In terms of European football, Kiki Musampa may not have seen all that there is to see, but the dreadlocked Dutchman has treaded the boards in many of the continent’s big leagues. Starting out at Amsterdam icons Ajax, just as that team lifted the Champions League trophy in 1995, the attacking midfielder then moved to Bordeaux in 1997, not long before that the club became French champions.
He was then on his way to Spain with Malaga and then with Atletico Madrid. A two-season spell in the Premier League followed with Manchester Qiu Qiu City. After short spells in Turkey with Trabzonspor and back in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, Musampa finds himself in the K-League with FC Seoul.
It has been quite a story but a new chapter is about to begin and it is safe to say that it will not read like anything else that has gone before in the 30 year-old’s career.
How old were you when you joined Ajax?
I started when I was 12. Before that I was playing amateur football for a couple of years. I was lucky to be scouted by Ajax and then I joined the youth academy.
Some would say that you had the perfect football education…
Yes. I must say that it has been an education that I have used all the way through my career. There are so many things that I have always kept with me and used in different countries and different football cultures. I am very grateful to Ajax.
Is there any special thing that you remember from your time with Ajax?
The special thing is that football is first of all a team sport. Every player is part of a team; we were never allowed to forget this. It is the most important thing because sometimes you go somewhere and you see that some players have forgotten it. But it was precisely that which made Ajax a successful team. We had no real star players, we knew what we had to do and we knew that we always had to play for the team. That’s how we all became, in a sense, stars.
You were at the club when they won the 1995 Champions League. What do you remember of that time?
I was joining the first team, just 17 years old and without a contract but I was in the squad and training every day with the guys and for me at the time, it was like a dream coming true. Back in those days Ajax was a huge team and everybody wanted to play for Ajax, as a young kid that was all you dreamed about. So one day to be training with all these people was great.
Who was the best or your favourite player at the time?
They were all so good and all had different qualities. The best thing was the older players would help the younger ones, not leave them on their own but try to teach them. Danny Blind and Frank De Boer were especially good.
The Bosman Ruling destroyed that team, it was sad…
Yeah, in some ways. It’s sad for the team but on the other side, it was better for the players so it depends on how you look at it. There were a lot of players that benefited a lot though it was complicated for the teams.
Kiki Musampa in action for Seoul against Incheon United
Some in Holland say you left Ajax too early. Would you agree?
I was young when I left, that’s true but in view of the situation, it was the best thing to do. It was the time that Louis Van Gaal was leaving Ajax and the new coach Martin Olsen arrived with 11 new players.
You have to be realistic, you’re a young player with two years experience, there is a new coach who I didn’t think was waiting for young players to come through – he had 11 new players. It’s a big squad. You know you’re chances will be less and that you be spending a lot of time in the second team.
So then you have to make a choice. Do you want to take two steps back or are you prepared to go and play elsewhere? I chose the latter and I am happy I made that choice because when I look at the guys who stepped back, it was very hard for them and they never really came out of it.
Then you went to Bordeaux. They had a good team…
I went at a good time. A year later we were even champions of France, it was a good choice.
Then Spain. You spent a long time there, relatively. Do you think that was your happiest time as a player?
Yes, especially at Malaga at the beginning. I had to settle down and find my way in a new culture, a new language. I was quite young at the time so didn’t know what to expect. But I was enjoying the game more and more and had some good years at Malaga.
Spanish football suited you?
Yes, it was good for me definitely. I had a free role from the coach and he really knew how to get the best from the players.
Why did you then leave for Atletico?
Well, I think Atletico is a huge club. When you are playing at Malaga, it is a club that you can’t say no to. It is the third biggest club in Spain and I had no choice. I had been at Malaga for four years and it was a good time to move.
But for you, your time at Atletico wasn’t as successful?
No, definitely not. It’s quite a complicated club with many things going on behind the scenes, a lot of politics.
And then you went to England and Manchester City? How was playing in Manchester?
Playing in Mancheste was great. I had always wanted to experience playing in England so when I got the chance to go to City, I just had to go. It is a good club and I really enjoyed my time there. It was frustrating because we wanted to play in Europe. On the last day we could have done it in a dramatic game against Middlesbrough.
The fans were great, they really respected the players and were supportive to me.
It has all changed there now, would it be a good time to be there again?
I’m the kind of player who likes to experience something and then move on. City are building something new and it has all changed.
As you say, you have lots of different experinces in different countries, do you feel that you have a responsibility to help Korean football and the players?
Yes, especially on the pitch –trying to guide the players, putting them in the right place and trying to help the young kids, There are a lot of talented players and sometimes they just miss this little tactical thing and this little tactical position. That’s where I can jump in and put them right.
So why did you choose Korea?
After Turkey, I went back to Holland to AZ with my old coach Van Gaal. I’m from Holland but things have changed there and I didn’t want to stay too long. I wanted to leave for a new challenge, I am still ambitious.
You went to Toronto?
I went to America. They were interested and I wanted to go and see. I’ve seen it and experienced it and it was not quite what I thought it would be.
In what way?
In all ways actually. Football is still not at the level that they want it to be or it is still not at the level that they are saying it is. Technically, tactically it is at quite a low level. It is a level that you can still play when you are 35. I had too much ambition to play there.
So you came to Korea.
Yes, Coach Gunes was interested. He is a name and a type of coach that is famous as he did a good job with Turkey at the 2002 World Cup. I had an idea that he was a good coach and has an idea of what he wants. He wanted to put something down, and he knew the way I worked so I thought ‘why not’?
Seongnam were also interested. Why did you choose Seoul?
Well, Seongnam was interested but I was actually waiting for people to make a move so I could see what is going on. I must say that maybe FC Seoul has a little more prestige and this is the capital. But you never know what will happen in the future (laughs).
Some may say think that you are now 30 and have come to Korea just for a payday. What would you say to that?
I came here because it is a new challenge for me. I want people to remember me in a good way. I am still 30 and still ambitious and came to do what I do all the time and make a difference.
You saw the big Seoul-Suwon match. You have played in many big games in Europe. How did the atmosphere and occasion compare?
The atmosphere was definitely one of a big game and the fans were loud and there was a lot going on, on and off the pitch. It was similar to other countries.
So when you watched that game, did you think ‘I can make a difference to this team’?
Yes, definitely. When I saw them play I know can try to help and give everything and then you never know how things will work out.
So basically playing football is the same job everywhere you go…
Yes, it is all the same principle. Nothing happens by itself, you have to go out there and make things happen and work hard. It is a job you have to do, it doesn’t matter where you play. It is the same job, the same dirty job and you have to work hard wherever you go.
How about communication?
It is more difficult on the pitch. There are a couple of guys who speak good English that explain things to me.
Do you feel the Korean players talk a lot on the pitch?
No, I must say they don’t talk at all. It is little details than can make a big difference. There is little communication and that is something that you can bring into the situation and give them messages when you pass the ball.
You said after your first match, you were impressed with the tempo and the skill levels. But in comparison to where?
In comparison to Spain and the Netherlands. One thing is obvious. The Korean players are faster because they are more agile. They move a lot and they run faster, this is something that we can’t deny. The tempo was quite high.
But by the end of the game, in the last 20-25 minutes, you can see that they slow down and then you get the space to play more.
I know it’s tough after just one game but can you say which country’s football Korean football is most similar to?
It is tough to say but teams seem to like to play the ball around like Holland, it’s all about the ball. Some teams seem to drop back and play the counter and long ball.