I went to meet Anouk for a chat last week. Here follows a transcript of our conversation...
Bleacher Report: Hi Anouk! Thanks for talking to us. First of all, how are you settling in London?
Anouk Hoogendijk: I’m settling really well. My old housemate from Bristol, Siobhan Chamberlain, is at Arsenal now, so that has helped. I’m living with two other girls from the team, and the street where I live is really peaceful. I feel great. I’m really close to the training ground, which is perfect for me. We train almost every day and can go in to use the gym as often as we want. The standard of training is very high, and I’m really enjoying it so far.
B/R: Have you encountered any problems since moving back to England?
AH: Driving on the left! That was really difficult for me. It’s not only the driving on the left—it’s the sitting on the other side. And there are roundabouts everywhere! I’m not used to that, so sometimes it was a bit confusing, but I think I’m getting the hang of it now.
B/R: You played for Bristol back in 2011 before returning to Holland. What made you decide to come back to the UK?
AH: It wasn’t an easy decision because I really enjoyed my time with Ajax. I had my work there, my house...I was playing in a good team and enjoying myself. But I played for Bristol a few years ago—only for one season—and I had a feeling that I didn’t finish my English adventure. I felt I had to go back, and this was such a great opportunity to play for a big big club. I’m 28 now, so I thought, “This is my chance: I have to do this.”
B/R: Your transfer made big news in both Holland and England—did that bring any kind of special pressure?
AH: It was strange because I was more focused on my transfer and how to tell my team-mates at Ajax. I was leaving in the middle of the season, so I was more worried about that kind of thing. I didn’t think about the reaction in the press. When I saw it, it was really overwhelming, but it was all really positive and good stuff.
B/R: How’s your fitness? Do you feel ready to play regularly now?
AH: Yeah, I do. I had a knee injury to my MCL before I came to Arsenal. It was a really bad injury which took four-and-a-half months to recover, so I was a bit late for the preparation here and had to miss the Champions League game against Birmingham in March.
I feel good now, though, and I was very happy when I eventually made my debut. I’ve been a bit unfortunate this year with my injuries: I had a concussion two weeks ago while training with the national team. I’ve been a bit unlucky, but it should get better from now on. It’s still only the start of the season.
B/R: In England, the WSL is a summer competition. Is it the same in Holland?
AH: In Holland, the season starts in September and you play until June, so it’s a really long season. When I moved to England, I was really happy because I had missed a lot of the Dutch season with injury. It was perfect for me to move to the UK because I could be fit for the start of the season.
When I played for Bristol, I really liked the summer league. You miss all the cold months and it’s a better climate to play. It’s also better for your muscles and your injuries. I enjoy it—it’s a really short, intensive season.
B/R: You’re a very versatile player. What do you consider your best position?
AH: That’s a good question. I’ve played most of my games as a sitter in central midfield, so I consider that my natural position. However, in the last Euros I switched to centre-back because there was an injury one week before the tournament. I played there a lot when we had injuries at Ajax too, so now I feel comfortable in both positions. They’re a little bit similar: a lot of defending and winning balls.
B/R: Have you spoken to Arsenal Ladies manager Shelley Kerr about where she plans to play you?
AH: Of course, I spoke to her before I signed. Arsenal signed me as a centre-back, and I’m fine with that, but it’s also an option to play me in midfield.
B/R: When you were growing up in Holland, there was no professional Dutch league. Were there any players in the men’s game you particularly admired?
AH: When I was really young, I played up front, so I was a fan of Marc Overmars, who of course played for Arsenal and now works for Ajax. I had a lot of posters in my room of him—shirts with his name, everything! Bergkamp too: Everyone in England and Holland loves Bergkamp.
But I was also a big fan of Phillip Cocu and Edgar Davids. When I moved to the midfield, I was more like them, so I followed them and studied their performances. They were both tough, intelligent players.
B/R: What was it like to join Ajax and and be working alongside Overmars as a professional?
AH: It was great. At Ajax, you see all the players and coaches every day because they’re all together on the same complex. It’s a bit different to how it is over here.
Overmars really helped me with my transfer. I had a contract with Ajax, so ordinarily I would not have been allowed to move yet, but Ajax helped me a lot—especially Overmars. He’s the technical director, so he spoke with Vic Akers (Arsenal Ladies general manager) and made everything happen.
