Creative Soccer Culture

Patrick Van Aanholt on Ten Years in the Premier League, Music and Family

Ten years of doing anything will leave a lasting impression on ones mind. Your experiences in that time will be turbulent yet triumphant, not least if that decade is dedicated to journeying the highs and lows of pure Premier League performance. Taking stock at a time when we're not quite sure when the next ball is going to be kicked, Patrick Van Aanholt is a player we spoke to about life, just before lockdown. 

Landing in London as a spritely sixteen year-old, Van Aanholt was plucked from Holland by Chelsea. The club at the time, free-spending their way to success, saw the potential in the Dutchman. South of London is where this tenure started which would then see him take in several loan moves and after Sunderland it was Crystal Palace where he settled. He's made a name for himself in that time as a player with flair, appetite and charisma.

An epitome of a Premier League player who has the appetite to always want to succeed that little more. This conversation goes from the childhood journey, navigates a Sunday Roast and culminates in a lot of love for the Palace faithful...

Can we take it back to the beginning... What was your childhood experience of football like?

My childhood was nice, also difficult. I used to just constantly play football but my friends lived all over the place so it was hard for us all to get together and play but my parents were also strict and naturally wanted the best for me. I had to choose whether to follow a path or follow my dreams - I chose to follow my dreams.

Who did you have around you that you most close too?

The friends I had around me then are still my closest friends to this day. They’re my best, best friends. We all grew up together. They used to play football as well but not at a high level. They stayed on at school whereas I left school when I was sixteen to go and play football. That’s the main difference between me and my friends.

Who introduced you to football?

It was natural from when I was born. I would always be watching it on TV. It sounds crazy but for as long as I can remember I was always kicking a football. I can see it now in my son, he’s the same - he just loves football. It makes sense seeing it all through him. I don’t remember any particular tournaments and things like that but as I got older and older, I was just watching more and more football and taking it all in, I would see people on the TV and just think “I want that to be me”. That’s what would inspire me.

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When I was younger, I would go out and play like there’s no rules. Once you get towards the first team, you get older and games become more regular, you adapt and become more strategic.

Who were the stand out players that grabbed your attention?

There were a lot but the main ones were people like Ronaldinho, Ashley Cole, Drogba - all those kinds of players. That’s what I wanted to be, I wanted to be like them and be on TV one day.

What were those academy years like? How hard did you have to graft to make it into the professional game?

You have to work every day, even now, even more. It’s also about enjoying your football. When I was younger, I would go out and play like there’s no rules. Once you get towards the first team, you get older and games become more regular, you adapt and become more strategic. Like how to play in set positions, how to work in with tactics, all that side of things so you learn over time.

How hard was it to resist the temptations of going out with friends, maybe doing things you shouldn’t?

The temptations are hard to resist when you’re younger. Your friends are going out on a Friday night and you have a game on a Saturday. Or they’re going out on a Saturday but you have a game on a Sunday. Naturally you’re training all the time too so when younger it’s hard to fight those temptations. It’s also about mentality. If you want to go for your goals, you have to realise that you have to put what is most important first and stay focused. When you’re young you feel like that’s a hard decision because you want to go out and enjoy life but when you look at the bigger picture and what you’re looking to achieve, really the decision is easy. We all make mistakes, naturally but it’s about staying focused.

What was it like to move to England at a young age? How did you cope being away from home?

It was tough. I’m a family man. I always have been. As a kid I always had my mum, my dad and my sisters around me. When I moved to England, my dad came with me which helped and made things easier but you still miss home and what you’ve grown up with. My mum would fly out every other week to see me which helped me adapt a lot. I lived at home with my dad until I was about 21, then I moved out and my girlfriend, now wife, got somewhere to live together.

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What players helped you settle in, can you remember?

There was another dutch player who signed for Chelsea when I did and he lived next door to me so that made things easy. From the moment I joined Chelsea, I have to say the older players as a whole, all helped me settle in. I couldn’t single out just one person because they were all so welcoming to me.

You moved over at such an important time in anyone’s life when it comes to growing up and developing. What about things like learning to drive - did you do that in the UK?

I remember I booked my theory test over here and I just couldn’t understand it. I think I failed it about four or five times. Then I just decided to do it in Holland during the holidays so one summer I spent like two weeks and did both tests and had my licence. After that, I was happy. My english wasn’t the best then so doing things like that in a different language was a challenge so I had to do that back home in Holland.

