Of all the players that Everton went out and splurged on in the summer of 2017 when the Blues were collecting #10s like aces in the deck, probably the most mystifying was Davy Klaassen.
Having just led his Ajax Amsterdam side to the Europa League final the season before and at the prime age of 24, he was expected to quickly make a position for himself in the Everton midfield under his countryman Ronald Koeman.
However, right from the outset of preseason training the Dutchman seemed off the boil. He got caught in possession more often than not, and seemed unable to find his teammates when he did hold on to the ball.
Speaking to Dutch outlet Elf Voetbal yesterday, Klaassen admitted he never caught on to the English game, though more than once he hinted he wasn’t made for the long ball game Sam Allardyce ended up implementing.
“It is a combination of factors. I was not good enough for the game that Everton wanted to play. It has to do with yourself, with style and with choices of the trainers. I noticed quite quickly that it would be a difficult story at Everton, even before Ronald Koeman was fired. Before I signed, I expected that there would be a little more football in the team, although I also knew that English football is a lot of running and pounding. I do not turn my hand around, but I also think the footballing aspect is very important.
“I was used to the game at Ajax: always the ball in the foot. In England I sometimes had the idea that the balls always flew over me. We did not have a striker who could hold a ball and move around it or get over it. We had Romelu Lukaku, but he left for Manchester United. Koeman then wanted to take Olivier Giroud as a striker, but that transfer did not take place. At the start of the season we had to go directly to Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. It did not turn for a meter. We ended up in a downward spiral, I came next to it and in November Koeman was fired.”
He spoke about his relationship with Koeman as well, which is particularly relevant now that the former Everton manager is in charge of the Holland national side. Klassen has 16 international caps, but the last of those came a whole year ago.
“We had a good relationship and I do not blame him. Koeman said he was disappointed that I could not play the role he had in mind. And of course I do. I had the idea of becoming important at Everton. Koeman was struck by the fact that I came for a lot of money, but could not live up to it. Just like more purchases from that summer.
“On the day of his resignation, I spoke with him for a while. Later he called shortly after he became national coach. He said that for the time being I would not be eligible for Orange (the Dutch national side), but that the perspective would change if I started playing again. Who knows when Orange will come again.”
Klaassen was especially critical of Allardyce and his training staff, who ostracized him and basically told him he had no future at the club.
“At one of his first trainings, I participated in the warm-up with the entire group. Then an assistant came to me and he said that they wanted to do a tactical training with 23 men.
“I was not in there and I asked: ‘What should I do?’; ‘Just ask the physical trainer’, I was told. Together with another boy I went to the trainer and asked if he had something in store for us. He said: ‘You can find out yourself’.
“Actually bizarre, but that’s how it went. You feel banned, yes. Allardyce said shortly after his appointment that I was physically not strong enough for his playing. He did not refer to content and walking ability, but to pure power. His game has been set up there: with big, strong boys. I could handle it, but he would not listen to me anyway.
“I continued training every day and did not throw in my cap. But from such a hopeless situation you become a bit desperate. Together with teammates, such as Maarten Stekelenburg, second keeper at Everton, I also sometimes made jokes. Humor is important, otherwise you stay in a negative atmosphere.
“I also hung out a lot with Daley Blind. He also lived in Manchester and came to United in the same situation as me. So we could often agree to have lunch. I had time to explore the city and its surroundings. Manchester was beautiful, Liverpool attracted me less. I had a good time in England in terms of life, but football was less. I thought it was a logical choice last year: from Ajax to Everton. But you can now determine that it was not a match. You will not know that until you have made the step.”
When asked if he saw himself returning to England to play in the Premier League, Klaassen was quite emphatic in his response.
“No, I do not think so. I did not have the intention in the summer to look for a new club in England. English clubs play more kick and rush than people might think if they watch TV. The top six in the Premier League has European managers and you can see that in the style of playing, but many other teams, with English managers, mostly play long balls. I was not prepared for that. In Germany there is more to an idea behind the game at many clubs, I notice. The pace in England is higher, but in Germany is better football. This may be because clubs and trainers in Germany have less money to spend and have to be creative in their way of working. In England clubs buy new players more easily if they do not work out.
“There is so much money available in the Premier League. It is a revolving door with players who come and go. There does not always seem to be a well-thought-out policy. Clubs pick up an army of players and see who succeeds. The rest are sold again. Some, like me, for half the price.
“Transfers in England are frenzied by TV revenue. The Premier League is made super big by marketing. The whole world follows the competition: from China to America. Last year we flew with Everton for a practice match up and down to Tanzania. In Germany, the football world is calmer and more normal. That suits me better, I notice it now.”
Everton cut ties with Director of Football Steve Walsh last summer, and brought in another of Klaassen’s countrymen, Marcel Brands. However, it appeared the decision had already been made that he would be sold.
“Shortly after my vacation, but before his arrival it was already decided that I would leave. I spent seven weeks with my girlfriend in the United States and in the Turks and Caicos islands. I have never been on that long a vacation.
“When I spoke with the new manager Marco Silva he said that keeping me was an option for him, but also that a number of clubs had already asked about me, including Bremen.”
Klaassen also finally revealed what caused his transfer to Napoli in January to fall through, and said that Allardyce flat out lied that the player caused the Italian side to back out.
“In January I was so close to going to Napoli, but on the last day of the transfer window they retreated. They did not come to an agreement with Everton and found out that I was not entitled to play in Europe for them.
“The story Allardyce said of me not giving up my portrait rights stopping the transfer was nonsense. Allardyce almost never spoke to me, but often about me. I regretted that Napoli was not going to happen, but now I am glad that I will regain confidence at Werder Bremen.”
Pretty damning that.
Throughout the year at Everton, the Dutchman was a model professional, not resorting to using social media or journalists to vent his frustration, and for that he deserves a lot of credit.
He appears to have settled in well at the German side, scoring twice with two assists in eight games, starting in every Bundesliga game on the right side of a 4-3-3 midfield where both Tom Davies and Idrissa Gueye have played for the Blues this season.
Most Everton fans hold no grudges towards the player who they saw trying his best, and continue to wish him well in his career going forward.