“You don’t realize how big the impact of a match like this is”

Ajax has recruited 51 national players in its illustrious history. Amazing players, many of whom have played for their country as well. Their country is in the finals with a new generation of footballers. Now that the 2022 World Cup is underway, we think it’s a good time to let some of our former players speak again. In this third chapter: John O’Brien.

We call when O’Brien is in Hawaii with his family. We talk to him on the island early in the morning because of the nine-hour time difference with the Netherlands. “I had to hurry because I swam in the morning and surfed in the sea. Amazing.”

Special
The American, who played at Ajax 1 between 1999 and 2005, still speaks Dutch. “I want to do this interview in Dutch,” O’Brien begins. He looks back fondly on that period in Amsterdam. “Amazing. It was great to reach Ajax 1 as a young American. I played at a high level myself and was surrounded by amazing players. It was very special.”

O’Brien did not speak Dutch when he arrived in Amsterdam as a youth player. “My teammates were very friendly and enthusiastic. They thought it was a bit strange that an American came to play football in the youth of Ajax. It was very familiar to me, a different country and a completely different football culture. When. We went from De Meer to the Arena and it felt a little more American,” he said. laughs

The defensive midfielder describes himself as ‘cool’ and ‘tough’ on the field. “Fire came into my body and I continued until I couldn’t. In addition, I was very shy at that time and often watched the cat from the tree. I really enjoyed the great game at Ajax. There were many changes in the coach. And “there was always a lot of pressure on the team. I found it less pleasant. I knew how to deal with it over the years, but it took getting used to in the beginning.”

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During his time in Amsterdam, O’Brien was called up to the United States national team. “It means a lot to me. As a fan, when the USA was defeated against other countries, I had a ‘chip’ on my shoulder. I wanted to show the world that I could beat the USA. Because of my experiences at Ajax, I always went into the national team with a lot of confidence. My bowling ability It has improved tremendously.

Impact
The 2002 World Cup was an exciting tournament for the Americans. “I scored in the first game against Portugal. It was my first World Cup, I felt good and it was a great stage. We won 3-2 and won the quarter-final against Germany. I was young during that match and I really knew what I was doing. “I don’t know,” laughs O’Brien. “I’m here, I’m going to do it, I thought. You don’t realize how big the impact of the World Cup is.”

Four years later, O’Brien was back in action at a World Cup. “I was injured for almost four years, but got lucky. In the end, I played almost nothing because I was not fully fit. Between 2002 and 2006 my career went downhill.”

O’Brien says the way Americans now experience the World Cup has changed a lot compared to his time. “It is alive now, not only because we participate this year, but also because we have a good team. There is hope, because in 2026 the next World Cup will be held in the United States, among others. When I participated in the World Cup, the football press tried to talk about the main news in the United States. It was a task then. . That’s not the case anymore. There’s enough attention now that everyone in America follows suit.”

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‘The player I wanted to be’
England, Wales and Iran were drawn by the United States during the World Cup in Qatar. O’Brien, who now works as a psychologist, follows them closely. “We have a good chance of continuing, second behind England is realistic.” He is also looking at the Netherlands. “I like players like Frankie de Jong. He’s a player I wish I could have been.”

The Netherlands – USA poster became reality in the eighth final. Who is O’Brien for? “I don’t like it, because my heart is for America. But I don’t think they’ll do it against the Orange. I hope they meet someone else, because I can be for both.”

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