Do you ever see young players come in now that remind you of what you went through?

Yeah of course. When some of the players train with us now, I think to myself, “I remember how you feel, that was me once”. They’re at the start of the journey, it’s an interesting time for any player. Such important years.

No not really. I am who I am, if you don’t like it, then you don’t like it.
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You’ve never been afraid to show flair and personality, do you have to win players over when you go into a new dressing room like that?

No not really. I am who I am, if you don’t like it, then you don’t like it. [laughs] If you don’t like what I’m wearing or whatever, it won’t change who I am or what I like. I think it’s important to be confident in who you are. I think especially as a player who has to go out and perform on the pitch, you have to have confidence in yourself. This is who I am, I think it’s important to have that mindset.

Looking back...When joining Chelsea, did you think that it was going to be a smooth ride from then on?

Nah. At that point I knew it was going to be even harder. Chelsea is a big club with so many top players. I knew it was going to be tough to make it into the first team. They had loads of money and could just buy any player they wanted. So I knew that was going to be a challenging place to be and a risk but I took that risk and if I didn’t, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.

What did you think of London then? Did you always want to come back to this part of the country?

I used to live in Cobham so it wasn’t really London, London you know? Me and my dad used to go out and see London and things like that from time to time but being honest, I didn’t really leave the house all that much when I was younger - I was just focused on playing football really. I didn’t really know too much about London until I was older and started to explore. I now live in Surrey and I’ve chosen the more Southern side of London because that’s where it feels good. Also my wife and kids love Kingston where I live now.

You’ve travelled the UK a lot and experienced it all with different clubs - is this country very much your home now?

Yeah you could say it’s my second home really. Holland will always be my first home. I’m proud of where I come from and where I grew up. I’ve been here for ten years now so anywhere you spend that amount of time naturally becomes a place that means a lot to you.

What elements of the culture do you like most, what have you learnt about it?

The thing that stands out is how much people love a Sunday roast. That was new to me. I’m not really that much of a fan of it. People love it but it was just something I hadn’t experienced before.

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Your family is obviously massive for you. I’d like to touch on unity a little bit. How much is your wife a rock for you?

She holds it down for me. She’s great with our kids and does so much at home. It’s not so much about the things she does but so much is about being there for me as well, especially during game days. Those days, I usually wake up later and she takes the kids so I can have a lie in and rest my body for the game. It’s those little things that make a big difference. It goes both ways of course, I try to do as much as I can to give back in ways that help her too.

What’s it like for you to raise your kids over here?

My first one was born in Holland when I was on loan at Vitesse so he’s had a taste of Dutch culture. My second was born in Newcastle. At home we speak Dutch and we do things that are typically dutch but when they go to school they speak English so they get an understanding of both languages.

How do you think your mindset has changed over time since you’ve had kids?

I’m a totally different person now I’d say. It makes me think twice about everything I do really. If I want to go somewhere or buy something, I just think about the kids and their future. Could I save it for then when they grow up instead. They made me grow up, they made me a man. They helped me mature. I look at my kids and I’m proud. Seeing them grow every day makes me a proud father.

You’re confident in your appearance and you seem sure of who you are. Do you feel that you’ve kind of discovered who you are, what you like over time?

Oh man yeah. I mean you cannot always stay the same. When I was younger I used to wear the most random things. I can’t even describe the stuff I was wearing say ten years ago. It was crazy, I’ve grown up a lot since then. I’ve got a lot of clothes and I wouldn’t say I just wear brands for the sake of it. For me, if it’s nice, I’ll wear it. From Zara to H&M to ASOS, while I do like top end brands, I also just look for things that I think are nice. You don’t always have to wear designer stuff. It’s just all about how you express yourself.

Your label, Padeja - when did you start thinking about that and where would you like to take that?

I designed a few tracksuits with that, yeah. It’s been cool. The first tracksuit we did sold out in a week. I’m currently designing a t-shirt and jumper pack which will drop soon. I’ve always been into my own clothes and my own fashion but my wife’s brother has a brand and he started saying to me that I should design my own tracksuit and I liked the idea a lot. I debated about doing it and whether that’s something I should look at when I finished playing football but the timing felt right so I did it.

