NEWCASTLE: Sven Botman has laughed off comparisons with compatriot Virgil van Dijk but hopes to one day reach the Liverpool star’s level — and do it with Newcastle United.
Last week Botman became the Magpies’ most expensive ever defender eclipsing the eight-figure sums paid for the likes of Dan Burn, Jonathan Woodgate and Fabricio Coloccini.
And the Netherlands’ youth international hopes to hit the ground running when he begins training with the rest of the Magpies’ first-team squad on Wednesday, after an extended summer break due to his national exertions.
While some look to the development of Van Dijk with Southampton and then the Reds, as a comparison upon which to gauge 22-year-old Botman, the central defender admits he has a long way to go to even be considered in the same conversation as one of the Premier League’s elite.
“I am far from his level,” said Botman, when asked about Van Dijk, regarded by many to be the best defender in world football.
“That is my goal, as Virgil is a great defender. Being in the Premier League, it can help me get faster to his level but I need a lot of time and a lot of matches. And I think Newcastle is the right environment for me to develop myself and to become a defender like him.”
Botman, a near $39 million purchase from Lille, is the third signing of the summer for head coach Eddie Howe, in what has already proven to be a busy transfer window.
The Magpies previously turned Matt Targett’s loan deal from Aston Villa into a permanent one before signing England international goalkeeper Nick Pope from Burnley.
Botman improves a department already blessed with plenty of experience and talent, but how will he complement those around him?
He explained: “I am a tall guy and I am strong in duels. I like to play one (versus one) against a striker but I also like to help the team with the build up from the back. I am left-footed but can also play with the right.
“I need to improve a lot but I am on the right path and I think here at Newcastle is the best step for me to improve myself.
“Newcastle at the moment is a club with a lot of passion. You see players working hard, but at the end Newcastle wants to reach the top end of the league and into Europe. We need to mix that with good football.
“I think in the upcoming five years, things are looking bright.”
It’s much-publicized that United weren’t Botman’s only option this summer.
Serie A champions and seven-times European Cup winners AC Milan were also deep in negotiations to sign the player from under the noses of Newcastle.
“I had some talks with some clubs,” the former Ajax defender admitted.
“I just like the Premier League so much and Newcastle has this project, where the future’s looking brighter. I hope to see myself grow with the club.
“I am delighted. I am thankful to all of the people who worked on this deal. It has been a long trip, but finally we are here.”
While European places and silverware continue to evade United, one of their unique selling points is the club’s fanatical supporters.
More than 30,000 people, bearing in mind the strict eligibility criteria, tried to snap up just 1,000 released season tickets for St James’ Park this season. And home and away sell outs are a weekly occurrence at United.
“I know that they have crazy, super fans,” he said.
“They always play with their heart, and if you watch them it is always played with passion.
“It’s like 52,000 people and I hear it is always sold out, the fans are crazy, so I can’t wait to play.
“I can only say good things about the fans. I get a lot of messages, sorry I can’t read them all.
“When I have seen matches in Newcastle, the whole vibe, the environment in the stadium is incredible. I can’t wait to play there.”
Head coach Howe now turns his attention to signing at least another two forward players to add goals, creativity and speed to the United frontline.
But focusing on getting his number one transfer target through the door, he said: “I’m delighted Sven is joining us. He is technically very good, physically very good and has a great attitude.
“At 22, he already has solid experience at the top level but he is at a great age to grow with this team. I am looking forward to getting to work with him and seeing him with his new teammates.”
Meanwhile, as the Newcastle players returned to pre-season training on Friday, the club announced confirmation of their full pre-season plans.
The club will kick off their summer preparation with a behind-closed-doors encounter with non-league neighbors Gateshead on Saturday. They will then travel to Austria, to a base on the outskirts of Salzburg, to take part in a nine-day training camp, which will see them face 1860 Munich and Mainz during their stay.
The first game of the trip will be on Friday, July 15 against Munich, then Mainz on Monday, July 18. The Magpies will venture out to Portugal to take on Benfica on Tuesday, July 26, although a game the previous weekend is still a possibility.
They will close out their summer games with a double-header at St James’ Park on Friday and Saturday, July 29 and 30. Atalanta then Athletic Bilbao will be the opposition on Tyneside.
Newcastle’s first game of the Premier League season takes place at home on Saturday, Aug. 6 against Nottingham Forest.