SPEND a bit of time with Bert Konterman and you quickly realise that he is not your typical football player. Then again, the Rangers defender prefers not to be recognised as one, particularly as he dislikes the way footballers are portrayed. It is too one-dimensional, too shallow.
He is an educated and articulate man who is just as comfortable debating politics as he is talking about sport. Konterman is a footballer, and dare I say it, with intelligent opinions.
And that is where the Dutchman has got himself into trouble. If hes to be accused of anything its that he is too affable, too open, too willing to offer his views on issues that concern him. Unfortunately, what to Konterman was merely an innocent sentence here, an opinion offered there, to an unforgiving Scottish media it has been like a red rag to a bull.
Hes had to endure some fairly savage maulings from the media, but through it all hes had an ace up his sleeve his faith. Konterman is a man who loves God, and its his faith that has carried him through a difficult introduction to Scottish football, which has been marked by periods when the temptation to pack up and head home to his native Netherlands has been overwhelming.
It was very difficult for me in the beginning, reflects Konterman.
I had a website, icons.com, which is operated by a big company in London. They have a lot of footballers on a contract to provide weekly information to the fans. I have my own opinions and I try to explain things about the way we (Rangers) play and the way I play. But the Scottish media used to take some of the things I would write and change them a bit. Strange headlines would appear on stories, they would make fun of me and unfortunately a lot of people still believe the things that they read in the tabloids.
Ive learned to be more reserved, be more careful with the things I say now. But there were times when I was so angry with the media and I hated the way they were treating me. But I asked God to help me to forgive them and He did that. I have no bad feelings toward the media anymore.
It didnt help that the big defenders arrival at Ibrox coincided with a downturn in the fortunes of Rangers. Konterman and fellow Dutch signing Fernando Ricksen were singled out as the guilty men, as bad buys in a season where fierce Glasgow rivals Celtic swept all before them.
It all came as a big shock to a man who had just experienced the pinnacle of his career as a member of the richly talented Dutch squad at Euro 2000.
Fernando Ricksen and I were always blamed for Rangers poor season last year, and how do you cope with that? asks Konterman. It was very tough and sometimes you ask yourself can I still play football?
In the beginning it was really tough to get used to Scottish football. I had one weeks preparation with Rangers before I was thrown into my first game. Also, for the first six weeks I was here I lived in a hotel and that is really hard. The walls of your room begin to close in on you and its hard to feel relaxed in your new environment.
It wasnt until I moved into my new house that I began to feel settled, and I think my football started to improve from then. I had to adjust to too many things in a short period of time and I think that was the main problem for me.
Fortunately I can handle it better now, and God has certainly helped me. I asked him many times to help me and without him I dont know if I could have survived this tough time.
Born 30 years ago in Rouveen, a Dutch rural village famous for its cheese that, incidentally, Konterman loves (he also makes a pretty good cup of coffee), the lanky defender was never your typical footballer. Even as a teenager, when he signed with local team FC Zwolle, he never dreamed of playing for his country. He always presumed he would end up, like his father, as a park ranger, or perhaps be a PE teacher.
It took a Scot, Jimmy Calderwood, former manager of FC Zwolle and current Dunfermline manager, to convince Konterman of his talent.
Jimmy woke me up, he admits. I was never ambitious, but he believed that I had the ability to play for one of the top clubs in Holland. The friendship still survives. When Konterman scored twice in Rangers 4-1 win over Dunfermline earlier this season, Calderwood was one of the first people to put a congratulatory arm around his former player at the end of the game.
His performance in that match also went some way to winning over the demanding Rangers supporters, many of who have stubbornly clung to the view that the Dutchman has been a waste of money. It also underlined the esteem in which the Dutchman is held within the Rangers dressing room.
The team were particularly pleased for Bert, said Rangers player Ronald de Boer at the time. He has been under a lot of pressure and had a lot of criticism recently so it was good for him to score two goals.
But Bert can take the pressure. He is a guy who can stay focused.
Gradually, Konterman began to move up the Dutch football ladder, to Cambuur, then Willem II and finally Feyenoord, one of the big three clubs in Holland. Aged 28, and playing in a big city for the first time in his career, he also won the first of 12 international caps, against Argentina when he marked Gabriel Batistuta.
Fame and fortune were his, but neither of these matter to Konterman. His upbringing in a very religious village in Holland, has taught him that there are much more important things in life.
Sunday was a special day in Rouveen, nobody worked or was out on the streets it was very much a day set aside for God and we would always go to church. Once a week I would also go to Bible lessons which were designed to help you become a more mature Christian.
I became a Christian when I was 11. I had a teacher who could tell Bible stories in such a realistic way and it grabbed me. I began to read more about Jesus - I really wanted to learn more about Him. That was a really special time in my life. Looking back that was a very valuable time for me, I learned a lot.
It wasnt the only thing of value that life in Rouveen was to offer Konterman. He also met Henriette, who lived in a neighouring village, and the couple married in January this year.
Henriette has been a great support to me, not only as a footballer but she also shares my faith. We read the Bible together every evening after dinner, and we pray together every morning before breakfast.
Konterman has three years to run on his contract with Rangers. He is already thinking beyond his playing career though, indicative of a man who even as a promising teenage footballer recognised the value of a good education and applied himself to a six years of part-time study - that was such a busy time, it was so tough and I still cant believe that I actually finished it - and eventually qualified as a PE teacher.
At the moment I have another few years left on my Rangers contract. After that I may return to Holland and perhaps play a couple more seasons there before retiring. I dont know for sure at the moment, but maybe thats what will happen.
Im also busy with Christian sports organisations working with children in the Netherlands, and I think in the future I may become more involved with them.
Ive already done some work with them and you see how much it means to the children. A lot of the kids have never heard of Jesus Christ and you see them become grabbed by Him. They go home and tell their parents who then begin to think that perhaps there is something more to life.
Its really special, such a lovely feeling. Id really like to do more of that in the future.
It would also be fitting if in the future, Konterman were able to remember his time at Rangers as special.
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