NEWCASTLE: Sven Botman has revealed why he chose to sign for Newcastle United this summer, despite interest from seven-time European champions AC Milan.
The Magpies’ six-month pursuit of the Netherlands youth international finally came to a close on July 1, when the team completed the $36 million signing of the central defender.
And it came as a surprise to many, with the Serie A champions seemingly in pole position for the Lille man.
However, Botman has revealed that contact with Newcastle dating back to January meant he only had eyes for one club this summer — and in particular, one league.
Botman said: “I read a lot in the newspaper that said ‘where is he going, Newcastle or Milan?’
“When I was in the season with Lille, I was just playing and thinking it will come later. In the meantime, the clubs discussed with Lille as well, and after the season, I just wanted Newcastle. That was the choice.
“I was speaking with the club (since January) but it was not possible.
“I am just grateful (to be wanted). I will try my best on the pitch. When this kind of club comes to you, you know Lille isn’t your end destination and you can make another step. It gives you confidence and that’s nice.”
While AC Milan are undoubtedly a bigger name in world football, Newcastle United, under the stewardship of the PIF, have ambitions of making Europe’s top table in the not too distant future.
And while Botman is intrigued by the Newcastle project, he also admits that he was sold on the prospect of playing in what he sees as the best league on the planet.
“It’s my first time playing in the Premier League — I think it is the best league in the world and it’s getting stronger and stronger,” he told Arab News.
“Every team is getting the best players. Newcastle is not just a club that is playing in the Premier League to see what happens; they have a strict plan. They want to reach the top and that is something that really attracts me. I want to help Newcastle with the goals they have.”
Botman played in the UEFA Champions League with Lille last season and could have done so again this year with AC Milan. However, he swapped the continent’s premier competition for the promise of a dream at St. James’ Park.
How quickly does he think United will be in the competition? Botman is realistic.
“I think it is not possible to do it in one season but in steps we will get there,” he said.
“I’m here at Newcastle so I hope in three or four years I will be playing in Europe with Newcastle, and we are a club who people always believe can finish in the top six. A lot needs to be done by myself and the club but with time we will get there.”
Botman will make his home debut this weekend, fitness allowing, when United take on Atalanta and Athletic Bilbao in back-to-back games on Tyneside.
Reflecting back on his time at the club so far, he said: “Nice, really good. The first few days, I was new to everything so I had to adapt to a lot of things, but the camps (in Austria and Portugal) have quickened up the process.
“It’s totally different compared to Holland and France. The intensity is much quicker and the training is tougher. The preseason is heavier.
“The coach is really good; he demands a lot from the players so the level is going higher and higher, which I think is really good. If you want to reach these kinds of goals, you need that level.
“I was really surprised by certain things but things are going well. I’m just excited to see us play in the Premier League.”
One thing looming large for Botman, and most ambitious players, is the FIFA World Cup in Qatar at the end of the year.
Botman, at present, finds himself on the fringes of the senior Netherlands squad with the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt and Nathan Ake standing in his way.
A good start at Newcastle could see him muscle his way into Louis van Gaal’s thinking ahead of the winter. On the prospect, Botman said: “It’s definitely a goal but at the moment, I’m really focusing on Newcastle.
“The most important thing for me is to get my spot in the team here, have confidence in this team and play good games. Maybe after the first couple of games, those kinds of thoughts may come.
“I’ve been there (Dutch squad) once and I want to be there every time. But there are really good players there. I’ll just do my best.
“For myself, it’s a new league so I’m excited to see how I cope. If everything goes well, it will come. That is the way I am taking it now.
“I’m not really looking for it but I know the World Cup is coming. I’m close to it but we will see.”