Holland international Andy Van der Meyde’s capture from Inter Milan in summer 2005 stirred excitement around Goodison Park. But the winger’s life outside football was unravelling and he played only 24 matches in four years.
In an interview originally published in Everton’s matchday programme for this month's Premier League game against Crystal Palace, Van der Meyde explains why the blame for an abortive Goodison career falls squarely on his shoulders, and reveals huge regret over letting down supporters and criticising the Club following retirement.
Andy van der Meyde has a clear head and is “thinking straight”.
Such contentment represented an alien concept during the troubled closing years of a football career lost to excess and injuries and misplaced resentment.
“If I think back to all the things I did, wow,” says Van der Meyde.
“I was like a psychopath. Somebody with a different mind. It was weird.
“I was totally different from my normal self.”
It is 12 years and counting of clean living for Van der Meyde. He is settled in the small central Dutch city of Apeldoorn with wife Melisa and the couple’s two children, removed from the hedonistic attractions of Amsterdam.
Van der Meyde jokes he and Melisa are “Holland’s version of Peter Andre and Jordan” after starring in a popular reality television programme.
The truth is more conventional.
“I am a happy man,” he says.
“I don’t do stupid things. I am a house father.
“If you are not clear in your head, woah, it is very difficult.”
Yes, Van der Meyde’s wild days, the drinking to forget and unpredictable episodes, are long gone.
Also consigned to history is the hostility wrongly aimed at Everton.
The responsibility for four ill-fated years at Goodison Park, insists Van der Meyde, belongs exclusively with him.
“It was not the gaffer’s fault, not my teammates’ fault, not the supporters’ fault,” he says.
“Nobody else’s fault.
“It was my own fault.”
Van der Meyde moved to Goodison Park from Inter Milan on the final day of the 2005 summer transfer window.
He was 25, a gifted graduate from the esteemed academy of Ajax and a Holland international.
On the flip side, the winger arrived at Everton following one year of enthusiastic socialising and accompanied by a groin problem.
Five straight Premier League appearances from October – Everton won four of those games – stoked optimism, but Van der Meyde damaged a thigh muscle preparing for a match at Manchester United in mid-December.
“Then,” says Van der Meyde, “the problems resurfaced.”
He will expound on the nature and extent of those issues. But first, the mea culpa.
Van der Meyde’s public soundings about Everton following his exit in 2009 – after 24 appearances, 14 from the start – were relentlessly negative.
His 2012 book, Geen Genade – translated as No Mercy – featured unqualified criticism of the Club, manager David Moyes and individual teammates.
Now the mental fog has lifted, Van der Meyde repeatedly uses a three-word phrase to convey why it really went so wrong at Everton.
We will tweak the terminology to read, ‘I messed up’. But the sentiment remains untouched.
“I wrote the book soon after my career and when I was telling the stories, I was back in that moment,” says Van der Meyde.
“I had a lot of aggression in me.
“I said some bad things about Everton, some stupid things. I was not thinking straight.
“I could see clearly after I rested my head.
“I regret what I said.
“A few years later, I was thinking, ‘Andy, man, you really messed up’.
“It is really a shame.
“I think about it a lot, actually, you know?
“Still now… my football career goes through my head.
“I think, ‘Wow, man, you were really stupid. You played at Everton, a great club. You really messed up, man. How could you mess this up, you were so talented?’
“I was thinking like a child.
“I felt like everybody was against me but that was not the case.
“I just didn’t listen.
“I was stupid. Really stupid.”
Had Van der Meyde met Melisa during his football career, “if my mind had been right”, he says, “I would have done great things for Everton. And won many more than 17 international caps”.
“But I had to do it at that moment,” he continues. “Not talking afterwards.
“I really hate myself for that – that I didn’t think like a grown-up person.
“I was thinking in emotions – and that is not right.”
Van der Meyde lost his way in Milan after a jarring separation from Ajax, where he spent roughly a decade and “everything was cool, I was focused on my football and had my family around”.
