In our first ever Los Boyos, looking at the foreigners that have graced the Land of my Fathers, I felt the need to write about my favourite player ever, Ferrie Bodde (Swansea City), and the tragic tale of a talent wasted by the cruelty of injuries.
It’s Friday 21st November 2009; Swansea City have hit a hot streak of form in their first season back in the second tier; the Championship promotion favourites, Birmingham City, are in town and are the visitors to the Liberty Stadium in what will prove to be an action packed Friday night of football from the opening minute. I enter the stadium and begin skipping up the Liberty Stadium steps to my seat, as Jordi Gomez has put the Swans 1-0 up within the first 60 seconds. The Swans eventually lose the game 3-2 from being 2-1 up, after the introduction of Kevin Phillips in the 2nd half leads to him netting 2 decisive goals, although he only touches the ball 3 times. The Swans drop 3 points and their impressive form is halted, but the match will cost the club more than 3 points, as during the first half, following an innocuous challenge, Swansea’s star player Ferrie Bodde falls to the ground whilst shepherding the ball out for a goal kick and begins clutching his knee; Ferrie stays down for a lengthy time and is eventually stretchered off – this is Ferrie Bodde’s last meaningful appearance for Swansea City. I believe, he is probably the greatest player the Premiership has never seen.
Bodde began his career at Dutch club ADO Den Haag near his hometown of Delft as a youth player before turning professional with the club in 2000. Bodde made a name for himself as a combative central midfielder with an astute eye for a pass. He would go onto make 161 appearances for Den Haag scoring 10 goals before they were relegated at the end of the 2006/2007 season. By now many teams in Europe, such as Zurich, Celtic and Feyenoord, were aware of the Dutchman tagged by the media as the ‘Dutch Roy Keane’ and had begun eyeing up a bid for him at a cut price deal following ADO Den Haag’s relegation. Swansea’s chief scout, Kevin Reeves, had also been following the career of the Dutchman for a number of seasons and at the start of the 2007/2008, he encouraged Roberto Martinez to pursue Bodde to bolster Swansea’s midfielder ready for their promotion bid from League One. Reeves, acknowledging the new passing philosophy that Martinez was introducing to the Welsh club, thought he would be a perfect fit for the team. Swansea also had the aid of the strong relationship that they have developed with the Dutch club over the past few seasons. The Swansea/Den Haag relationship spawned from one of Swansea’s directors, John van Zweden. The businessman, van Zweden, began a love affair with the Swans after acquiring a teenage pen pal from Swansea in the 1970s. Following the reshuffling of the Swansea City boardroom after the dark days of the Petty era, Van Zweden would become a director at Swansea. A strong bond has existed between the Welsh and Dutch club for the most part of the 21st century and this was furthered improved through the transfer of Ferrie Bodde.
Initially, it appeared that Aberdeen were the favourites to sign Ferrie, but after a visit to the Liberty Stadium, where he witnessed the ridiculously entertaining Swansea 3-6 Blackpool game, Ferrie opted for Swansea. Bodde officially signed on a 3-year contract for Swansea for just £50k, which could rise to £85k if the Swans achieved their goal of promotion. Recognising his immense potential, ADO Den Haag inserted a clause in his contract ensuring that they would get 50% of any fee Swansea would receive for Bodde in the future. Bodde signed alongside other foreign exports such as Angel Rangel, Andrea Orlandi and Guillem Bauza, as well as Jason Scotland signing from St. Johnstone. There was also goalkeeper and fellow Dutchman Dorus De Vries signing from Dunfermline – another player who had played for ADO Den Haag.
As local press went to survey Swansea’s preseason training, there was talk that their new Dutch midfielder was a bit special and was a player of immense quality. As the opening fixtures of Swansea’s League One season unravelled it was soon very clear that Swansea had a player that was incongruous with the quality of football in League One – he was much too good for it.
My first experience of the player came on the 29th September 2007 with Bodde starting alongside Leon Britton and Darren Pratley (a magnificent midfield trio when they played alongside each other) against Brighton. Within minutes, I had decided that I was witnessing one of the best players I have ever seen grace a Swansea shirt. As well as a no-nonsense attitude to his defensive duties it soon transpired that the standout feature of his game was his vision, as he seamlessly picked out passes from 30-40 yards plus without even trying. The game ended 0-0, but there was very little doubt in my mind that Swansea could achieve promotion and perhaps even win the league, largely because of Dutchman that was patrolling the centre of the pitch.
