‘Was a revelation when she played’

NOS Football

  • Oscar van der Horst

    Editor NOS Sport

  • Oscar van der Horst

    Editor NOS Sport

This old photo is of Xavi Preesman. Indeed, named after the then football player and current coach of FC Barcelona. Dressed in the shirt of his dream club, when he took his first steps on a football field as a child at SV Heinenoord.

But this is about the girl he’s playing against.

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Esmee Brugts and Xavi Preesman as children at SV Heinenoord

That girl’s name is Esmee Brugts. As usual at a young age, she was allowed to join the boys as a child. But she continued to do so for years to come, until recently, actually.

And now she is the one who dreams of FC Barcelona. Eighteen springs young, stormy breakthrough at PSV and now international for Orange. In the team of national coach Mark Parsons, whose approach is so doubted. A team full of uncertainties, plagued by injuries. Because is there still life after the loss of Lieke Martens, former World Footballer of the Year?

“Just put Esmee in against those French,” says Marius Heinerman, her former youth trainer. “That new generation gives Orange something extra. Football not only looks more energetic, they are also players who seem to be able to rely much more on intuition.”

Between the growing adolescents

Brugts learned that between the boys, hardened by the whims of a couple of adolescents growing up. First at SV Heinenoord, to follow Preesman a few years later to FC Binnenmaas in Maasdam. “That was a club from the neighborhood that played higher. A year after I decided to take that step, Esmee also took it. We have known each other through football for about thirteen years.”

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Esmee Brugts (left) rushes to the ball as a child

“She immediately commanded respect. It was a revelation to see a girl play football so well,” says Heinerman. “And she was a real brawler, someone who wanted to be the very best at everything.”

“Esmee often played through opponents”, remembers Sander Sterrenburg. “And when that happened, friends often stood on the sidelines and fellow players cheered loudly. Then they kept laughing at that boy because he was gated by a girl. But of course we knew how good she was.”

“That fierceness, that enormous fanaticism. If she used to lose a match, you had better not talk to her for a week”, Preesman remembers. “She had a great dribble from a young age. If she came one-on-one, it was just ready for the opponent.”

Think three steps ahead

It was not as obvious as it is now that women participate at a high level with men. But Brugts is from the group that started playing football when the women’s team of Orange, led by Vera Pauw, reached a historic semi-final place at the European Championship in 2009. When the realization dawned of the enormous potential for the sport in the Netherlands.

Brugts started as a left winger, but quickly forced a place as a game distributor with her passing. “She could think three steps ahead in the field. She had a wonderful assumption and was able to give fantastic balls. You can recognize the really great talents from that.”

And also that kicking technique, says Sterrenburg: “I was always quite tall. At corners I only had to whisper to her whether I would walk to the first or second post.”

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Esmee Brugts in youth at FC Binnenmaas

Brugts already belonged to the youth selections of Orange in her years at Binnenmaas, as a result of which she had to miss matches of her own team more and more regularly. This sometimes led to teasing from opponents, who gave a sneer to the boys if they could not win without ‘their girl’ in the team.

“I remember that once we were rolled up 4-0 by a competitor when Esmee didn’t participate,” said Heinerman. “She was there at the return and as a discussion I only presented them with the report of that earlier game, in which they wrote very derogatory about us.”

Three guesses who that afternoon heralded the victory with a beautiful free kick.

Just right moment

Brugts could stand her ground, as Heinerman says. “Sometimes I found her very hard on herself. If she didn’t play well, I really had to convince her that it was really not just her. That she should not be too negative, because she wanted so badly. I was regularly called if she could come and train extra.”

The elusive Brugts sometimes drove opponents to despair with her technical feats. But whoever touched Esmee then touched the entire team. “Physically it became increasingly difficult for her,” notes teammate Dylan Doek. “We just kept growing. In retrospect, I think it was just the right time for her to go to a top club in the women’s competition.”

A ball or a roll of toilet paper? Brugts tackles everything to get better

Certainly for Doek, the team’s striker, the departure of the then 16-year-old Brugts to PSV is a huge loss. “We could easily find each other on the field, I scored a lot of goals thanks to her. I was actually afraid that she would leave us a year earlier.”

There was a reason that she stayed at Binnenmaas for a year longer. “She first wanted to finish her high school”, Heinerman knows. “She had already mapped that out for herself, as she does with everything.”

Compete with great idol Martens

After that, it all went a bit faster than expected with Brugts, who thought that she would initially be attracted to the PSV U23 team. She has now been playing in the Eredivisie for two seasons and in February of this year she already made her debut for the big Orange. Suddenly she was a serious competitor of her great idol Martens.

And yet, this breakthrough is not entirely surprising. Sterrenburg: “Between the boys, it was also just very difficult to estimate how good she would actually be if she joined the women.”


Esmee Brugts at the training with the Orange

The boys sometimes think back to those evenings when they sat there cozy after training and saw Brugts practice free kicks outside on the field. She radiates in everything that things are really starting to get serious.

Parsons, in turn, already gave a signal by rejuvenating his European Championship selection. So at Binnenmaas they are going to sit down on Saturday to see if he actually dares to play with their former pupil.

Ninety percent on talent

Many of her old teammates are on vacation. Doek is going to watch the match from Mallorca, Sterrenburg is still looking for a good WiFi network near his holiday address in Croatia. Heinerman has no technical concerns; he stayed in the Netherlands.

“She has to play close to the opponent’s sixteen. That’s where she can make the best of her actions,” hopes Heinerman. And no, she certainly didn’t learn how to play football from him. “Ninety percent is pure talent; she has that from herself. But of course we have been through a lot and talked a lot about football and certain game situations. Then it is nice when you see things about it.”

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Esmee Brugts as international with Xavi Preesman

Brugts naturally has something special, Doek agrees. “She can suddenly create something for the team out of nothing.”

FC Binnenmaas owes a lot to Brugts, but also the other way around. As a woman, she has become the club’s poster child and she still likes to come to sports park De Lange Weide when she has time. Often with her mother. He is almost always there, the family bond is close. The difference with the past is that they are now followed by a large group of fanatic autograph hunters during their visits.

That she can only put herself in the spotlight at the great Barcelona, ​​if only to take Xavi Preesman there once.



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