NOORDWIJK - Ibrahim Afellay is a footballer that would rather speak with his feet than with his mouth. The 26 year old from Utrecht would rather spend hours with a ball on the field. Behind the calm and normal guy, as he puts it, hides an extremely driven footballer that wants to get better every day. “I give my all at every training, whether it’s a day before or after a match. I can’t live with the feeling that I think afterwards: shit, that wasn’t done well”, says Afellay Wednesday in Noordwijk.
The 41-time international is back with the Dutch national team after Louis van Gaal passed on him last month for the start of the WC-qualification. Afellay had just moved from FC Barcelona to Shalke 04 and was, according to the coach, with his head somewhere else. “He phoned me nicely to explain that. Of course I was disappointed.” For the matches against Andorra and Romania he was allowed to be back. With pleasure, as Afellay emphasizes. “I still find it an honour to play for Oranje, I always enjoy going there and get motivated by it.”
That motivation was completely lost for a moment last year. An unlucky action on the field during training caused damage in his left knee. “I cried as a little kid from the pain. For a footballer there’s nothing worse than a cruciate ligament tear. If I see where I’m standing now after such a short period of time, it says something about my mental strength and resistance. It was an ordeal, but I’ve been able to put it in a good place. My mother has played a key role in that, she was there for me day and night.”
That knee injury caused that Afellay could barely make himself count in Catalonia. “Others get a chance, that’s how it goes. But, I don’t think I failed there. Ever since that injury I enjoy the game even more than before. On such a moment you realize much more that you can be happy that you’re healthy and you’re able to be on the field.”
Seeing that his playing minutes at Barça would be limited, Afellay choose to go to Schalke for a year on loan. The former PSV player also wants to invest every day in himself, like he saw Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta do in Catalonia. “Every training they give it their all, they’re constantly ready to do more. It has to be like that, otherwise you won’t be able to do what they do the whole year. There, when I went home after a training, I kinda wanted it to be the next day already so we could practice again. That much fun they have there.”