‘Needed three-hour siesta after that’
editor of NOS Sports
editor of NOS Sports
Playing soccer with Kevin De Bruyne and getting training from Pep Guardiola. It’s a fantasy for many players. For Philippe Sandler, it was reality for a while. “I got along well with the guys there,” says the 26-year-old NEC defender.
That Sandler would one day be under contract to Manchester City, one of the best soccer clubs in the world, he himself never saw coming. The Amsterdam native went through Ajax’s entire youth academy, but according to himself was never seen as the great talent.
And that is perhaps not so strange in a lineup that included Donny van de Beek, Steven Bergwijn, Vaclav Cerny and Abdelhak Nouri. “They were, like Léon Bergsma (now SC Cambuur), Ezra Walian (Persib Bandung) and Vince Gino Dekker (SV Spakenburg) very talented. Guys like Ramiz Zerrouki, Noussair Mazraoui and I were good enough for Ajax, but not decisive.”
A breakthrough in Amsterdam was therefore also not in the cards. PEC Zwolle plucked him away from Ajax A2 in 2016. In a year and a half Sandler impressed in Zwolle. AZ, for example, made an offer that was laughed away by PEC.
And big Manchester City also had him in their sights. “My then trainer John van ‘t Schip came to me and said City was interested. He had connections there,” Sandler says.
Training sessions were intense
The defender was logically eager for a switch and met with a delegation from the English side in Amsterdam. The now deceased manager Mino Raiola “arranged everything” and dragged out a million-dollar contract for him. PEC received 2.5 million euros.
When Kompany wasn’t playing soccer, he was working. Sat on the toilet with his laptop.
Sandler had a false start in England. He started the season injured. When he underwent surgery in a Barcelona hospital on City’s recommendation, Guardiola came to visit. The Spanish coach had seen Sandler’s matches and came to make his acquaintance.
A few months later, Sandler stood next to Guardiola on the training field. With all of City’s top players. “They were engaged in a completely different sport, haha. After every training session I took a three-hour siesta. That’s how tired I was! It was so intense. Every attack was good with those guys. David Silva sometimes saw openings I had never seen.”
The Dutchman built a bond with top Belgian players De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany, among others. “Kevin was a quiet guest. Even off the field. Vincent always gave 150 percent. If he wasn’t playing soccer, he was going to work. Sat on the toilet with his laptop.”
In that light, it was not surprising that Kompany became trainer-coach at Anderlecht in 2019. He took Sandler, who at City had gotten no further than some playing minutes in the cup competitions, on a rental basis.
In Belgium, Sandler played all the games until he was injured again. After recovering, the corona pandemic broke out and Sandler chose to go back to England. “I wanted to go for my chance there. That was also realistic.”
Another serious injury made his return to City unsuccessful. “It helps that I am cheerful and positive, but being injured is not fun and especially not abroad.”
I don’t go watch premier league games on days off. Then I go hang out with friends or play golf.
Although Sandler “was good” with his fellow players, he also regularly sat alone in his apartment in downtown Manchester. “At the club it was cozy, but many players lived outside the city and also had their own lives. De Bruyne, too. “
“When you’re injured, you also have a very different schedule than the others,” Sandler continued.
Therefore, after also an unsuccessful rental period with France’s Troyes, he returned to the Netherlands in January 2022. Sandler went on to play for Feyenoord. He was not immediately fit there either. Then, in May, he made his return to the Dutch fields after all.
At that time he had only eleven (foreign) league games on the counter in four years. “I really had a great time at Feyenoord. A wonderful club. I had fun with Guus Til, Jens Toornstra and Bryan Linssen, nice guys,” Sandler said with an Amsterdam accent.
Sandler, unable to choose between Ajax and Feyenoord, was not allowed to stay in Rotterdam after two games, however. In the summer, he was looking for a club when on vacation in southern France with his friends he ran into Marcel Boekhoorn, NEC’s big backer.
“Friends of mine knew him and that’s how we got into a conversation,” Sandler says. “It clicked well and I’m really enjoying myself now. I have seen quite a few English stadiums and I can say that the atmosphere in De Goffert is also great.”
Hanging out and playing golf
Moreover, the right-winger, whose father long held top positions at Deloitte and who grew up in Oud-Zuid, likes the fact that he is playing soccer again and living closer to family and friends. “I don’t go watch premier league games on days off. Then I go hang out with friends or play golf.”
He also kept good contacts from his City period. “I ran into De Bruyne in the summer at Nathan Aké’s wedding,” he said. In addition, Sandler is still in touch with Kompany. “Sometimes I get an app that he saw my match.”
Although he has played few games in recent years, Sandler does not regret his early move to City. “There are people who have experienced less,” he said.