The drive alone from his home in the city to Milanello, the paradise-like training complex for footballers, is worth describing. “I enjoy the mountains every day, the whole picture, when I drive towards Milanello.”
The midfielder, whose face always beams with joy, speaks in Zeist, with the Dutch national team, where he considers himself lucky to have chosen one of the biggest clubs in the world. Marco van Basten, an illustrious predecessor at AC Milan, once described the workplace in Lombardy perfectly in a documentary he wrote. Hard grass: ‘Milanello was a spa for footballers. Then you arrive in the morning, read the newspaper, have a cup of coffee, talk, practice at ten-thirty, all is well, new balls, shirts, courts like pool clothes, nice exercise, being healthy and doing something you love. Really enjoy playing football. Well, practice, take a nice bath, eat a nice meal, joke around a little and then beg. Doesn’t seem wrong to me.
About the author
Willem Vissers has been a sports reporter for more than 25 years De Volkskrant. He covered eight World Cup finals. In 2022, he was named Sports Journalist of the Year.
Reijnders experiences this reality, with the peace and quiet of the stadiums, and a break from the football madness outside, with lunch prepared by chefs in white hats. There are pictures of great people everywhere in the corridors, from the past such as Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten or Clarence Seedorf. “This makes me even prouder.” They were happy to have another Dutch settle in Milan.
Performance helps with that. Following his move from Arizona for over €20 million, Tijani Reynders became an immediate regular, even before becoming an international. The club had a plan for him. Barcelona also showed interest, but they were looking for a true defensive midfielder. AC Milan want him to play a little more attacking football than he did in Arizona, where he moved from box to box as a contact player. More attacking, with depth, assists and ultimately goals. “This goal will come naturally. I am very useful when I play in the opponent’s half.
In the first league match against Bologna, he brilliantly made an almost impossible pass from the back line to scoring striker Olivier Giroud. This is exactly how it was intended. He was clearly present immediately during the training camp in America. “It is important to explain why you have made your choice.” In AZ, it took a relatively long time before it broke through. “I brought self-confidence from the previous season. He reached the semi-finals with Alkmaar in the Conference League.
Milan is at the top, despite the heavy defeat (5-1) against its city rival Inter (“I did not go to the city then”). He meets kindness everywhere. ‘Everyone is welcomed with open arms. Giroud knew that I played for Alkmaar and reached the semi-finals. Of course I knew more about him because I had seen him on TV. But it wasn’t insulting at all. Example: You’re from Arizona, just wait a little longer. If you do well in this field, you will be accepted more quickly.
Scion of a football family
Reijnders is a typical football family man. Son of Martin, professional at a lower level for many years. At the end of his career, Martin returned too late from the United States to attend Tijani’s birthday party. The businessman is also an advisor and agent for his football sons. He protects Tijani and his brother Eliano (PEC Zwolle) from mistakes. Mom and Dad Angelina divide their attention between the soccer-playing sons and his dancing sister, Siani.
“My father liked the fringes,” Reynders civilly expresses about my father’s prolific life. He always said it was good to do it this way, so his kids wouldn’t make those mistakes. I’ve always viewed my father as my coach, outside of fatherhood. My father had a football school where the boys often attended.
Tijani’s path was amazing, with many little bumps and steps. The Zwolle-based player returned to amateur club Apeldoorn, where he played with his brother in the first team, and where his father was a coach. “Especially in Arizona, sometimes I had to wait a long time in my opinion. It seemed like it should have been this way. Patience was rewarded.”
Now things are moving quickly. He is likely to be included in the starting lineup for the Dutch national team, which is suffering from injuries, on Friday against France. National team coach Ronald Koeman thought in previous international matches that he had found the ideal partner for Frenkie de Jong in Reynders, but De Jong is among the injured. Maybe he now has to do more in the build-up, like in Arizona. “It’s a shame not everyone is fit. It’s up to us to show our qualities. We just have to be there on Friday.
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