Tell us about your early memories playing football?
“I was quite young, 10 years old, when I joined Ajax and my big idol was Jari Litmanen. Sometimes I was training and thinking it would be a dream to play with him or against him’ and a few years later we were playing together.
“It’s strange when you have an idol and then you play with him. He was the best. I loved playing with him at Ajax. We are similar players, the same position.
“You always remember when you are young and you meet footballer. If you are asked for an autograph you have to give it, otherwise it will make a big impression on that child. Now I can make everyone happy.
Everyone always likes that story. It’s a lifestyle in Holland, not so unusual. But I remember I was always playing on the street, always playing with a football and you had all your family around you. I started with my dad, shooting at bottles.
“It was a good upbringing and then when I was 10 I went to Ajax and everyone was really proud that a boy like me, from the caravans, was playing for a club like Ajax. I dreamt of playing for the first-team and then that happened and everything changed.”
What was it like living in a caravan as a youngster?
“You are different. You are from Holland but you are treated like an immigrant. At school I had to sign papers, stand in a different queue, it brought extra attention on me.
“For my parents it was difficult. For me, I didn’t care. My mother explained it, she went to the school and asked why because I am from Holland that I had to fill in these different papers and it was then that I realised‘’okay, we live a different lifestyle.’ I never thought that I would live in a normal house. I thought that was strange.
“I still go and visit my family on the caravan site. They are still living in the same place. My parents now live in a house but my uncles and aunts are still there. They still like the lifestyle.
“It’s a good feeling going back because the caravan where I lived is still standing there, almost like it was. Sometimes I go back to that caravan.
Do you think becoming a famous footballer has changed you?
“Of course you change when you become a footballer, you become more famous, you have more money but I still feel I’m the same. It’s a great lifestyle and the people are fantastic and that’s why I always like to go back.
“When I was 16 I got my first contract at Ajax and I earned some money. I bought a house for my parents and they are still living in that same house.
“For me it was nice to give something back to my mum and dad and my brother. It’s not easy for them, especially for my brother. Now he’s my biggest fan. I’m a lucky guy. He’s not jealous. When we lost against Everton I called him and he was upset, he reacted like a fan.
Why do you think Holland produces so many good players considering they have such a small population?
“The main thing for us is to enjoy the game, play on the street and to fight for your position.
“Here when you are aged 21 or 22 you are called a talent’. I am 27 and I have almost 90 caps. When I was 21 I had 30 caps or something like that. Here [England] you are regarded as a‘talent’ at that age.
“In Holland it’s different. My first game in the first-team I was aged 17. And for Van Persie it was the same. Sneijder, Babel also. Everybody. Maybe it’s easier in Holland because the league is not so strong as the Premier League and maybe it’s better for young players to go there.
“Now Arsenal and Chelsea are buying a lot of young players from Holland, their whole families move over and I don’t think that’s good. They should stay in Holland, play in the first-team there and then come over.”
What do you think of English football?
“I love it because everyone here loves football. Saturday afternoon at the stadium, with the kids, the people live for the club, every year the quality is better. It’s good football and that’s what people like.
“In Holland there are now a lot of Tottenham supporters, not just because of me but because of the way the team plays. Everyone is interested and that is a compliment to the club.
“I was surprised that we won so easily against Inter [Milan]. It was a fantastic game, even though I only played 45 minutes because of my hamstring. But I scored a goal and played against Wesley Sneijder.
“We are good friends and have always played together so that was the first time we have been against each other. Before that it was Ajax youth, first-team, Real Madrid for a year, the national team. It was strange against each other but we won.
The move to Spurs happened very quickly, tell us what happened on the last day of the transfer window from your perspective?
“It was a strange day because I was in Holland with the national team. I went there and everyone was asking me ‘are you staying (with Real Madrid)’ and I said ‘yes’.
“We always go for a rest and a sleep for two hours in the hotel and I woke up and there were a few calls from my agent and he just said ‘Spurs wants to buy you, do you want to go?’ I said ‘yeah, of course’.
“It was strange because I stayed with the national team and I was a Spurs player for 10 days before I went to London – for the first time.
“It was quite an easy decision though because Real Madrid had told me I had to go and that they would not play me. I knew when Kaka came that I could fight for my position and I played 25 games that season but it was different.
“You know, I really wanted to have a really great feeling again with a club. When Tottenham came in I decided I wanted to go to London and make a fresh start. I knew Tottenham, I knew the players – I watched Match of the Day and saw all the games. I knew it was a big squad, one of the biggest in the Premier League. Last week against Charlton the ‘second’ team played and it was full of fantastic players.”
What is the Manager Harry Redknapp like to work with?
“He’s really open. You can go to him and talk to him and that’s great for a player. Always for the press he is good – he’s funny and everyone likes him. It’s one of the reasons why people like Spurs because he’s the main man. I’m not used to having a manager. In Spain and Holland you have a trainer with an assistant but he’s the manager and he’s standing there, he sees everything. He doesn’t say much but when he says something it matters. It’s very simple – enjoy the game, show your skills.
“From the first day I felt really important, it was the main thing for me. If I had been playing badly everything would be different, I know that, but I’ve had a great half year and you see how Gareth Bale plays, how Luka Modric plays. Everyone likes to play with each other in this team.”
What have you made of the amount of attention the arrival of David Beckham has brought the Club?
“I thought all the cameras were for me!?!
“He’s the biggest star in the world, he’s like a movie star. You see that. He’s won everything and done a lot of commercial stuff. Of course he’s a big star but he’s also a great guy.
“I’ve met him a few times in Madrid when he came back to watch games and now he is training with us at Spurs which, I think, is a good thing for the players and the club.”
What are Tottenham’s chances of challenging for the championship now?
There is a chance especially when you have a few games in the row that you can win. We have a chance of winning the league although, for us, the main thing is still finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League.
“When you don’t believe, you can’t win anything. With the Dutch national team, last summer at the World Cup, our trainer (Bert Van Marwijk) said ‘we believe or we stay at home’. And we said ‘no, we are going to go and win this title’ and every day I told myself we are going to win it and I believed we would. In the end it was only the toe of Casillas that stopped us.
“It’s difficult but it’s football. I’m always realistic. They were better than us in the final and Spain deserved to win the game but it was so close.
What convinced you to join Spurs?
“They told me that they wanted to build a great squad that one day would win the league and the Champions League. You have to believe in something.
“I believe we can beat anybody. I have played for Ajax, Hamburg and Real Madrid and the difference with this squad is not big. But you have to believe you can win big games. That’s the main thing. When you go to Milan you don’t have to be afraid. It’s a big stadium with great players but there is no reason to be afraid.
“It’s all to do with belief. Maybe that is one reason why Spurs bought me. With a big game you have to have the feeling that you are going to win and we had that against Inter.
“It was one of the biggest games but, of course, there was the game against Arsenal at the Emirates when people were crying behind the goal when we won there. It was a strange game – 2-0 down and then we win the game.”
What do you do in your spare time?
“I stay at home, play with my son – occasionally go for a nice dinner in the city. We play almost every three days.”
What did you make of not having a break over the Christmas period?
“Christmas was too much. My body is not used to it – it’s used to two weeks off. But Boxing Day was fantastic, not only did I score two goals but it felt like something special. I always like to score, it’s the best feeling in the world.”