Bodde spent most of the season playing in the centre of the park, playing a Pirlo-esque quarterback role. Although playing in a part of the pitch usually designated to defensive minded midfielders, Bodde was far more than a tough tackling, midfield general as he became the key to launching counterattacks through his pinpoint passes.
Like all true geniuses, Bodde soon demonstrated that he had his flaws, as although there was an aggressive side displayed in his early matches, his volatile temperament came to the fore during a match against Doncaster Rovers when he planted a powerful head-butt on Rovers’ Welsh midfielder, Brian Stock; he received a straight red card. Following the Doncaster incident Bodde went on to deny his reputation as a crazy player:
“I read a story on the internet that I am a crazy guy on the pitch, but I’m not crazy, I only want to win.”
It was obvious that Bodde was a supremely determined player, as he would hound opposition players around the pitch who dared to take the ball away from a possession-obsessed Swansea City side. However, despite his protests against the ugly side of his game, in a crucial Christmas period fixture against promotion rivals Leeds United, Bodde’s nasty side raised its head again as he stamped on young Leeds midfielder, Jonny Howson’s leg whilst simultaneously showing his quality by playing an accurate through ball with his ‘non-stamping’ foot; perhaps an accurate representation of the two sides to his game in a split second. He received his 2nd red card of the season (his 2nd in 5 months at Swansea) leaving his team to battle on with ten men against a very strong Leeds team. Fortunately, the team went on to salvage an inspirational 3-2 victory, which gave them the confidence to go on to seize the League One title.
Following Bodde’s return from suspension, he came back like a man possessed, singlehandedly dictating games from his central midfield role. Bodde returned against Port Vale in a game at the Liberty Stadium, in which he scored a sumptuously struck side-footed drive into the top corner; the terraces burst into choruses of “Ferrie Bodde…Evil Genius!” to celebrate his cultured footballing style plus his ‘bad boy’ antics – the nickname has stuck ever since.
A lot of credit has to go to Bodde, Martinez and the players of that 2007/08 team for launching the style of play that many people now associate with Brendan Rodgers’ current Swansea City. Some might even argue (not me) that Martinez’s Bodde-led Swansea were more exciting to watch than the current vrop, as there was more emphasis on passing the ball forward quickly, unlike Rodgers’ team’s more slow-paced building from the back.
Swansea had the League One title pretty much sewn up by mid-March as they pulled away from the chasing pack and eventually seized automatic promotion by mid-April with the title coming shortly after. Bodde was injured for the final run in, but despite this Bodde walked into the PFA’s League One Team of the Year alongside several of his team mates. Bodde and Swansea seemed a match made in heaven and confidence was high as Swansea went back into the second tier of the football pyramid.
Bodde’s rise to prominence coincided with my 2nd year studying English at Swansea University. As anyone that has been to University knows, there is usually an imbalance between studying and partying and during the many parties that would occur I could usually be found very drunk spouting hyperbole about Ferrie Bodde towards fans of Chelsea, United, Liverpool and the other clubs from the elite. “He will be first choice for Holland in a year” “Give me Bodde over (insert underperforming United/Chelsea/Liverpool/Arsenal central midfielder) any day” ”He’ll be one of the stars of the Premiership in the next 3 years”. I would wake up the morning after and laugh at my delusions, but following his performances in the Championship in his 2nd season at the club I began to believe the mumblings of my excitable, drunken Swansea fan alter ego. Although Bodde gracing the field in a Swansea shirt again almost never happened, in what has to be one of the most long drawn transfer sagas to hit the South-west Wales club in recent times.
