It is April 2018 and Regilio Simons turns into the parking lot at the Van der Valk Hotel in Almere in the Netherlands. The former player of Fortuna Sittard, NAC, Willem II and ADO Den Haag, among others, has decided to respond to one of the many interview requests just before the sixteenth birthday of his son Xavi. Xavi himself? In those years he is silent in all keys, except for one item with ball artist Soufiane Touzani.
“When, according to many people, Dutch football had ended up in a crisis, it was suddenly about Xavi,” said Simons senior. “That luckily he was coming, and that we had to be patient. That kid was only thirteen years old. It was special, especially because a lot of people had never seen him play.”
With a little imagination it is best to group the reactions after his transfer to PSV this week under the same heading. Sometimes you get the impression that PSV already holds the championship scale with one hand now that the club from Eindhoven has fished in the keeper of Nice, a young defender of Wolves and nineteen-year-old Simons. That has to do with hope, even more with a usual example of opportunism in the football world, but of course also with the appearance of Simons himself. When the youth international walks in somewhere, something happens. The youngster with the blond curls clearly has the X factor.
“Barcelona wasn’t quite sure how to handle it either,” said Simons senior. “We kept everything off. He never asked for peripheral matters.” But they just came his way. And not just a little bit. Years ago, the Simons family settled in the Spanish village of Rojales, near Alicante. In the youth of the local CD Thader, Xavi played in the spotlights of Villarreal, Elche and Cádiz. It was Barcelona that managed to tempt him to leave the friendly Rojales.
Commercial met Neymar
Named after the ‘great’ Xavi, the talent became a four-time winner of the Golden Ball for the best youth player in Spain. Nike pinned him as a possible figurehead for the future. More than a million people followed the Barça youth player on Instagram. And then there was the television commercial with Neymar, although many more youth players from Barcelona took part.
“He wasn’t trying to become world famous, he wanted to be a good football player,” said Simons. And he became a good football player. His breakthrough was not forthcoming at Barcelona, but Paris Saint-Germain was quick to sign him. Xavi Quentin Shay Simons increased his number of followers on social media to almost 4 million. But much more important: Simons made his debut against Olympique Lyon (1-1) as a replacement for the Argentine international Leandro Parades and was on one field with Keylor Navas, Presnel Kimpembe, Marquinhos, Nuno Mendes, Georginio Wijnaldum, Marco Verratti, Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappé .
Last season he made nine appearances for the French top club. However, the Amsterdam-born teenager failed to achieve the near-impossible: becoming a staple force in Paris. PSG hoped that he would sign, but PSV was very decisive and brought Simons to Eindhoven.
“Xavi Simons will never be an Iniesta or Xavi,” PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino said. “But he does have the quality to develop a career at the highest level.” And he must then follow that path in the Dutch Eredivisie. There he will again have to deal with high expectations.
Simons is viewed differently than other talents. He now knows that better than anyone. In September, national coach Bert Konterman sent five players away from the Orange U19. Something about breaking the corona protocol and the presence of two girls for the practice match against Italy. Besides Simons, Mimeirhel Benita (Feyenoord), Ar’jany Martha, Naci Ünüvar and Rio Hillen (all Ajax) were able to pack their things. But only the name Simons popped up prominently in the news headlines, including his photo. While Simons had hardly anything to do with the case.
This week Simons posed radiant in the shirt of PSV. “I’m at a point in my career where I need to make minutes,” he said confidently. “That’s possible here. I am ready and want to prove myself.”
Four years after he was called Dutch hope in fearful days, because the Orange had missed two final tournaments in a row. The next final tournament, Qatar 2022, is already around the corner. Simons is not in the picture. On the other hand, Louis van Gaal often picked up players who had a lightning start because they had to start early in Europe with their club. That can be stressful. But the spotlight on him, Simons can live with that. In fact, he is no different.