‘Has always been in doubt about me’

‘Has always been in doubt about me’
Calvin Bassey

NOS Football

Knockbacks, or setbacks. Calvin Bassey has had to deal with a lot of them in his young soccer career, but he always overcomes them. Even at Ajax, when the defender lost his starting place under new coach John Heitinga after a good start to the season.

But he fought his way back into the starting line-up and, after strong duels with NEC and sc Heerenveen, will probably also play from the start in the Klassieker against Feyenoord.

“There has always been doubt about me. But for me, that’s my fuel. When things don’t go well, I’m a fighter,” Bassey summed up his mentality.

The now 23-year-old son of Nigerian parents grew up in Stratford, East London, in the Newham neighborhood. A neighborhood rife with gangs, violence and crime. Bassey spent most of his free time in a soccer cage with his friends. With a dream: to become a professional soccer player, to give his family a better life.

Talent he certainly had as a teenager, but success did not come his way. “I went on trial, then as a striker, at a lot of clubs. But each time I was rejected.”

All knockbacks

Layton Orient, Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Southampton, West Ham United, all knockbacks: everywhere, Bassey got zero credit after a trial period.

“For various reasons. You’re not good enough, we already have a type like you. I wasn’t as big and strong then as I am now either, believe it or not,” Bassey laughs. “It was up to me to just keep going.”

Bassey overcame many setbacks: ‘My greatest asset is my mentality’

Did his background, the neighborhood he came from, play a role in that? “To a certain extent, maybe. I don’t come from the best neighborhood, with a lot of crime. There is a stereotypical image of guys from my neighborhood. But people don’t know the conditions I grew up under. It’s unfair, but I don’t want to dwell on it too much.”

Many young soccer players give up on their dreams at some point. But not Bassey. Eventually, as a 15-year-old, he was allowed to play a trial game at Leicester City and there he did get offered a contract.

“I think it says something about my resistance and my way of thinking. Apart from the physical, the tactical and the technical aspect: my biggest asset is my mindset, my mentality. My determination to win and to get better.”

Asking for help

Bassey had to work harder for it than most. “Of course, but I always want to win. I used to in gym class, too. Or, for example, at something as childish as a game of badminton. I can’t play badminton at all, but I wanted to win.”

“You also always have to be willing to ask for help. Especially in soccer culture, often no one dares to do that. But I’ve always been open. Even if they are players younger than me or of the same age, it doesn’t matter. I ask for help.”

Calvin Bassey

The first team of Leicester did not make it to Bassey. After five years in the promising leagues, he made the move to Rangers FC in the summer of 2020. There his career gained momentum: he won a Scottish national title and the cup in Glasgow and was one of the standouts in coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team that reached the Europa League final in 2022.

Base place lost

It earned Bassey a debut in the Nigerian team and a transfer, for 23 million euros, to Ajax. There, the defender had a fine start to the season, but then things deteriorated. After the winter break, he moved from the central spot to the left-back position, where he did not perform well. And after the dismissal of coach Alfred Schreuder, he lost his starting place under Heitinga.

Another setback for Bassey. “Coming alongside the team didn’t feel nice. Of course I was frustrated at first, too. But I just had to focus on the question: how do I get back on the team? What do I need to do so the coach says: we need Calvin in the starting lineup?”

Against NEC and sc Heerenveen, he again showed why. As a left back he is vulnerable, but as a central defender he is a clear reinforcement for Ajax with his physical strength, explosiveness and agility.

Calvin Bassey

Perhaps his mindset is his greatest strength, but Bassey himself mostly thanks God: “That’s how I was raised and that’s how I live my life. Without God, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Especially with everything I’ve been through in my personal life, the place I came from, my friends, some of whom aren’t even there anymore.”

“That’s why I’m grateful to God. Whether I play one minute, 10 minutes or whether I sit on the bench. I’m in a privileged position. There are so many people who want to achieve this.”

When are Bassey’s dreams fulfilled? “I’m never satisfied. At Ajax, everyone has an exceptionally high technical level. I bring physical strength and I know what I can do better. But I promise you: when I leave here, I will be one of them. I have to be. I set no limits and work at it every day.”

Kayleigh Williams