Derby had just been relegated from the Premiership after one season with a very feeble 11 points, the lowest in Premiership history. Paul Jewell had become the Derby manager halfway through the Premier League campaign with the sole purpose of preparing the Rams for their inevitable slump to the Championship and to secure an immediate return to the Premiership. Jewell had decided that his number one target to complete this mission was Swansea’s midfield maestro. The fact that Derby had just come down from the country’s elite league, and were generally perceived to be a bigger club than Swansea, immediately turned Bodde’s head. The summer consisted of a ‘will he, won’t he’ saga, with it looking more and more likely that he would go. Bodde seemed to want out and even refused to go on a preseason tour with the Swans. After a financially tumultuous start to the new millennium, Swansea were nowa financially sound club and they did not want to sell their best player for anything less than 2 million (remembering that half of any transfer fee would go to ADO Den Haag). As Jewell and Derby got more and more frustrated, Martinez finally got through to Ferrie and much to the amazement of the Jack Army, Bodde signed a new contract out of the blue in July 2008. Jewell would leave his post at an underachieving Derby midway through the Championship season, citing his failure to meet Swansea’s asking price for Bodde as one of the reasons why his side struggled in the Championship and why his side lacked imagination:
“We lacked depth in midfield. With hindsight, I should maybe have stuck out for Swansea midfielder Ferrie Bodde. The chairman wanted to pay £2m for him and I thought it was too much money.”
Bodde made his return to a Swansea shirt in a low-key friendly against local team Neath FC, where the fans turned out in numbers to celebrate the fact that he would remain with the club. Many fans had forgotten his acts of mutiny earlier in the transfer window and were just grateful to have their talented midfielder back on board. Bodde’s moment would come 60 minutes into the game, with the Swans winning a penalty; Bodde stepped up to drive the penalty home, cue him wheeling away towards the Swansea faithful kissing the Swan on his shirt. I know that you should never take this act as a sign of undying loyalty in football, but the Swansea fans, me included, were completely head over heels in love with the guy and celebrated the goal vociferously. The next day I was happily wearing my Swans shirt, complete with “Bodde – 6” on the back.
Bodde entered the second tier of English football like a wrecking ball, with some truly epic performances. In his first 3 home games of his second season at the club, Bodde hit the net each time. This may have coincided with a slight shift in Bodde’s game as he began to play much closer to Swansea’s talismanic striker, Jason Scotland and began marauding further forward to join Swansea attacks, many of which he had started himself.
This season would also see what I believe to be one of the finest performances I have seen in a Swansea City shirt: Bodde against QPR in a 0-0 draw which was far from dull. With Dorus De Vries injured and with no goalie on the Swansea bench, defender and club legend Alan Tate went between the sticks. An onslaught on the Swansea goal was expected, but nothing materialised and there was not even a shot on Swansea’s goal. This was largely down to the otherworldly performance of Ferrie with the Dutchman completely running the game; ridiculous long range Hollywood passes landing at players’ feet for only them to miscontrol; one pass was pretty much from one 18 yard box to the other, landing perfectly on Mark Gower’s toe before (as was the norm for him at the time) he shot wide. There was a showcase of Ferrie’s clever tricks and showboating to see him repeatedly lose his man and a good showing of his unyielding desire for the ball, keeping it and retrieving it for the team – his performance had everything bar a goal.
It was alluded to in his debut season, but this season Bodde would demonstrate on numerous occasions a merciless long range shot, which would become hsi calling card. Sheffield Wednesday were the first to suffer at the hands of one of Ferrie’s piledrivers and Watford later in the season, but Bodde’s most famous goal, and probably his most famous moment in a Swansea shirt came against Preston at Deepdale. Bodde received the ball near the halfway line and with one touch rolled the ball about a yard ahead of the centre circle; Bodde launched a thunderous 40 yard rocket which left the hapless Andy Lonergan flapping at thin air as the ball screamed into the back of the net (Also note the amazing pass he plays into the box for the penalty in teh same game on the link), Once again, Bodde was awarded Man of the Match having also bossed the midfield.The goal was entered for the Mitre Goal of the Year award, although did not win (wrongly).
After Swansea fans were so relieved to cling onto Ferrie through the summer, transfer gossip was rife again building up to the 2009 January transfer window and it looked like Ferrie would end up at a Premiership club. Bolton and Middlesbrough looked the favourites to land him as speculation began about his future in early November; if Swansea were to see him go, they would cash in around £5million, 5 times their record for selling a player at the time (Lee Trundle to Bristol City for £1m). Bodde was even beginning to get linked with playing for the Dutch national team and in typical confident Bodde fashion, he began questioning the national coach, Bert Van Marwijk, for selecting certain players ahead of him, such as Evander Sno who was playing in the SPL for Celtic:
“I see what kind of players are selected for the national squad and I think I’m 10 times better than them. Will I get there playing in the Championship? I don’t know, but I think they don’t know what they’re missing. You can play for Celtic, who play in a weaker league than the Championship, but you get selected like Evander Sno.”