He returned for pre-season in 2003 to be told by the club’s technical director, ‘Congratulations, we have a fax from Inter, you are sold’.
“Ajax is in my heart, I am a fan, it was really strange,” says Van der Meyde.
“They said to me, ‘Andy, you’d better go now, you have to talk with Inter, we don’t need you here anymore’.
“I took my bag and football shoes and shook my teammates’ hands.
“In five minutes, the love from Ajax’s side was gone.”
Van der Meyde’s first Inter training session was notable for manager Hector Cuper asking a player signed by club hierarchy, ‘Who are you, the kitman, or something?’
The player survived a miserable baptism – during a month-long Austrian pre-season camp he tearfully phoned an Inter official pleading for an Ajax reunion – to make a promising start.
An iconic volleyed Champions League strike against Arsenal at Highbury would stand as a monument to Van der Meyde’s unfulfilled promise.
Alberto Zaccheroni replaced Cuper, but soon made way for Roberto Mancini, who rarely selected the raffish forward despite calling Van der Meyde “the best winger in Europe, along with Luis Figo”.
“After a while, I was in the stands, doing nothing,” says Van Der Meyde.
“I thought, ‘What can I do?’
“So I went out, going after women and all that.
“I was Andy van der Meyde, I could go anywhere.
“If you are a football player in Italy, you are a god.
“One time, I was in Dolce & Gabbana and a guy came and said, ‘Hey, you can’t shop here’.
“I told him to leave me alone.
“He said, ‘No, come’.
“We went to a private room and suddenly I was sitting there with Michael Schumacher. We shopped and talked and ate. It was nice.
“The guy said, ‘You are king here, you don’t go in the shop’.”
Van der Meyde never let his ego run away with him.
“No way, I know where I come from,” he insists. “If I behaved like that my granddad would smack me in the face.”
The original partying and drinking – Van der Meyde did not use drugs while an active footballer – were out of character.
He was 22 before experiencing a night out, when Ajax celebrated the 2002 domestic title.
“Of course, I liked it,” says Van der Meyde.
“You get a lot of attention from women because you are a famous footballer.
“If I was asked for photos or autographs, I thought, ‘This is weird, man, I am only a footballer, not the president’.
“Then I began thinking, ‘Wow, this is easy’.”
Van der Meyde’s former existence featured “football, football, football”.
He grew up in Arnhem, 60 miles from Amsterdam, where “lots of things were happening at home, we had no money and the police were regularly knocking on the door”.
Ajax extended their traditional recruitment boundaries to sign the precocious 13-year-old Van der Meyde. At 14, the club paid for an Amsterdam flat that Van der Meyde shared with his mother after the young player voiced concerns over draining daily travel.
“In Amsterdam, I went to school and trained, then went home to mum,” says Van der Meyde.
“I missed a lot of my youth… and never really went out or had friends.
“Reaching the Ajax first team was everything for me.”
It would be easy to conclude Van der Meyde was making up for lost time in Italy.
“No,” he says.
“I had a lot of problems in my head. When I was drunk, I didn’t think about those problems, so I went out all the time.
“Also, I wanted to play so much and, when I didn’t, it was a problem for me, mentally.”
Boredom stalked Van der Meyde following his thigh injury with Everton.
He joined with the aim of “playing every week and rediscovering the love of football”. The longer-term target was Holland’s 2006 World Cup squad.
“But all that changed when I got injured,” says Van der Meyde.
“I had no goal and couldn’t do anything.
“I’d go to the Club, they’d put some ice on my leg, then I’d go home.
“So, I thought, ‘I will go out and enjoy myself’.”
Van der Meyde’s book chronicles the turbulence that subsequently engulfed his private life.
His marriage broke down following an affair – “I cheated on my wife, who was a good person, and left my kids for somebody else,” he unsparingly offers, today – and a daughter from his new relationship was born with a serious bowel condition that required sustained treatment in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
“She was in Alder Hey two days ago for an operation and regularly has to go back,” says Van der Meyde.
“The health of my little girl is still not good, so I am thinking about that every day.
