How a touch of double Dutch sealed Klaassen's Everton deal
Davy Klaassen was packing his bags ready for the £25 million move to Everton when a text arrived. "Good choice," it read. It came from Dennis Bergkamp, assistant coach at Klaassen's former club Ajax and the player who ignited the midfielder's interest in English football.
"My first Premier League memory is watching him for Arsenal," says Klaassen. "Of course he was an Ajax legend, too, but when I watched the Premier League he was the one I wanted to see - one of the best ever. Even in training at Ajax now you can see a special player. He told me a lot about the way of playing in England. Dennis is not much of a talker, but would always show you the way in training, focusing on smaller details. His biggest message to me was when your first touch is good, you have many options on a football field."
Klaassen laughs when asked if he can have as much impact in England as his mentor. "Nobody can be like him. There is no way to compare," he says.
The support from Bergkamp was vindication Klaassen needed having agonised over ending his 14-year association with Ajax to join Ronald Koeman's Goodison rebuild, the 24-year-old one of a multiple summer signings in a splurge which may yet go close to £200m.
Defeat in Stockholm by Manchester United in last May's Europa League final triggered the break up of an emerging Ajax side. Head coach Peter Bosz left for Borussia Dortmund. Klaassen, the captain, was already thinking it was time for him to move on. "I played at Ajax since 11 so it was hard to leave because I love the club, but I knew it was the right moment," he says. "I lived 25 minutes from Ajax. I was in the first team since 18. I missed a year through injury, then played another two years and was made captain.
"When I talk about it now like this it seems strange to say it, but the fact is I was one of the most experienced players even at a young age. But when I watched the Premier League in Holland on TV, for me it is the best competition in the world."
The manner of the defeat by United confirmed that for all the admiration for Ajax's purist style, more was needed to separate contenders from winners. "You win nothing with compliments," he says. "There are some aspects of the Ajax way which are the right way to win, but I also feel you must be able to adapt - adapt to a different competition or to a different type of opponent.
"You have to see what players you have. Can they play the way you want? The most important thing for me is winning. In Holland everyone wants to play nice football and that [United] game was a little different. That was another type of football. We are used to it a bit in Holland but the level of United's players was much higher.
"I am not someone who says, 'This must always be the way, there is only one way'. I felt United did what was best for them to play against us and it worked for them. They scored two lucky goals, but once they were ahead we had to go at them. Our team was not big or physical and that made a difference."
As Klaassen considered his options, Koeman - conveniently a summer neighbour - was well advanced in his pursuit. "Ronald is a big hero in Holland," says Klaassen. "I saw him in the stadium a few times when we were playing Europa League. Then I saw a few things in the newspaper where he said I was a good player.
"I did not want to be thinking about a move until the end of the season. I wanted to concentrate on Ajax's games and sometimes you read about clubs but I told my agent not to tell me until I ask.
"Then I had heard the Everton manager wanted to talk to me. When the moment came I thought this is big. After that it happened quick. Ronald lives just 10 minutes from my home, so when he went back to Holland in the summer I went to his house in Bussum.
"The conversation was maybe an hour and he gave me a good feeling. The manager explained his plan and the club's ambitions and the style of play. He presented a picture and it was good for me. I spoke to a few people, thought about the situation and then in the end I decided yes, I wanted to go to Everton. I spoke to John Heitinga [the former Everton and Ajax player] who told me it would suit me perfectly.
"Every club has its own way, but the training here is similar to the Dutch training. The biggest difference will be the games. I expect another world. Ronald has the Dutch philosophy but he also understands the English football philosophy. This is a good combination. The games will make me physically stronger. Of course I may do extra training but there are many here who will help me. At Everton we have some more physical players, too. This is good."
Having left behind a leadership role at Ajax, Klaassen now hopes to earn similar responsibility for club and country.
"I am a younger player but on the field it is no place to be shy," he says. "I want to contribute to the team but I must show I am capable of playing here and I belong at the club.
"The last few years have been very difficult for Dutch football. We missed the Euros and players such as [Wesley] Schneider and Robin van Persie are older. It is time for the next generation to stand up. I have to see myself as one of those who needs to pick it up."