Exclusive Interview: Jesper Verlaat

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

Jesper Verlaat, the Dutch professional defender spoke to our man, James Rowe about life at his new club Waldhof Mannheim in 3. Liga.

(image source: rheinpfalz.de)

JR ''You signed for Waldhof Mannheim in 2020. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far and how would you describe a club such as Waldhof Mannheim?''

JV ''I am really enjoying my time at Waldhof Mannheim and I am satisfied with my decision to come here. It was not a massive changeover for me because I played for SV Sandhausen before that also in the same area and I came in contact with the club due to the people around me. I moved in the direction of Mannheim in order to have a short trip to the training ground. I suffered an injury when I arrived at the club which held back my debut for the club and people know here in Germany that Waldhof Mannheim is a traditional club and very much a club for the workers and the people and you notice that. When I signed for the club and it became official I received a lot of positive messages from people and everywhere you go in the city people talk to you. Our first two home games we were only allowed to have 20 percent of the stadium's capacity in terms of between 2000-3000 people but the atmosphere inside the stadium was as if we had 10.000 people inside. All in all I am really satisfied with life here at Waldhof Mannheim.''

JR ''You came through the youth setup and went on to play for Werder Bremen II. How do you look back on your time at the club and did you learn anything in particular which stood you in good stead for your career as a professional footballer?''

JV ''Every experience you have as a professional footballer brings you further on in your career. I look back on a great and long time at Werder Bremen. In the period of six years that I lived in Bremen that is the longest period that I have lived anywhere in one place. My Father ( Former Ajax and Werder Bremen player ) would move every three or four years. You have always ups and downs and that is part of football but Werder Bremen helped me to develop as a footballer and I can now benefit from that having come through a good youth academy and I am happy about that and also grateful to Werder Bremen too. I learned a lot especially when training with the first team and one time I was in the squad for a Bundesliga match and that was the base on which I could take the next step to sign for SV Sandhausen in the Bundesliga 2.''

JR ''You lead me nicely to my next question mentioning SV Sandhausen. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?''

JV ''Yes. In my first season in the Bundesliga 2 I played 29 out of 34 matches and my first season I gained a lot of experience and played well and I was part of a squad of good players. I played in big stadiums such as Hamburger SV and also against FC Cologne and in my season in a sporting sense a lot less because in my second season at the club I only played four games which was especially mentality difficult because if you play so well in your first season you hope that you can replicate that and play even more games but that was not the case so that is when in a mental sense I progresses a lot in my second season. I always try to take the positives and even in the difficult season I take the positives because that also helps you to progress as a player.''

JR ''You have accrued a lot of experience at club level so far in your career. Could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?''

JV ''When I think back to who really stood out to me from my time at Werder Bremen was Max Kruse. You could see straight away even in training that he had a really good understanding about football. He could see many things and that he could lead on the pitch and he was not afraid to say what he thinks to his teammates. You could see that Niklas Moisander that he had played for Ajax and that he had great stamina. I trained with Serge Gnabry and you could see that they are all great players and it was great to be among them and play with them. I tried to learn as much as I could from them. I also played matches against Ajax against the likes of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and being an Ajax fan too it was great to play against such well known players. In pre season I also played for Werder Bremen against Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach and I could see that I could cope and play at that level and it was a great time in my career.''

JR ''You mentioned opponents from playing pre season games against Ajax and Bayern Munich. I can imagine in your position as a defender and defensive midfielder that you have come up against many difficult opponents. Could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?''

JV ''I remember playing even in the Bundesliga 2 against players that were maybe not very well known but who were also great footballers and playing against big clubs and big players such as Thomas Müller and it is not about that name but that you play the same as you always would regardless of the level of the opponent because if you enter a game with a certain respect or attitude of facing a well known player then you have lost the battle before you have even set foot on the pitch. I play with the mindset that regardless of opponent my task is to neutralize the opponent.''

JR ''Finally Jesper. Could you say who are the coaches and managers who have meant a lot to you and who played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?''

JV ''In my career I was brought to Werder Bremen from Portugal when I was playing for a local village club where I would train three times a week and would enjoy my football with my friends and when I arrived at Werder Bremen my first manager was Viktor Skripnik who my Father knew and who I knew as a young child when he played with my Father and it was great to leave home as a 16 year old kid and if you have someone that you know and where your parents know that you will be looked after it is something that is very important and that is what I had in Victor and he was my first manager in the step of my football career. He took me from the position as defensive midfielder to central defender when I played for the under 19 team which is relatively late in a football career. Kenan Kocak brought me to SV Sandhausen and allowed me to play many games and under him I made my debut in the Bundesliga 2 and that I played a lot of games. Current Werder Bremen manager Florian Kohfeldt is a young manager who is great tactically and the players know that he has a lot of knowledge and understanding about football and all the players know what they have to do and what they must do in certain situations on the pitch in terms of losing possession and in my young career so far I have experience many managers and each manager has their strong points and the things that they are good at and therefore you can see what a difference a good manager can make not just for the team but also for the player personally. The managers above are the ones that have helped to shape my career so far.''

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.