“Back then, I had problems at home and with my daughter and with the gaffer.
“I still thought, ‘When my contract finishes, there will be a new club.
“If you don’t play, you are not important anymore.
“Unless a gaffer really likes you, it is over.
“It is really stupid I threw it away like that. Really, really bad.”
Van der Meyde is nevertheless guaranteed the enduring affection of a good deal of Evertonians after swinging over the cross for Dan Gosling to stun Liverpool deep into extra-time of an FA Cup tie in February 2009.
The Dutchman, inevitably, barely slept the night before the game.
“But,” he laughs, “it was the one time I went to bed at 5am without alcohol.
“My dog gave birth to puppies, so I was up all night.
“I wasn’t supposed to be with the team, but I had a call in the morning saying I was needed.
“When the gaffer told me to warm up, I thought, ‘Oh, man’.
“Then he put me on, I just thought, ‘I will do my best’.
“I got that ball and sprinted fast, then sent in the cross and we scored. It was crazy.”
Van der Meyde turned to alcohol and cocaine following the expiry of his Everton contract.
He has recounted a desperate telephone call to his agent when Van der Meyde revealed he feared for his life.
A trial with PSV Eindhoven – where friend Fred Rutten was manager – was arranged.
“I hadn’t trained for one year,” begins Van der Meyde.
“I was really fat, man.
“They thought I was somebody else: two Andys (laughs).
“Oh man, unbelievable.
“I ran twice a day for three weeks and they put me on a diet.
“Then I played for the second team and the thigh injury came back. Bam.
“That was it, football was finished for me.”
Ten ensuing directionless, self-destructive months gave way to clarity and serenity after Van der Meyde met Melisa in an Amsterdam bar.
He soon left the city where, a decade earlier, the player reached his career apogee.
Van der Meyde boasted the chutzpah to ask for a loan move after 18 months circling the periphery of Ajax’s senior squad following a debut aged 18.
“I was training with the first team but playing for the second team and thought, ‘No, this is not for me’,” says Van der Meyde.
He wanted to stay with Twente Enschede following a productive campaign but new Ajax manager Co Adriaanse ordered the player back to Amsterdam.
Adriaanse “was really strict, like a military guy, we had to train with shin pads and your shirt in your trousers” and paid with his job for the harsh regime.
Successor Ronald Koeman, appointed in December 2001, blocked a proposed transfer to Blackburn Rovers for Van der Meyde and positioned the right footer on Ajax’s left flank.
“I said, ‘What do you mean, I have no left leg?’ says Van der Meyde.
“He told me, ‘You are quick and can shoot… come inside and shoot with your right foot’.
“I had the confidence of the manager and was mentally very strong… and produced a lot of goals and assists.”
Van der Meyde contributed to 47 goals across two seasons – scoring 20 – to help Ajax complete a domestic double in 2002, prompting that first night out, and reach the following campaign’s Champions League quarter-finals.
“The best time of my career,” confirms Van der Meyde.
“Then I got sold.”
Van der Meyde provides individual counsel for players in Holland today, cautioning against decisions dictated by emotion.
How would the conversation unfold if he met Moyes?
“For the things I said, I would shake his hand and say, ‘Sorry, man’,” says Van der Meyde.
“People ask why I did this and that.
“But life for me was a cocktail of problems.
“Mentally, I needed to put those away and, on that, I failed. I have to live with it.
“Everton is a great club. The supporters were always behind me and I messed it up for them. I really want to say I am sorry for that.
“I hope one day I can go back to Goodison and everything will be okay.”
Given Van der Meyde’s renewed tranquillity, it feels appropriate to end on an upbeat note.
The eight-year-old Van der Meyde was watching the German football routinely on television in a home close to the border when he assured his sceptical mum he would play the sport for a living.
“I also watched motorcycling and on my birthday my dad gave me the choice between a helmet and a ball,” says Van der Meyde.
“I said, ‘Dad, I will take the ball’.
“It was my dream to be a professional footballer and I achieved it.”