The Visions & Values of Patrick Van Aanholt
Photography: Daniel Ciufo / Styling: Koby Ohene & Osal Studio / Interview & Words: Tom Everest
He has spent 10 years at the top of the Premier League. He’s grown in tandem with the emergence of the new wave of modern full-backs and he’s always at the forefront of the culture-defining conversations that bridge football with the wider world. Now, returning from injury following another stellar campaign for Crystal Palace last time out, his name is destined to be repeated.
Patrick Van Aanholt is one of the most recognisable, well-respected and explosive left-backs in the Premier League, a player whose intensity and pace belies his ten year stint in the top flight. That’s largely because Patrick is more than just a shape-shifting character on the pitch.
Away from the game, he’s had a hand in designing clothes, he’s a dedicated father, uses his social platforms to engage in important, educational and light-hearted conversation with fans and the wider world, including the cursed Katy Hopkins, and is a man of discerning taste when it comes to music, style and culture. Above all else, he’s a man of vision and value.
To honour one of the most outspoken, energetic and effervescent characters in the Premier League, we sat down with Patrick upon his return to the top flight to get his views on the world; from football, fashion and family to the evolution of his personal and professional career through the topics of life, love and lessons learned away from the game.
You’re one of the most enigmatic and engaging characters in the PL; but how would you describe Patrick Van Aanholt on the pitch?
As soon as I step on the pitch you see a completely different guy. I’m like a lion. I’m fully focussed, I always want to win, I’m always so hungry. I go out there with one thought; to get the job done.
What about off the pitch? How would you describe yourself in three words?
Funny, caring and I’m a father. So, my focus is always trying to do my best for my children.
When you look back to the boy who first got picked up by Chelsea 11 years ago from PSV; what do you think they saw in you?
The technical director was Dutch, he was the one that called my agent after seeing me in a tournament for the under 17s. I had a great tournament and they saw me as one of the most talented players in Holland at that time. Of course, it was a no brainer for me to just go and try myself in the Premier League.
What do you think people see in you now?
I’m grown, I’m mature. I can read the game a lot better. I’m an experienced man now [laughs]. Over the years, you learn to become a man. The only real thing that has changed is that I’ve grown into a man.
When you’re a young footballer, there’s so much talk about your development as a player. But it’s just as important to develop as a person. In the last few years, what is the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself?
The biggest thing is that everything comes down to growth. You cannot stay as a child forever. I’m a father now, I have three kids, I’m responsible. That’s the most important thing to stay focussed on; to grow as a man.
There’s been a lot said about the fact you’ve been in and around the Premier League now for 10 years, how has the league evolved and changed in that time?
A lot. 10 years ago I was still very young and I was getting used to the league. The older you get the more experience you gain about the entire league, the different teams and players. But, in that time, the league has got a lot tougher. More teams are competing for the title now, whereas before, it was just Chelsea, United and Arsenal. Now, you’ve got so many different teams who are chasing the title. You’ve got so many more teams who can beat each other now too, it’s another level.
How much has the role of a left-back transformed in that time?
A lot, a lot. Nowadays, everyone is looking for an attacking left-back that can create space, score goals and provide assists for their teammates. I think that’s the modern left-back now. Everyone expects you to tick all of those boxes. Of course, through time there have always been those types of players, but now there are so many examples of that type of player.
During your career, which winger has given you the toughest time?
I’ve always said that I’ve had some great battles with Raheem Sterling. He’s quick, he’s sharp and he’s a really strong all-round winger. I love playing against him because he challenges me to be a better defender. I like playing against him because he’s one of the top wingers in the league.
You’re incredibly outspoken and engaging on social media; how important is it for you to share and engage in conversation with the world across topics wider than football?
It’s good to connect to the fans at all times. Without them we’re nothing; I’m nothing. They pay their money to cheer for us at the stadium. So, it’s good to give back to the fans. They only see us on the match day, they don’t see us in our everyday life. So, it’s good to share more moments with them where we can talk and share memories and stories that live beyond the game.
Do you feel the cultural paradigm around football is changing that footballers, like yourself, are being more respected as voices in their own right?
