Prior to Saturday's season opening loss to Sporting KC, discussion resonated across social media regarding comments made by Michael de Leeuw, currently sidelined while recovering from a ruptured left ACL suffered towards the end of the 2017 season.
"If it were up to me, I would want to play here (in Chicago) until the end of my career. I really like it here. I have plenty of football left in me and still have a contract for one more year here, so next year (2018) is guaranteed at the Fire. After that, I don't know at this point."
That is how the interview from Dutch outlet FC Afkicken ended with de Leeuw, but it was another quote from the interview, which appears to have been filmed not long after his injury, that has been the focal point for Chicago Fire supporters since it was released last Thursday. The quote has some supporters up in arms.
The interview covers a variety of topics, from de Leeuw's time at FC Groningen, his love of the city of Chicago and knee injury suffered towards the end of the 2017 season. The quote in question has become a point of controversy for some, and a willing admission for others.
The issue surrounds a tweet sent out by Leander Schaerlaeckens, in which a single line from the interview was translated into English:
The tweet reads, ""In the Netherlands, you have real supporters who go home angry when you lose. Here, the people come for a nice night out." -- Michael de Leeuw of the Chicago Fire."
The quote in and of itself, can be viewed a few different ways. Some took it as a personal slam on Chicago Fire supporters and a "tourist" mentality that is frowned upon by the most die-hard and passionate of fans across the league, regardless of club affiliation. Others took it as a snub at U.S. soccer culture, which while passionate, admittedly pales in comparison to many European leagues where soccer is the be-all-end-all of sporting fandom. How the quote was interpreted largely determined your level of disdain for what was said.
Regardless of what one took away from the quote, one thing was missing: context.
Social media has bred a society where context means little, and soundbites rule the day. While there are times a message is straightforward and plain, the waters get a bit murkier when translation is involved. Couple that with a single sentence void of any real context, and you have a recipe for backlash both via social media, as well as visual representations like the one at the Fire's season opener against Sporting KC Saturday night.
Michael de Leeuw has been a fan favorite, nearly since the moment he stepped on the pitch for Chicago after coming to the club on a free transfer from FC Groningen in July 2016. He tallied seven goals and three assists in 18 appearances for the Fire in 2016, and his work rate and hustle did not go unnoticed by many in 2017, prior to his season-ending knee injury against New York City FC on September 30th. If his comment, in the context many took it in was correct, it would come as a shock to most who've watched him the last season and a half in Bridgeview.
Aside from context, another issue with the comment made as presented may be that something was "lost in translation." If there's a single word from the quote that seemed to dig deepest to Fire supporters, it was the use of the word "real," as conveyed by the Schaerlaeckens' tweet. While it might be understandable, even without context, to find offense in the comment, it appears to not be what he actually said in the interview at all.
Fire Confidential has obtained a copy of the full transcript of de Leeuw's interview, translated to English by a fluent Dutch speaker. Use of the word "real" in the Dutch translation does not exist in the original quote.
Here is the full exchange between FC Afkicken and Michael de Leeuw regarding Chicago and the difference in support between the Netherlands and U.S.
MdL: “In the Netherlands you have supporters who go home angry when you lose. Here people find it important that you have fighting spirit and big effort, but people also come for a good night out. When I drive to the club the parking lot is already full and kids are playing football.”
FC Afkicken: “Do you like that better than in the Netherlands?”
MdL: “Well it both has its charm. The atmosphere in a few stadiums in the Netherlands is very nice, you have that here as well but here there are also a lot of people that come for a night out. All of this is definitely why I started this adventure in the United States. You have to fly everywhere; the United States is like Europe. The one moment I play in Spain and it’s like I’m playing in the Champions League.
I do miss my family and my friends but other than that I do really like it here. Our home is beautiful and we are in a great place here. Also, with the other people from the Netherlands but also my teammates, I really have a nice team. The Chicago Fire truly is a great and warm club. I really am happy with the club and the adventure that I have here on a daily basis.”
The entire interview (in Dutch) can be found here: https://youtu.be/5nOgG_ypcLM