B/R: Some great players have moved from Ajax to Arsenal—Overmars, Bergkamp, Vermaelen—how does it feel to be the latest in that line?
AH: It’s a big honour when you mention me in the same sentence as them. Bergkamp and I have the same agent (SportsPromotion), but I don’t feel like one of those stars: They are such big names and have already had their whole career here, whereas for me it has to start now. But it’s great to follow these players.
I met Thomas Vermaelen when I arrived at Arsenal. He was really nice, and it’s always good to meet someone who speaks the same language. Sometimes you just want to speak Dutch!
B/R: Why do you think the two clubs share such an affinity? Are there any similarities?
AH: They both like to play attractive, attacking football. They both build up from the back. There are no long balls at Arsenal, despite what people are always saying about English teams! They both play with style.
B/R: You mentioned the long ball—have you noticed any differences between the English and the Dutch game?
AH: Yes, I noticed it previously when I played for Bristol. The tempo is higher and it’s a bit tougher. It’s more a physical game. In general, the girls are stronger and faster than in Holland. It’s similar to the men’s game in that respect.
I think that’s partly because typically in England, they do more strength and conditioning training. In Holland, they do more group sessions: possession and training with the ball and the whole team together. Over here, there are a lot of individual training sessions.
But Arsenal is different: Here we do a group session every day and a lot of technical sessions.
B/R: You were the first player from outside Britain and Ireland to join Arsenal Ladies. Two Japanese internationals, Yukari Kinga and Shinobu Ohno, have since followed. Do you think more international players will arrive in the coming yeas?
AH: I really don’t know what the club wants or what their ambitions are in that direction! However, there are a lot of Irish and Scottish girls here, so there are plenty of different nationalities. I think that’s a good thing as you can bring different elements and mix it up together.
B/R: A lot of our readers will be wondering if you ever considered playing in the US?
AH: Yeah, I did, actually. When I was 18, I had some contact with some universities about studying and playing over there, but it didn’t happen. Once I had started my studies in Holland, I wanted to see it through. I do have some family in the USA—North Carolina—so you never know!
B/R: Have you already got one eye on the Women’s World Cup in 2015, which will take place in Canada?
AH: I don’t want to look too far forward—just focus on the next game. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so my focus is on the next qualifier against Portugal.
B/R: Have you had a chance to visit the Emirates Stadium yet?
AH: I have! I went to the Arsenal vs. Swansea game. It wasn’t a great game for Arsenal, but it was great to see the stadium and the whole atmosphere. I also went to the Newcastle game and was interviewed on the pitch before the match. I had a ticket for the semi-final of the FA Cup at Wembley, too, but I was in Holland with my concussion—but now I have another chance for the final! I’m really looking forward to that.
B/R: This is something of a transitional season for Arsenal Ladies: Eight players have left, and six new ones have joined. How much of an affect will that have on your season?
AH: It’s hard for me to say because I haven’t been here for a few years, so I don’t know how good the other teams are. Of course, I’m really impressed by the quality of our team. Arsenal have some quality players—some of the best players I’ve played with—but it’s not always the case that the best players are the best team. Sometimes you need time, especially when you have a few new players like we do.
AH: It’s so difficult. We played Birmingham in the Champions League, and when I saw the squad, I didn’t necessarily expect a lot of them because I didn’t know a lot of names, but they’re such a strong team. They fight together with a great strategy and smart tactics. I was really impressed with them. It’s going to be a very competitive season.
I’ve now seen a few games of other teams because I try to follow it on television or in person, and I think every week it’s going to be a big game—like a final. Anything is possible and it’s a really good thing. It should be very entertaining for the neutrals!
B/R: You’re already through to the FA Cup final. Can the Gunners replicate the success of recent years?
AH: It’s different from a few years ago because when I played for Bristol, Arsenal were so dominant that it was easy for them to win the league, FA Cup, everything. Now, I think all the clubs are of a similar strength and everyone can win the league. I expect us to finish in the top three, but hopefully we can win the league—and of course the FA Cup, too. That’s my target.
This interview was conducted by Bleacher Report UK in partnership with Arsenal FC.
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