The Bambino has grown up. For a long time Urby Emanuelson has been labelled “the baby” on account of his baby face. On the pitch however, he soon became a veteran, playing regularly from the age of 18 with Ajax before moving to AC Milan. Now Emanuelson is set to prove his worth in the Premier League at Fulham, who he has joined on a six-month loan. “I don’t see Fulham as a step back in my career”, he explained. “A step back would have been to spend the rest of the season on the bench. I am 26, I need to play. Fulham? It was a choice I made for my career.”

Emanuelson’s career suffered a mini-slump during his third season at Milan. “The last months were difficult for me”, he acknowledged. “I sat on the bench for five consecutive games and I understood that something changed in the coach’s choices. Was I surprised? Yes I was, because in pre-season I was one of the best, at least that is what was said within the club and in the media. However, as the season began I found myself out of the starting eleven, it didn’t matter how hard I trained.”

Asked what happened to his relationship with Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, Emanuelson could not say. “Our relationship has always been professional, that’s all there is to say”, he said. “In my previous two seasons at Milan I think I showed my worth. I played in different roles, left midfielder, winger, number 10, and did well, improving step by step. I followed the advice of my former team-mate Clarence Seedorf, who was just 19 when he left Ajax to join Sampdoria in Serie A. Keep working hard, he said, and always do your best, then you will get your chance. It happened and that is why being forgotten on the bench in my third season was so surprising to me.”

Emanuelson has opted to experience the English Premier League as he looks to kickstart his career and prove his worth once again. It is a league he expects to be somewhat different to Serie A. “The main difference between this league and Serie A is the speed of play”, explained the Dutchman. “Football in England is faster. Moreover, the referees are more tolerant, while sometimes in Italy it is frustrating to see the game stopped every minute because of a foul.”

For the former Ajax man, moving to Fulham means a new approach to the game too. “It is the first time in my career that I am not at a club that play dominant football. Both Ajax and Milan were powerhouses in their countries, while Fulham have to face giants like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. Against them you can try to play football, but you can’t dictate the game.”

Emanuelson has a familiar face at Craven Cottage to help with his adaptation though, in the shape of manager Martin Jol. “He was key to my move to London as I’d already worked with him at Ajax”, said the Holland international. “Under him I had one of my best seasons. He knows me and I needed a coach who believes 100% in my qualities.” And Jol already has Emanuelson’s role in mind, the winger revealed. “Tactically speaking, Jol has asked me to bring more creativity to the team, but at the same time I must take care of my defensive duties and keep the team compact. That’s fine by me, I am an all-round player and I have always considered my versatility to be one of my strongest points. Playing a key role both in the defensive and the attacking phase is the same thing I did at Milan. The only difference is, as I said before, that in England I have less time to close the space to my opponent or to put a team-mate through on goal.”

The Holland national team is also not far from Emanuelson’s thoughts, with making up for the disappointment of missing out on Euro 2012 a definite target. “I was extremely disappointed when I was not picked for Euro 2012, especially considering that Bert van Marwijk took just one left-back to the Ukraine, 18-year-old Jetro Willems, and his only other option was to play a centre-back or defensive midfielder in that position. Anyway, Euro 2012 is something everyone in Holland wants to forget, and I do too. I haven’t spoken with coach Louis van Gaal yet, but I am aware that my best case will be made by my performances on the pitch.”

Back in Emanuelson’s homeland, one of the umpteenth talents developed by the country’s excellent youth system is Jean-Paul Boetius, who is currently shining in the Eredivisie with Feyenoord. “Two years ago my mother told me I had a nephew who had signed a contract with Feyenoord”, the ex-Ajax man explained. “I had never heard about Jean-Paul before. Last October I was at the Amsterdam ArenA for the big game between Ajax and Feyenoord and I was surprised to see him in the team. He played good football and scored. He is very gifted, but please don’t compare him to me. Boetius is a right-footed winger, I’m a left-footed midfielder, and even our style is different.”

Emanuelson and Boetius do have one thing in common however: they both made their debut under Ronald Koeman. “Unfortunately Koeman was sacked one day after he gave me my debut [in 2004, in the UEFA Cup against Auxerre, ed.]. I consider him a great coach and a guarantee for the development of young talents. Look at what he is doing at Feyenoord.”

With Holland’s future looking bright as the next batch of promising youngsters break through, Emanuelson has also given some consideration to his own future, which he still hopes will be back in Italy with Milan. “My contract with Milan expires in 2014”, he noted. “I will discuss it with the club at the end of the season; now I am totally focused on Fulham. But one thing is certain: I think I am good enough to play for Milan again.”

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