At the minute, I don’t want to take it to the next level. It’s a nice thing for me to do - to design a tracksuit and even nicer that it’s gone down well and people want to buy it but it’s important to keep it in perspective. Football is first and if I can start doing more of these things then great.

Where does fashion now rank in terms of importance in your life? Your wardrobe always seems on point.

It’s all quite natural for me. I used to say you’ve either got it or you don’t. If you’ve got swag then you’ve got swag. If you haven’t got swag then you haven’t got swag. Seeing people out there try really hard when they haven’t got it, you can see right through it. Good on them for trying but you can tell...

Who do you think carries themselves well and that you’ve taken a little bit of inspiration from?

Yeah there are some players who have some mad swag. I like Odell Beckham. I think he has mad swag. His style of dress is so good. There are a lot of players outside of football in general I look at. The NBA is always full of players who dress really well.

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Away from the pitch, how would you say you find harmony, what’s your idea of harmony?

When I have a day off, I think my day would look like this: I’d drop my kids off at school, take my wife for breakfast somewhere and most importantly relax. Sometimes we might go to a spa and then just chill at home. Just love to relax.

How big a role does music play in your life? You’re always listening to music aren’t you?

I love music. Everywhere I go I’m always listening to music. Whether it’s a home game or going to an away game or in the car. I feel that music is something everyone has a connection to. It has such a big effect on me. It can calm me down or get me going before a big game or for training. It’s so important for me.

What does your go-to playlist look like?

I’ve got a growing playlist that I’m constantly adding to. Every new tune I hear, I add it to that playlist. Drake, Meek Mill, Pop Smoke all that kind of stuff but I also listen to old school music. Like Usher, Chris Brown, that kind of stuff, I like to mix it up so it’s not just rap but R&B as well. I don’t mind Spanish music as well. When I’m in the changing room, that’s when I’ll have my headphones on. Wilf (Zaha) controls the music - not everyone loves it [laughs]. Everyone puts two songs on that playlist and then we just hit shuffle.

I feel that music is something everyone has a connection to. It has such a big effect on me. It can calm me down or get me going before a big game or for training. It’s so important for me.
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On the pitch, you’ve achieved so much and on the international stage too - what’s your mindset as we look towards the summer?

We’ll obviously see how everything unfolds. Naturally I want to end the season on a high with Palace. We’ve been doing great, had a little dip here and there but we’ve been feeling good. I want to finish the season as good as possible then, only then do we look at anything international.

What’s it like to put on that International jersey and to play for Holland?

Going through qualifiers for the World Cup and Euros and that kind of thing is special to play for Holland. To get picked obviously means a lot. It’s not always nice when you’re called up but you have to sit on the bench. To be involved is great but not to get on the pitch can be tough. I’d say it’s quite a big mental challenge. It’s frustrating just because you want to play so bad. If you train hard then you just have to let fate decide, you’ve done all you can if you work hard.

Naturally you’ve been involved in big occasions - are there any stadiums, games or occasions that you think back to now and think “wow, that happened...”

The new Tottenham Stadium. That’s impressive. We played in the first game there. During that game I remember looking around and thinking “Wow”. I’ve never been that kind of guy, or never said to my wife “oh this stadium is so special” but when I saw that for the first time I remember saying to her just how incredible it was. It looks amazing and is so impressive. For me to say that to her, it made her sit up and take notice because I never talk about things like that, like stadiums. Even Wembley, it didn’t have the effect that the Tottenham stadium did on me.

I’ve never been that kind of guy, or never said to my wife “oh this stadium is so special” but when I saw that for the first time I remember saying to her just how incredible it was.
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Off the pitch, I just want to improve more as a father and really be there for my kids as much as possible.

What do you want to achieve over the next few years?

As a footballer, you really want to win trophies. So on the pitch hopefully I can make that step to keep progressing towards winning trophies. Off the pitch, I just want to improve more as a father and really be there for my kids as much as possible. I want to be more of a family man. I’d say I already am but there’s always room to improve.

Finally, talk us through the experience you’ve had at Palace. What’s the club like and how has it differed from other places?

At Palace, from the moment I stepped through the door I stepped into a family. They’ve really helped me settle in really quickly. The fans, there’s something about them, they’re just so special. The way they cheer for the home team - every game in fact - home or away, they sing the whole way through. That is something very special. 

Photography by Olivia Jankowska
Styling by Sergio Pedro


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