From Liverpool target to nearly forgotten footballer in Germany
editor of NOS Sports
editor of NOS Sports
“Daley Sinkgraven is one of Liverpool’s targets.” That was written in October 2014 by the British newspaper The Guardian. While transfer rumors like this should more often than not be taken seriously, it did show that Sinkgraven was promised a golden future.
Just under nine years later, the now 27-year-old Sinkgraven has disappeared from the radar of most Dutch soccer followers. After a stormy breakthrough at sc Heerenveen, he transferred to Ajax for some seven million euros in January 2015. After four and a half years in Amsterdam, he left in the wake of coach Peter Bosz for Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
While Bosz was fired in March 2021, Sinkgraven is still under contract with the German club. “I like it here. In terms of media attention, it is much quieter than at Ajax,” said the left-back, who is tenth in the Bundesliga with Leverkusen.
McDonald’s more popular than Sinkgraven
Sinkgraven sips his coffee in a hotel that is part of Leverkusen’s stadium. Hardly anyone seems to recognize him. The stadium is not teeming with supporters or journalists. The local McDonald’s is the big crowd puller.
Except on weekends: then at home games there are nearly 30,000 people in the stadium.
On weekdays, Leverkusen is a somewhat dormant place. Locals walk their dogs past the stadium or seek entertainment in the shopping center.
Sinkgraven acknowledges that Leverkusen is quiet: “Most teammates live in Düsseldorf and Cologne. I myself live near Düsseldorf.” At Bayer, he is joined by compatriots Jeremie Frimpong and Mitchel Bakker. “Those I only speak to at the club. Outside of that we don’t really socialize.”
Although Sinkgraven is enjoying his time in Germany, his face regrets when it comes to soccer itself. “I’ve been playing a little less in recent years anyway…”
Surely missing matches has been the common thread through Sinkgraven’s career until now. Injuries in particular threw a spanner in the works. Especially in his Ajax days.
After a year and a half under Frank de Boer as a midfielder, Bosz made Sinkgraven a left-back in the fall of 2016. Under Bosz, he was an undisputed base player. Until things went wrong in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, at home against Schalke 04 (2-0 win).
He suffered a knee injury that not only caused him to miss the rest of the season, including the Europa League final against Manchester United, but continued to struggle in the seasons that followed. In a year and a half, Sinkgraven played only four premier league games. “It just didn’t go away. After a year it was said that surgery was better.”
For Sinkgraven, being a professional footballer during that period was no fun. “It was lonely and I also did think it would never be right again,” he said.
In the end, things worked out. Sinkgraven was fit in time for the successful second half of the 2018/2019 season. The season in which Ajax became champions and reached the semifinals of the Champions League. He was not a starting player, but did play more than seventy minutes in the quarterfinal win against Juventus.
“Surely that season was the highlight of my career,” he says. “Everyone on that team was good.”
Sinkgraven can know because he played with several top footballers in his career. From Hakim Ziyech to Kai Havertz. Still, he thinks Frenkie de Jong is the very best. “Smart, technical and fast.”
Despite a fine final six months at Ajax, Sinkgraven left in 2019. He knew that Nico Tagliafico would be preferred by coach Erik ten Hag as left back. In hindsight, with the departure of De Jong in the summer of that year, there might have been opportunities in midfield.
Sinkgraven thinks that’s when you look the cow in the ass. “You never know how it would have turned out. I think Leverkusen was a good move.”
Especially since he was reunited with the coach who meant the most to him: Bosz. He gave Sinkgraven confidence and made sure he could play in the Bundesliga. A league he says is more intense than the Dutch one. “You are constantly switching, while at Ajax you had ball possession all the time,” he said.
He also played in big stadiums against big opponents. “Borussia Dortmund has the most beautiful stadium,” he said.
Nevertheless, even his German adventure did not become an unqualified success. Injuries and the dismissal of Bosz caused Sinkgraven to miss many matches. Thus, Bosz’s successor, Gerardo Seoane, had no confidence in Sinkgraven.
Seoane also left. And since October, former top footballer Xabi Alonso (former player of Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich) has been in charge of the group. “When he joins in the positional play, you can see that he can still play very good soccer,” he said.
The outlook under the Spaniard seems slightly improved for Sinkgraven, as he is making more minutes. Still, he is not yet getting full confidence. Where at one moment he is in the base, at the next he is not even part of the selection for the Europa League. Explanations have not been given to him.
“I don’t get it sometimes either…,” continued Sinkgraven, who consciously chose to stay in Germany last winter. “It also makes no sense to keep going to the trainer.”
What is clear is that the left back, because that is the position he feels best at right now, is going to another club in the summer. His contract will expire then. “I know the top European clubs are not interested, but I still want to keep playing in a nice league,” he said.
The premier league doesn’t seem to be one of those for now, according to him. “I’m 27 years old… Or the Dutch top should come forward.”