So this all happened in 2008; if he was so good why didn’t he make it to the Premiership and why isn’t he lining up alongside Swansea’s current pass masters, Leon Britton and Joe Allen? Well for the answer to that, you would need to go back to the Friday night game mentioned at the start of this piece. Swansea were on a great run of form (thanks largely to an on form Bodde scoring – 7 in 17 for the season – and supplying an in form Jason Scotland) and were even beginning to nag at the play off places. On this November Friday night, Swansea would deliver an excellent performance against promotion favourites Birmingham, but ultimately lose. However, the loss of 3 points was nothing compared to their other loss; after an innocuous challenge with Seb Larsson shepherding a ball out for a goal kick, Bodde fell to the floor – this was the last time he would impact on a Swansea performance that season and pretty much to this day. Bodde remained on the floor for several minutes and was stretchered off to rapturous applause from around the Liberty Stadium. Everyone was already fearing the worst, as Bodde was never one to stay down. The next day the news was released that he was out for the season with cruciate knee ligament damage – a massive shock to Swansea’s system.
On referring to the Birmingham game, Martinez alluded to the Bodde’s injury by saying: “My concern is how expensive this performance is going to be long term.” It could be argued it cost around £90million. Swansea finished their first season back in the second tier in an impressive 8th place, but many felt that if Bodde had remained intact the Swans would have achieved a playoff position and then who knows what could have happened in the playoff lottery. Swansea could have made the Premiership 3 years earlier. In FourFourTwo’s 2009 ‘Top 50 Football League Players’ Bodde was ranked 11th despite missing 6 months of the season; he was described by the magazine as a “box-to-box player, strong in the tackle with an uncanny knack for scoring important goals and excellent decision making skills.”
Fast forward to September 2009 and Martinez leaves his ‘beloved’ Swansea for his ‘beloved’ Wigan; former Portuguese international Paulo Sousa takes over as manager at the South Wales club with many noting similarities between Bodde’s game and that of the legendary Portuguese player. Even though he had missed 10 months of football, Bolton and Martinez’s Wigan were still interested in snapping up Bodde on a cut price deal, although he was still not match fit. Sousa reacted angrily and ordered that a player of such importance was to remain at the club. Sousa’s reign as Swansea manager did not start well with losses to Leicester away and a 3-0 drubbing at home to Middlesbrough. As Bodde began to approach full fitness, Sousa seemed desperate to throw in the star man, as did many of the fans, myself included – perhaps too desperate for Bodde’s own good.
On the 26th September 2009, I am sat in the 3rd row of the Liberty Stadium’s East Stand, like a giddy little girl as it is announced, as expected, that Ferrie Bodde has made the starting 11, following a 28 minute cameo away to Preston a week earlier. I genuinely can’t remember being so excited about a football match having been Bodde-less for almost a year. 8 minutes after kick off, Bodde collapses to the ground after another innocuous challenge and is soon strolling off the pitch as a substitution is announced. Bodde is ruled out for several months again after claiming he heard his knee ‘click.’ Having visited specialists in Holland, Bodde was told he would not need another operation, so he just spent 5 months rehabilitating his knee and reinforcing the strength of it. This was until February, where after making a brief 28 minute appearance against Peterborough he broke down again. Swansea decided that Bodde must have another operation on his knee which ruled him out for the rest of that season, as well as for the duration of the club’s Brendan Rodgers-inspired promotion campaign. Bodde became a mysterious figure throughout that campaign as many fans whispered rumours about his imminent return to aid Swansea’s promotion mission; some were even talking about him making a comeback for the playoff games and dreaming of one of his long range piledrivers attaining the Swans’ Premiership status. Bodde never made one appearance during Rodgers’ debut season and he was not required to help the team secure promotion to the Premier League. At the end of the season, Ferrie’s contract was expiring and many were claiming that Rodgers would never renew the contract of a player that had never even played a game for him.
