Rajiv van La Parra came within a whisker of being given the chance to win promotion to the Premier League last month, but the Flying Dutchman is already preparing to set sail once again upon another epic voyage in English football.
Wolverhampton Wanderers narrowly missed out on a Championship play-off spot on the final day of the 2014-15 campaign, despite winning six of their last nine matches.
However, winger van La Parra believes the club will be back among the chasing pack again next season as they look to emulate the Canaries’ achievement and return to the Promised Land for the first time since being relegated back in 2012.
Having only arrived at the club little over 12 months ago, the skilful wide man hit the ground running during his debut season at Molineux, making 41 appearances as they challenged at the top after winning the League One title in 2014.
After experiencing top-flight football in France and Holland with Stade Malherbe Caen and Heerenveen respectively, the 24-year-old is raring to go ahead of his second season in England as Kenny Jackett’s men kick-off the 2015-16 campaign at Blackburn Rovers on August 8.
Following his debut season at Molineux; Dan Church spoke to Rajiv about his time in Holland and England, plus his hopes for the upcoming season.
How have you found the transition from Dutch football to English football over the past 12 months?
“In the beginning, it was hard for me. Everybody told me that it would be difficult because I was not used to the physicality. It was a whole new experience for me because I was playing in a different country and it is a different type of game over here than in Holland. But I was looking forward to it because I have always wanted to play in England. I think last season made me a better player because the game here is a lot quicker and you have to be more physical. I don’t think I did too bad in my first season, so hopefully in my second I will show everybody that I have improved and can contribute to a good year.”
Were you surprised by the high standard set in the Championship?
“Very surprised. In Holland, they don’t show a lot of football from the Championship, so I didn’t know what sort of competition it was. But it is a very tough competition. I was very happy with my first year with Wolves because we played for promotion and that is what I have always wanted. I didn’t want to come to a Championship team who were there just to stay in the league. It was a good experience for me.”
You made 41 appearances during your debut season at Molineux which included 10 assists and two goals. What is your personal aim ahead of the new campaign?
“My goal is to score a minimum of 10 goals and provide more assists next season. And of course, I want my team to be playing for promotion again. I think I will reach my goal because I have improved my game over here, I have played in the Championship now and I have a lot of confidence going into next season.”
How big a loss will Bakary Sako, the club’s joint top goalscorer for the past two years, be next term?
“Of course, he was very important for us. He will be a big loss but, at the same time, it is also a big opportunity for someone else to step up and be the main man now he has gone. Someone else, like myself, needs to stand up and be as important as he was last season and that is what I am expecting of myself. I have spoken a lot with the manager [Kenny Jackett] and he has given me a lot of confidence that I will be his replacement. Now it is down to me, I need to prove that I can be the main man.”
Do you believe Wolves can go one step further and finish in the top-six next term, or perhaps even achieve automatic promotion?
“We definitely have the quality to finish in the top-six, we showed that last season. Every year is different, but of course we will hopefully make it happen this time. Finishing in the top-two would be amazing, but everyone wants to win automatic promotion. We will see how it works out for us over the season, but of course we would love to focus on finishing in first or second place.”
You were a product of Feyenoord’s academy alongside internationals Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi. Having represented the Netherlands at Under-17, 18, 19 and 21 level, do you still dream about a senior international call-up?
“Yes, of course. When I was younger, I was highly-rated to get a call-up to the national first-team. But now I am getting older, I am just concentrating on doing a good job for my club and then hopefully it will come. The most important thing for me right now is to play well for Wolverhampton and prove myself – then my chance will come. I hope it will happen one day, but it is up to me.”
You were managed by Marco van Basten at Heerenveen before joining Wolves. What was it like playing under one of the world’s greatest ever footballers?
“It was a very good experience to work with him. He is a legend and he was a very big player back in the day. It was nice to have someone like him help me, someone to have on the training ground and someone who could explain everything to you because I look up to him. He is very nice. If you were to work with him, he acts just like a normal person.”
How have you relaxed this summer before you report back for pre-season training?
“I went on vacation with my girlfriend and some friends. It was hard to play for a whole season because in Holland they have a winter break, but in England you just play on. There are so many games! Firstly we went to Dubai, then secondly to Las Vegas. It was important to rest because it helped me relax and forget about football. But now I am looking forward to the start of the new season.”
With this year’s additions of relegated trio Burnley, Queens Park Rangers and Hull City, who do you think will be favourites for promotion next season?
“For me, QPR will be one of the favourites. They have a lot of money so I think they will keep last season’s squad plus bring some new players in. Because they have so much money, they are powerful, so it will be important for them to bounce straight back up and I think they will do anything to make that happen.”
Favourite film: Law Abiding Citizen.
Celebrity crush: Halle Berry.
If you could choose three dinner guests, past or present, who would they be: Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama.
Summarise yourself in three words: Relaxed, cool and funny.
If you weren’t a professional footballer, what would you be: Lawyer.