Exclusive Interview: Jeffrey Neral
James Rowe for The Secret Footballer
JR “Hi Jeffrey, thanks for talking to me at TSF today. Having begun your career in the Netherlands you moved last year to Ergotelis F.C in 2020, how got life in Greece?’’
JN “I must say that it was a challenging step to move abroad and play in Greece because I had never experienced playing abroad in my career. I had never heard of Ergotelis F.C but I must say after being here for a year that I am positively surprised with how the club is run. You hear stories of players playing abroad, especially in Greece, where things are not as well organized as the Netherlands, and that players have not been paid. But here it was completely different in a good way such as paying the players on time, accommodation for the player and transport to the stadiums for matches, so far things have gone really well in those aspects during my time in Greece.”
JR “It must be quite a transition having come through the youth setup and debuted for Sparta Rotterdam?”
JN ‘'Yes, and I am really pleased that you asked me about my time at Sparta Rotterdam. I have great memories from my time at Sparta, and Sparta in terms of Rotterdam will always be where my heart is. They are my club despite the circumstances in which I left the club. I learned that you cannot become a professional footballer all by yourself, I had an energy that did not always work well and you would often see that in my performances. Also, off the pitch too, I noticed it. But I have learned from that to look at myself and have a life off the pitch as well, and make sure that I have good guidance within a football club and ensure that there is good communication between me and the manager.
I did not leave Sparta Rotterdam due to footballing reasons but due to peripheral matters and lack of guidance which was not good particularly from my own player agency, especially off the pitch, and there was negligence and a nonchalance which led to things going how they did.”
JR ‘’It's amazing how often I hear that from players. You also had one season at Helmond Sport, perhaps not the Netherlands most well known club, but perhaps very underrated too.”
JN ‘'Ah yes, Helmond Sport. I was on trial at AS Trencin in Slovakia and the club wondered why would a young player go all the way to Slovakia for a trial and they also knew about my past and that I was capped by the Dutch under 15 and under 16 national teams. I enhanced my reputation when I was at Sparta Rotterdam and on the basis of that I was offered an amateur contract instead of a professional contract, but I am a player who is not motivated by money, I play football because I love the game.
For me it was not difficult to stay in such a situation where I will invest in myself and sign for Helmond Sport. I wanted to work hard to achieve something in the Netherlands. It was a difficult season in terms of travel and a new environment with new people and I had to adapt in the beginning but I slowly got used to it. I could have achieved even more during my time at Helmond Sport but I felt that the manager Wil Boessen did not really rate me because he always preferred another player in my position. This was on the basis of experience, separate from the potential of a player.”
JR “People may be surprised to hear some of the names that you have played alongside, Jeffrey…?”
JN “I have been fortunate to play with some big names such as Steven Bergwijn, Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and many others in such a squad but I must say the best footballer I played with was Abdelhak Nouri. I thought he was an excellent player and I rated him extremely highly. Also off the pitch he was a really friendly guy and we got on well together when representing the Netherlands at youth international level.
It is such a shame what happened to him suffering a cardiac arrest but he really was an exceptional footballer. After Abdelhak, Frenkie de Jong was another player who you could see even at a young age was going to become a brilliant footballer.”
JR “And who is the best player you’ve played against, as a defender it must be difficult to pick just one?”
JN “Yes, that's a really good question James. I have a big ego in that I like to think that every big player I played against I made life difficult for them, but if I was to say one player I would chose Steven Bergwijn who is currently playing in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur, he always played well when I played against him.”
JR “Jeffrey, thank you so much for your time today, I’ll let you get off to training but before I do… we know about the quality of Dutch coaching, who are the coaches that have put you where you are today?”
JN “I would say Peter van der Veen who is currently the manager of the Dutch national under 18 team. He helped me a lot with the footballing aspects when I was at Sparta Rotterdam. Also, Kees van Wonderen who is currently manager of Go Ahead Eagles. He helped me a lot at youth international level with certain attributes, especially in the difference between a club game and an international game.
I underestimated that difference now, it was difficult for me at the beginning to adapt to playing for your country and playing for your club however strange that sounds. But Kees taught me a few things that helped me to improve as a player in that respect.”
James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.