The LA Galaxy's most aggressive offseason in Bruce Arena's tenure brought seven players into the club, including Ashley Cole, Jelle Van Damme and three revered MLS veterans. The prize of the class just might be Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, 31, a two-time World Cup and two-time Euro Championship veteran who arrived on a free transfer from AC Milan.
He's expected to be in action for the Galaxy on Sunday night when they host the Portland Timbers at 9:30 pm ET on FS1 in the USA and MLS LIVE in Canada.
Follows in a long line of Amsterdam phenoms
Ajax Amsterdam's magnificent academy has been revered for decades, producing a "Who's Who" list of sensational Dutch footballers. From Johan Cruyff to Wesley Sneijder among many others including American John O'Brien.
De Jong was an Ajax product, first joining his hometown club at 8 years old (1993), and making his senior debut in 2002, when he was 17. He spent four seasons with Ajax's first team before moving on to Hamburger SV in Germany, Manchester City in England, AC Milan in Italy and now the Galaxy.
Best-known for "That Kick" …
De Jong's signature moment occurred in the 2010 World Cup final, when he crashed his foot into Xabi Alonso's chest and somehow stayed on the field. He was cautioned for the incident and remained on the field until the 99th minute, watching from the bench as Andres Iniesta's goal deep into overtime gave Spain the title in Johannesburg.
English referee Howard Webb acknowledged making the wrong decision on de Jong's 28th-minute attack.
“I still thought I got it right on the pitch,” Webb told BT Sport. “So I get back into the dressing room, and my assistant referee has gone to his pocket and got his phone out, and his face dropped. I said, 'What’s wrong?' and he said, 'De Jong should have been red-carded. The guy from the referee headquarters is saying he should have been red-carded.’
“I went, 'You’re joking?’ I got my phone out, a mate of mine in the police said, 'Howard, it's not a red card, it's an arrestable offense.' Of course [I should have red-carded him]. Even in the first minute of a World Cup final, if I've seen it clearly enough.”
His reputation precedes him
De Jong's nicknames, which include “The Terrier,” “The Destroyer” and “The Lawnmower,” are nods to his hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners style from the No. 6 position, one that has earned him acclaim.
The man who proclaimed “I like to tackle” when he joined Manchester City in 2009, has been criticized for a couple of them … tackles, even beyond that chest-high World Cup cleating. De Jong broke Stuart Holden's leg in a Holland-US national team friendly in March 2010, then broke Newcastle United’s Hatem Ben Arfa's leg about six months later. Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola went after de Jong once Joshua Kimmich was hurt in a friendly in August.
De Jong doesn't agree.
“I'm not a dirty player,” he said in 2014. “I know that.”
Whatever you think, he’s a winner
While de Jong’s style of play might draw controversy, there’s no question that it has helped several teams contend for and win silverware: He is soccer’s version of Chicago Bulls’ great Dennis Rodman and has tailed five competition wins in his career, winning the Premier League, the FA Cup and Eredivisie among others.
His play also helped the Netherlands finish as runner-ups in the 2010 World Cup and in third place at the 2014 tournament.
Really into classy cars
De Jong's passion away from the field involves the world's finest cars, and he's ready to sell you one. Not kidding.
He's co-founder of Continental Cars, a luxury dealership based in Hamburg, Germany which counts among its stock the finest Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Wiesmann's. It's the go-to source for Europe's biggest football stars.
Not the only pro soccer player in his family
Surinamese-born defender Jerry de Jong enjoyed a 15-year pro career with seven clubs – six in Holland, one in France – nearly all of them beneath the top flight, but his longest tenure, from 1984 through 1989, was with PSV Eindhoven.
He was 20 when Nigel was born and, according to a Daily Mail report from 2009, abandoned his family as his son was entering Ajax Amsterdam's academy. The report noted that the elder de Jong lost most of what he earned on the field through gambling and was arrested when he tried to withdraw a lot of money from a bank while claiming to be his Brazilian teammate Emerson. That led to his dismissal from MVV Maastricht, his last club.
Dutch by birth, not by ancestry
Holland was once a global power, with possessions in the East Indies and the Caribbean, and de Jong is a product of that power, in a sense. He's Surinamese, through his father – like former Galaxy manager Ruud Gullit, also an Amsterdammer, who is half-Surinamese – and Indonesian, through his mother.
Hasn't played much lately
De Jong's move from AC Milan was eased by the fact that the rossoneri didn't have much need for him this season. After starting the first two and featuring in four of Milan's first six Serie A matches, he's played just once since late September, starting in a 1-1 draw with Verona on December 13. He was sent off in the 56th minute of that one, for a clumsy tackle on Leandro Greco that gave Verona a penalty kick for its goal.
Knows his way around StubHub Center
De Jong spent two months at StubHub Center while rehabbing an Achilles' tendon injury three years ago.
“I know the players already,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I loved it. It was a different kind of setup and a different kind of system.”
American sport? Yessir!
De Jong, in an adidas interview before the last World Cup, was asked about his interests off the pitch. Along with the revelation that “I like music,” he acknowledged an interest in other sports.
“I also like watching a lot of sports,” de Jong said, “including American football.”