By SFC Media Mon 12 Nov Wesley Hoedt

Dutch defender offers a revealing insight on his desire to improve.

It’s coming up to four o’clock in the afternoon at Staplewood, and Wesley Hoedt is the last man standing.

Training finished just before lunch, but the Dutchman was only just getting started.

He spends time in the gym, the swimming pool and with the masseur before extending his day further by sitting down to discuss his first 14 months as a Saint.

By his own admission, it hasn’t quite gone to plan for Hoedt.

Despite ultimately achieving the aim of Premier League survival last season, the defender had rather loftier ambitions when putting pen to paper on a five-year deal at St Mary’s.

It’s one of the reasons he’s so determined to put in the extra mile day in, day out, that those outside the training ground won’t see or hear of.

“I did that at Lazio as well,” he’s quick to point out. “That’s just who I am; it’s part of me.

“Here it’s important – you need to be smarter because the strikers are really fast or really strong, so you need to adapt to the situation.

“I think the most important thing is consistency. You need to show it every game, which is what I need to do and something I’m working on right now.

“I did not expect it,” he continues, referring to the fortunes of the team. “The situation with the club has been difficult over the past few months – even now.

“I don’t think you ever expect it, but it is how it is, and it’s up to us to turn things around.

“That’s the football part. Apart from that, I think the club has amazing facilities and the people who work here are nice, but we need to translate that into points.”

Wesley Hoedt says his dedication to football is something that will always drive him to improve

Hoedt is a good interviewee, because he speaks his mind, and is honest enough to admit there have been times when he has not played well enough in a Southampton shirt.

With that, and losing matches, comes blame.

“There is always going to be criticism – that’s normal, it’s just part of football,” he reasons.

“That’s something that doesn’t touch me at all. I’ve had too many experiences of that during my career.

“You need to be stable in the ups and in the downs. If people are saying you’re an amazing player, you need to keep your feet on the ground and keep working.

“If they say you’re not doing well, it’s the same.

“It’s normal. If a club is not performing and taking the points they should, they are going to be criticised.”

Hoedt has played alongside a variety of central defensive partners already this season, but remains a Premier League ever-present.

“If you look at the defenders, I’m the one who has played all the games, and it’s easy to search for someone,” he says.

“You should never run away from responsibility. I think I’ve played a lot of really good games since I’ve been here, and I’ve played some bad games as well, as is normal in a season.

“As a defender, I need to be as consistent as I can, and that’s the big improvement we – and I – need to make.

“I know it’s not easy – I’ve been playing with almost everyone available and they are all amazing defenders, but we all need to step up. It’s not only me, but everybody.

“It’s always easy when a club is not performing as they should be, for questions to be asked.”

there is always going to be criticism - that's normal, it's just part of football. that's something that doesn't touch me at all.

wesley hoedt
southampton defender

It’s interesting to listen to Hoedt’s thoughts on English football and how it compares to Serie A, where he spent two seasons with Lazio and won the Italian Super Cup. 

“It’s a demanding competition,” he says of the Premier League. “It’s really tough, and that’s why I think it’s the best competition in the world.

“It’s not even because of the level or the beautiful play, it’s more the intensity and the hard work.

“There are bigger teams and smaller teams, but it’s really difficult to take three points against anyone.

“I think that’s a big difference (to Serie A). In Italy, it’s a little bit clearer who’s going to take the three points.

“Of course, there are surprises in all competitions. Here, you have a big difference to the top six, but after that everybody can win against each other. I think it’s an amazing competition.”

Having declared room for improvement in his own game, what specifically does he believe will ease the transition? 

“It’s more physical and more direct here, which is something I had to adapt to, and I still need to be better at that,” he admits.

“It’s always about recognising situations you’ve been in before, so if you have been there before it’s easier.

“But you also have to be improving off the pitch – I think that’s a big part of me and who I am.

“I always want to work – in the gym and on the training pitch. That’s very important to me because I feel I need to do that to become a better player.

“You learn every day, on and off the pitch.”