Yeah, you can say that. You see Marcus Rashford doing his incredible work right now, coming out and getting all those meals for the kids. He’s been really outspoken. It’s a really big step for him to do that and he’s succeeded with it as well. There are loads of examples out there too. Raheem Sterling, again, is another incredible example for the way he has spoken out against racism. People look up to footballers and people listen to us, so it’s good for us to speak up and stand up alongside each other.
What is the wildest thing that has happened through your social media conversations?
There’s a lot of things that have been going on recently. The big one was getting Katie Hopkins shut down for being racist on Twitter. I think that’s the most important thing I’ve done on Twitter because we’re in 2020 and racism should not be existing. She needed to be shut down. Everyone needs to be doing everything they can to stop it.
What is the one thing you’ve done away from football that has directly inspired and influenced your performance on it?
I recently watched the Michael Jordan documentary, and although I was a little late to it, it gave me this incredible fire and motivation. To see his eagerness to win trophies, to always improve, it’s very special. I think if you showed any footballer that documentary they will be so motivated. Even my kids watched it with me and they kept saying they can’t believe how good he was or how different he was.
Having charisma on the pitch is important but your personality and vibe goes beyond just the game. How does your mentality on the pitch translate to your life off of it?
Totally different. On the pitch my sole focus is to win and you love being around and competing with the best. You want to keep attackers in your pocket, you want to score goals, you want to do more. Off the pitch, you want to win in life and you want to move forward. But, I’m two different faces. Off the pitch I’m a father and I’m always just fully focussed and investing the time I have with my wife and my kids.
How would you describe your style away from the pitch?
Swag. I’ve got swag. Simplistic. Sometimes smart, sometimes casual.
When did you properly zone in on your style and make a conscious effort to be different?
I’ve always been into style and into my fashion. I like to dress up nice and make an effort when I leave the house. It’s always been a part of me, that feeling of wanting to feel good and be comfortable. Of course, as I’ve got older it’s something I’ve honed a little bit more.
What is the most underrated item in your wardrobe?
My Saint Laurent Chelsea Boots. I don’t wear them as much as I should! But they’re so well-made, so comfortable. You can wear them a lot more in winter. I should listen to my own advice.
How much competition goes on in the dressing room around style; who at Palace do you think comes out on top?
There’s not much competition at all right now, to be honest. There was a lot more when Bakary Sako joined the club. At the moment, there’s not much. Everyone just comes in wearing tracksuits. Even me. We just come in to do the job. When we go for dinner, you will see people take it up a level. I would like to think that I’m up there, for sure. I would also say Schulppy [Jeff Schlupp] is too.
You’ve got your kids on the shoot today; what is the greatest thing that they’ve taught you?
To be grateful. I am very grateful for everything I have. They’re the biggest blessing in my life.
How does the mentality of being a Dad translate onto your performance or leadership on the pitch?
It does a little bit, not much, but a little bit. On the pitch I have a different mentality off the pitch. I know I have the confidence to lead both on and off the pitch. So, I don’t look for parallels because they both come naturally.
What is your biggest hope for your children?
Happiness. That they grow up happy and successful in any lane that they want to move into. If they want to follow in my footsteps it would be great but I will follow their footsteps in any other path they want to take.
How much drip do you pass down to your kids? Do they have their own flavours and favourites already?
The little one has got his flavours, for sure [laughs]. He really knows what he wants to wear. When he’s standing in front of his clothes in the morning he tells his Mum exactly what he wants to wear. If there is something he doesn’t like he will tell you! The elder boy is more chilled, he’s happy in what his Mum tells him to wear right now.
What’s your most treasured possession?
It would have to be my wedding ring or one of my watches, the intimate pieces of jewellery that I have collected over time. I’m really into my watches, so it would have to be one of them.
Who is the best person to go to for advice?
When I was young I used to speak to Mario Melchiot a lot, we had the same agent at the same time. I used to ask him a lot at that time. Off the pitch, on the pitch, everything. He shared a lot with me as someone who is Dutch, for one, a left-back as well and someone who played in the Premier League for such a long time. I learned so much from him. I still speak to him now and ask him this and that. He’s really become a father figure for me at times and I’m forever thankful to him for his help.
What is your biggest ambition for the rest of the season?
To come back from injury as strong as I can and to carry on from where I left off last season; to put in good performances week in, week out, to help the team win as many games as possible and score a few goals.