Robin Buwalda: IFK Mariehamn, VVV Venlo and my toughest opponent

You signed for IFK Mariehamn in 2019. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far and how would you describe a club such as IFK Mariehamn?

RI am really enjoying myself at IFK Mariehamn so far. They are a very friendly and transparent club. They are a really family club due to being a small club on the island that plays at the highest level here in Finland and everybody helps one another. From the moment I arrived at the club I learned that the team is very much a team of friends because we travel a lot together especially for the away games we travel with the boat and train and we travel for three days for an away game for example and it is really interesting and it was completely different to what I and other players were used too.

Life is also different here on the island and that took a little bit of getting used to. It is really quiet and not much happens on the island apart from the holiday season where people are returning to their holiday homes and then is when you see more boats sailing into the harbor. Football is pretty much the only thing that I can do here here on the island.

You were loaned to VVV Venlo for two seasons. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?

Yes, I hold VVV Venlo in high regard due to it being one of the most successful parts of my career so far. I had a great time there and I managed to play a lot of games in the starting eleven as loanee and the then manager Maurice Steijn gave me a lot of confidence. Perhaps I should have stayed at VVV Venlo but that is easy to say afterwards. VVV Venlo is a great club and I got on well with many players there and people at the club and I made many friends.

Credit: Tsutomu Takasu

I had two great years even playing the promotions play-offs. I was offered a contract by the club but I decided to sign for NEC Nijmegen at the time. but that is the way it goes in football sometimes you make decisions that do not work out but I really enjoyed my time at VVV Venlo and I would always be opening to returning to the club one day.

You lead me nicely to my next question by mentioning NEC Nijmegen. How do you look back on your three seasons at the club and do you have any special memories or highlights?

NEC Nijmegen was a step in the right direction in terms of playing for an Eredivisie club again having previously played for ADO Den Haag. I played 18 games in my first season for the club and not all in my natural position but in terms of my own development it was a fine season playing and gaining experience against such teams such as PSV Eindhoven, Ajax.

I believe that our squad had enough quality to stay up that season but towards the end of the season we suffered poor form perhaps the players and manager intervened too late where we were relegated. We had a lot of foreign players in our squad and I can remember an away game against AZ Alkmaar. I was the only player in the starting eleven with a Dutch passport and that says enough about the situation. We had quality in the squad but the feeling together as a team was not comparable to what I now have here at IFK Mariehamn. We had good players but we were not a really close team during the difficult moments.

Credit: Justinrtw5

In my second season at the club starting a bit messy and I was linked on a move back to VVV Venlo which did not happen in the end but I had peace with such a situation because after suffering a meniscus injury in my knee I lost my place in the starting eleven and NEC Nijmegen were top of the league at the time and the manager did not view me as a player that could play regularly and I wanted to get fit so I thought about a loan in order to play regular games and become stronger as a player and become fit I went to GO Ahead Eagles who were struggling at the time and again I did not play matches in my natural position but in a different position. Go Ahead Eagles were also panicking because they were so low in the league around 15th place. I did everything to stay at the club but it did not happen. My third season I thought I would start with a clean slate at NEC Nijmegen but the club themselves did not think the same and I had to work really hard to be viewed by the then manager Jack De Gier which I believe I managed to do but NEC had a big turnover of players and I was no longer in the club’s plans due to the whole board being overthrown because of the relegation.

I fought the board a little bit and the pressure involved was not good for me. I could not perform well but I also have to look at myself and I did not do well and the best solution was to look at other options and I wanted to do that abroad I wanted to make a new, fresh start abroad and that was difficult because the 18 months before I was not myself due to injuries and not playing. It was not the Robin Buwalda who played in the Eredivisie for VVV Venlo, he had gone away and I had to start again but in football things can go very quickly, you can rise quickly and also drop too and here at IFK Mariehamn I am try to find my way up again and since I have arrived here in Finland I have enjoyed the peace and the fun of playing again and we have had a good season.

In my first year I did not feel like a professional footballer, I was not super fit, super focused but my experienced helped me to show my quality on the pitch and this season I have carried in a good way and I hope after this season to be able to have another nice experience and make a step up and my ambition is to play at the highest level that I can and I am still striving to achieve that.

You have accrued good experience in the Netherlands and Finland, could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?

Yes, I played with some very talented players at NEC Nijmegen – Arnaut Danjuma who plays for AFC Bournemouth in England, Ferdi Kadioglu by Fenerbahçe S.K. Jordan Larsson who is now playing for Spartak Moscow in Russia. They are three players in particular that stand out for me.

Credit: Анна Нэсси

I also played with Anass Achahbar at NEC Nijmegen and he is a great player who also has his own story to tell. He was loaned from PEC Zwolle to NEC Nijmegen and he started out at Feyenoord. He is now playing in Romania for Sepsi OSK Sfântu Gheorghe and he is also trying to make his way up again and our careers have taken similar routes. I do not want to miss anybody out as I have been fortunate to play with many good players in my career so far.

I can imagine in your position as a defender that you have come up against many difficult opponents through the years, could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?

Credit: ING Nederland

Yes. The most difficult opponent I have faced is Luuk de Jong now playing in La Liga for Sevilla. Also Steven Bergwijn who now plays in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur. I always thought that Luciano Narsingh was a good player when he played for PSV Eindhoven and the way that he combined with Jetro Willems in particular was very dangerous.

PSV Eindhoven had an excellent team back then and Kasper Dolberg was often in great form for Ajax when we played them, a fantastic player. I also played against Sébastien Haller when he played for FC Utrecht. He is now playing for West Ham United in the Premier League

Finally Robin, could you say which coaches and managers have meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?

There is only one name really and that is Maurice Steijn. He gave me my debut for ADO Den Haag when I was 17 years old. When he became manager of VVV Venlo he thought of me and he brought me to VVV and allowed me to blossom as a player. He is the one manager that I think of in that respect.

Credit: Richard Mulder / groengeelhart.nl

I have also worked under Peter Hyballa and Jack De Gier and they are also good managers but I have played five seasons under Maurice Steijn and I will always be grateful to him for the confidence he showed in me as a player.

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