Hoedt (centre) celebrates winning the Italian Super Cup in his time with Lazio

The learning off the pitch extends to his two-year-old daughter, already on track to follow in her parents’ footsteps as a trilinguist, with Hoedt and his long-term girlfriend committed to teaching English and Italian, as well as their native Dutch.

“She acts like she’s 18 already!” he laughs. “She’s really funny and really sweet, but she’s growing up really fast.

“She’s at the nursery, speaking English and being really friendly, so I’m very proud of that.

“The Dutch and the English she does really well. The Italian she understands and thinks it’s funny.

“I’m really proud of her that she’s only two and she’s already speaking a lot of sentences in English. That’s nice.

“If I give her another six or 12 months, her English will be better than mine, because she has a proper accent as well!

“When she comes home from school, her accent when she says ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ is proper British, so that’s funny.

“She says some words in English and some words in Dutch, and sometimes it sounds like Chinese because it’s all mixed up!

“She will figure it out pretty soon. That’s something I’m really proud of off the pitch – that she is doing so well.

“That’s mainly a credit to my girlfriend, because she’s raising her all the time when I’m away.”

Hoedt is encouraging his two-year-old daughter to speak three languages

It’s clear his close-knit family, who made the move to Southampton with him, provide a welcome distraction for Hoedt, who employs his own psychologist to help control his emotions when things are going against his team.

“I’ve become a lot more mature in those kinds of things,” he reveals.

“In the beginning, my little one helped me with that, because I became a little bit quieter, but I’m still really extrovert – that’s just who I am.

“My intentions are to make the team better and help everybody. Of course, you need to find the right line with that and the right amount of how much you speak and how much you don’t speak. That’s important for me.

“I’m still working on that and I have my own team as well. I have my own mental coach to try to be a better person, on and off the pitch.

“That’s not because I’m a strange person – it’s just because I want the best version of myself.

“You always need to look in the mirror and ask yourself questions first. After that, you can ask outside. 

“Sometimes I make mistakes with that – you point the finger to someone else because it’s easier, but that’s not the way it should be.

“You need to do it in the right way. I can be yelling at guys and provoke the wrong response – that’s something I need to be better at and something I need to learn.

“We will all benefit from it in the end, so it’s important. You have to have leaders in the team and everybody needs to play their part.”

i have my own mental coach to try to be a better person, on and off the pitch. that's not because i'm a strange person - it's just because i want the best version of myself.

wesley hoedt
southampton defender

It’s rare to hear a team sportsman accept such personal responsibility, but Hoedt is impressively driven to improve himself as well as Saints. 

Another motivation for that progression is his absence from recent Netherlands squads, having not featured for his country since making his Premier League debut in September of last year.

This week, Hoedt’s inclusion in the preliminary selection – his first since Ronald Koeman was appointed as manager in February – was a huge boost.

“It tells me I’m on the right path again,” he says. “That’s the most important thing I take from it. 

“When I first came here, I was a starter for Holland. Of course, Virgil (van Dijk) was not fit then, and he is an amazing player and the leader of the national team right now, but I think I can be playing my part as well.

“That’s an ambition for me, and it was really difficult to take – coming here and losing my spot.

“That’s just up to me. It’s always been up to me to respond, play better and become a better player, because I don’t think I’ve reached my full potential yet. I think there’s a lot of improvement still.

“I haven’t gone to the media and said ‘why am I not playing?’ because I know I need to perform better.

“We have really good players and I think Koeman is doing a great job. Regardless of whether I’m selected or not, I think they are going in the right way.

“You need to play so well that they can’t go without you, so that’s up to me.”

Hoedt remains an ever-present for Saints in the Premier League this season

Hoedt says the only upside to his absence from Oranje has been the increasingly frequent trips back to his homeland to visit his parents during international breaks, reigniting talk of the table tennis rivalry he shares with his father.

“When we’re together, we regularly play, so that’s nice. It’s always a big game between us,” he grins.

“He’s… I don’t say as good as me, but it’s pretty close.”

If reclaiming a regular place in Koeman’s squad means his table tennis game suffers, it’s a risk the Saints man is willing to take.

Just rest assured that if Hoedt Snr does claim the bragging rights, his son will stay at the table and fold up one end to practise, intent on improving himself long after his competitors have gone.

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