training ground every day, even when it sometimes hurts. A good pre-season is vital. When you get to my age, long lay-offs are worse than daily training."
Every statement made by the 1.86m midfielder is imbued with the experience derived from 17 years as a pro, in which he twice won the Belgian league and cup with Bruges, and helped PSV to three Dutch titles and one Supercup success.
As befits his laid-back outlook, he offered a non-committal prediction as to how Nuremberg will fare this season, refusing to be caught up in the euphoria which surrounded the club’s unexpectedly successful 2010/11 campaign and run to sixth spot in the Bundesliga. “We've not set any new targets for this season. The first priority is to stay in the league, and we'll see what happens after that."
Switching from the Dutch top flight to the German Bundesliga has proved a smart move, both for the man capped 84 times by his country and for his new club. Nuremberg now boast a genuine on-field leader, while the 2002 Belgian Player of the Year was recalled to the national set-up by new boss Georges Leekens in late August 2010, after a year out in the cold when Dick Advocaat was in charge.
“I was determined to fight my way back into the national team, which was another reason for the move to Nuremberg," he said. "It's been a fantastic solution for me personally. I made my comeback quicker than I thought, and I was very proud of that."
Naturally enough, Simons is one of the leading personalities in the current Belgian line-up. “I think you can comfortably compare my job for the national team with what I do for Nuremberg. We also have a young, talented team, and I'm currently the most experienced man in the squad." The promising blend of youth and experience has contributed to the Red Devils setting off on an impressive recent run. The Belgians, who famously finished fourth at the 1986 FIFA World Cup™, are unbeaten in their last seven matches, last tasting defeat back in September 2010 in a 3–2 loss to Turkey in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying.
Will to win restored
Simons has a ready explanation to hand for the Belgian resurgence. “All the players have grown up. They're playing in major leagues with big clubs, and that's the main difference compared to the past. We've always had plenty of talent in the team, but the difference now is that every single one of us has taken to heart the desire to win every match. We’ve recovered our unconditional will to win."
That is reflected in the situation in EURO 2012 qualifying, where the Belgians are second in Group A, a point ahead of closest rivals Turkey, although the Turks have a game in hand. Despite the promising position, Simons is not entirely satisfied.
“Unfortunately, we're dependent on our rivals and especially Turkey, who we need to drop points if we’re to stay second. It's a real shame, because we've dropped unnecessary points ourselves, especially [in a 4–4 home draw] against Austria. We made too many mistakes against Turkey as well: we led twice but still lost."
Simons and Co are next in qualifying action on Friday, when the Red Devils travel to Baku for the meeting with Azerbaijan, who will be out for revenge after losing 4–1 in the reverse fixture. The experienced Simons had an appropriate warning for his team–makes.
“Away games are never easy because you never quite know what to expect," said the midfielder, whose decade with the national team has left him just 12 caps short of equalling the record set by Belgium’s most capped player, Jan Ceulemans. "We have to concentrate 100 per cent on the game in Azerbaijan, but if we do, I'm confident we'll get a good result."