Jetro Willems reveals what stopped him joining Newcastle United when Steve McClaren was head coach
Jetro Willems says he’s good to go in the Premier League – after finally getting a move to Newcastle United.
Willems made his debut in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Saint-Etienne less than 24 hours after joining the club.
And the 25-year-old could make his full bow against Arsenal at St James’s Park on Sunday with Matt Ritchie sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Willems, signed on a season-long loan from Eintracht Frankfurt with an option to buy, is fit – and ready to start.
“I played everything in the pre-season,” said the Holland international. “I played some games and I trained hard, so they know. Probably, you guys know how Germany is – everybody’s fit – so I'm fit.”
It was fitness that cost Willems a move to Newcastle in the 2015-16 season when Steve McClaren was head coach. The defender suffered a knee injury that pre-season, and didn’t fully recover until the second half of the season.
Asked how close he came to joining United, Willems said: “It was close, but the first time they were interested, I was injured. I was eight months' injured, and to come to a new club and everything was a little bit difficult.
“But, what I said, at the end, I'm here now and I want to show them. I'm excited, I'm looking forward.”
Willems came off the bench against Saint-Etienne along with winger Allan Saint-Maximin, signed from Nice for £16.5million last week.
Joelinton, the club’s other new signing, and substitute Matty Longstaff were on target for Steve Bruce’s team in the club’s final pre-season friendly in front of a crowd of 16.686.
Willems had previously been to the stadium to watch close friend Georginio Wijnaldum play for United.
The left-back, then at PSV Eindhoven, watched Wijnaldum, now a Champions League-winner with Liverpool, score against Southampton on his Newcastle debut four years ago. At the time he sparked speculation posting a photograph of himself on a Newcastle-bound aircraft on Instagram with the caption “fly to the future”.
United, finally, is the future for Willems, who hopes to earn a permanent move to St James’s Park.
“I'm glad to be here,” said Willems. “I was here already, as a supporter, but now I'm a player. It's nice to be here.
“I knew already the atmosphere in the stadium and everything, the philosophy. Four years ago, they wanted me, but things went another way. Finally, I’m here, and I'm glad to be here.
“We were speaking since January for an option, but there were no options. But, like I said, I'm glad to be here. In the end, I'm here.”
Willems has long wanted to play in the Premier League, and he’s followed Newcastle’s fortunes since that visit.
“Everybody’s looking to the Premier League,” said Willems. “It's one of the biggest competitions, so everyone’s watching.”
Like Rafa Benitez before him, Bruce, United’s head coach, intends to play with three centre-halves and wing-backs, and attack-minded Willems – who has won 22 senior caps with Holland – believes that role will suit him.
“I played quite a lot in the system of 3-5-2, like a wing-back, and some assists are the skills I have – and give the strikers some opportunities to score,” said Willems, a German Cup winner with Eintracht last year.
“I think the capacity we have is a lot. We have good players. Like I said, it's a new journey of cours,e and I'm looking forward to playing with them. What I saw, especially in the first-half, was great.
“We’re looking forward. We’re living day by day. We haven't even started the season, so we’re looking forward to the first game. That's the most important thing. Now, we've got something to give that push also. I think it's important to win this game to go with a healthy, fresh mind for the first game.”
Bruce was concerned about the full-back positions after succeeding Rafa Benitez at St James’s Park, and the 58-year-old – who would also like to sign a right-back before Thursday’s transfer deadline – believes that Willems will be a “strong option” for him.
“Jetro brings a wealth of experience into the dressing room, and I’m very pleased to have brought him here,” said Bruce. “He’s played at the highest level and is naturally left-footed, so he’ll give us another strong option on that side.”
Willems is keen to get to work under Bruce, a manager he says “has a lot of punch”.
With Ritchie unlikely to be fit to face Arsenal, he’s on standby to play in the club’s season-opener.
Asked about Bruce, Willems said: “I think he has a lot of punch. He likes to play aggressive football.”