However, Rodgers was more than aware of the talent that Ferrie possessed having spoken highly of the player throughout the season, despite him not playing, and thus he ensured that he got offered a new contract ready for Swansea’s return to the top flight. Rodgers claimed that the reason that he had been so reserved in using Bodde during the 2010/11 was because he wanted to ensure he had a fully fit Bodde ready for the next season, Premier League or no Premier League. Once the hysteria of promotion had dimmed (if it ever actaully did), the fans became excited about the return of Ferrie, as it actually began to sound like he was back for good this time.; the line: “He’ll be like a new signing” was being used repeatedly. Bodde was frequently seen giving cheery interviews and for the first time it began to sound like he himself was confident of making a full come back and influencing the Swans’ maiden Premiership campaign. There had even been suggestions from some people that Bodde’s injury was now more of a mental block rather than an actual physical injury (not something I went along with personally).
Once again my pals began to see my eyes fill with excitement and as neutral outsiders they could see what was probably coming next, but as I was absorbed in my Bodde fandom, I was convinced this was his season to rise from the flames. In his preseason comeback game against local side Port Talbot a 15 minute masterclass was put on by Bodde, as he began spraying accurate long passes across the field and effortlessly floating across the pitch with the ball at his feet; he played a delightful pass to Craig Beattie to set up the opening goal of the game – I thought he was actually back! Almost immediately after his brilliant assist, he was substituted with the club claiming it to be a ‘precaution’; even Bodde’s post match interview suggested that there was no harm done. Bodde was not seen again for the rest of Swansea’s preseason.
Bodde disappeared once again and there was no mention of him returning to the fold anytime soon. That was until the start of January where he suddenly popped up in a reserve game against Hereford. Following this appearance and reports of Bodde training well, there were reports that Sheffield Wednesday wanted him on loan to help maintain their League One promotion push; Wednesday at the time being managed by Gary Megson, who had tried to take Ferrie to Bolton about 3 years earlier. Having held back my excitement this time, although there were rumours of Bodde making the bench for Swansea’s FA Cup tie at Oakwell that I would be attending, I was not as distraught as usual to learn that Bodde had once again broken down in a reserve game against Arsenal.
Many saw this last fight back from injury as Bodde’s last chance at the club and following his latest collapse many felt that it was now time for Bodde to write off his football career at the tender age of 29. However, similar to how he used to perform in the middle of the pitch for Swansea in his pomp, Bodde is determined once again to battle on. His relentless pursuit of match fitness has to be applauded, especially as many people have begun to dub this pursuit as probably being fruitless.
Although he has not physically been on the pitch for the duration of a game for almost 3 and half years now, it could be argued that his spirit lives on within the team through a Bodde-mimic: Joe Allen. Bodde’s first ever visit to Swansea, as a guest of the club, coincided with that 6-3 defeat to Blackpool, which also happened to feature the debut of a young 17-year old Welsh midfielder called Joe Allen. Despite the loss Bodde left the club that day singing the praises of the fans, the staff, the players and especially the youthful Joe Allen. Bodde claimed he was one of the best young midfielder’s he had seen and tipped him for a big future.
“He was only 16 or 17 at the time, but I saw a bit of myself in him. He played like an adult that day. He’s brave, energetic and has a good pass on him.”
Whilst manager of the team, Martinez, who gave Allen his debut, noted the improvement of Allen under the tutelage of Bodde:
“If you watch him play now, he can switch play a lot better with a longer pass. It’s something Ferrie is good at and Joe has obviously learnt a lot from watching him and by working hard on the training ground.”
When Bodde began training with the club, the effect he would have on a young Joey Allen would be immense. Allen learned a lot from the ‘Evil Genius’ on the training ground and it is no surprise to see Joe Allen now performing in the Premiership like a replica of the great Dutchman. Ashley Williams would follow suit stating how frustrating it has been not having Bodde playing, claiming him to be one of the best players he has ever played with.
The latest update on Bodde is that he has recently undergone another knee operation with an unconfirmed return date. Rodgers has stated that he is now worried for Bodde’s family life rather than his footballing career:
“Football’s a very short career and you want to ensure that your life with your family, you can still run about with your kids and he’s got a wonderful family, Ferrie. “
Personally, I have given up on Ferrie Bodde ever gracing a Swansea shirt again, although I welcome him to prove me wrong. He has a lot to be proud of as I genuinely believe that he has been one of the fulcrums of the style of football which Swansea’s Premiership class are now lauded for week after week. Bodde only ever made 54 appearances for Swansea, so the fact that he is hailed as one of the club’s greats is testament to his talent. Here’s to hoping that the ‘Evil Genius’ will return for one last reign of terror one day.