I don’t remember the names of most of the fields where I trained when I was younger. But I do remember the one where I would go right after training — the one I would always be at.
It was small. But I was small. So it was perfect.
When I was seven, that’s where you would find me. It was a tiny turf patch, not too far from our family home in Almere, Netherlands. I’d be there before I did my training sessions with Ajax, and after them, too. My dad would come meet me sometimes, and we’d do this drill: He’d toss the ball up in the air, like, way, way, waaaay up — and I’d have to bring it down under control in different ways. Sometimes on my chest, sometimes with my feet. Because I was a bit smaller than the other kids, my dad knew that winning the ball in the air wasn’t going to be easy for me. So he’d toss it up, and I’d bring it down. Over and over and over again.
As I got older the drills would change. My dad knew my game because he was my biggest fan. When I left Ajax at 13 years old to play with PSV, my dad became the only way I could get to Eindhoven to train with my new club. Every weekday, we’d wake up at 5:30 a.m, eat breakfast, get in the car, and drive an hour and 45 minutes to Eindhoven for a 9:00 a.m training session.
I’d do all the things my dad taught me on the pitch while, about 200 yards away, he slept in the car in the parking lot. Then I’d come over, knock on the glass, and we’d drive all the way back and I’d go to school.
We did that for nearly two years. Two years.
That was the sacrifice my dad, and my whole family — my mom, sister and brother — made for me. They’d make that drive, too, to come watch games and support me whenever they could. Eventually we moved to Eindhoven and the commute became a lot shorter, and the sleeping in the car finally stopped.
Sam Robles/The Players' TribuneBut when I finally made my debut with the PSV senior team, my family had to make the drive again. Just, this time, it was back home. In October 2014, I made the bench in Almere, in our cup match against Almere City. I wasn’t sure I’d play, but I knew there was a chance. Our team started well, and by the 75th minute, we were up 3–1. I kept trying to make eye contact with our manager, Phillip Cocu, in the second half like, C’mon, man, bring me on!
Then we scored a fourth, and coach looked and me said, “Go warm up.”
Five minutes later I was on, playing for PSV at a stadium a few minutes from my old home — with my whole family in the stands. With one of my first touches, the ball came to me, I turned, saw Gini Wijnaldum making a run to goal and I played him in for our fifth of the night — a 5–1 win, with an assist on my debut. Perfect.
To have a night like that, with my family there, in my hometown … it really makes you realize how much effort, sacrifice and hard work it takes to get to become a professional. I’m here because of them — I know that.
That’s why I put the Suriname flag on my boots. Because both my parents were born there, and their Surinamese culture is a big part of my life. I’ll never forget that, no matter where I go.
And I hope wherever that is, everyone knows where I’ve come from.