He has the most intimidating nicknames in Dutch football: Fire-Eater, Khalid the Cannibal, Boula the Bulldozer. His piercing eyes, towering presence and tough tackles have instilled fear in many opponents. But at Monday’s first session of Holland’s pre-Euro 2012 training camp, Khalid Boulahrouz showed his other side: easy-going, good-natured and very sociable.
The 31-year-old did his utmost to make the half dozen newcomers in the Oranje squad feel at home. A few kind words, a smile, an arm around the shoulder of a teenager – they’re priceless aspects of teambuilding.
In his assessment, the uncapped youngsters joining the Holland squad for the first time are all “good players, highly talented, with their own unique qualities.”
He’s referring to AZ Alkmaar players Nick Viergever and Adam Maher, Erwin Mulder and Stefan de Vrij from Feyenoord Rotterdam, Jetro Willems from PSV Eindhoven and Alexander Büttner from Vitesse Arnhem.
“The fact that they’re here is saying something. These lads have a great future ahead of them.”
Just back from injury, Boulahrouz takes it easy during Monday’s training session. After about 40 minutes, he strolls to the bench where he has a chat with staff and slightly injured players.
The VfB Stuttgart defender broke his big toe in training at the end of March. “I’m fit now,” he says.
“But on Sunday, I played a friendly against HSV in Hamburg and it was a long drive today, so I can feel my legs… It was the first time I played the full 90 minutes after my injury. It's all going according to schedule and it had been decided beforehand that I wouldn’t do the whole training today, so no worries.”
Since his Holland debut in 2004, Boulahrouz has earned 35 caps and has starred for Oranje in every major tournament. Even though he’s seen it all before, he feels no change in the amount of pressure or the type of preparation ahead of Euro 2012.
“Whether it’s number four or five, this tournament remains very special. And it’s key for every player to up the pressure as much as possible, so that you can reach a high level. So my preparation will be pretty much the same as ever.”
The Stuttgart star is looking forward to Holland’s first friendly against another German powerhouse, Bayern Munich. Playing a club side with the national team will be a novel experience for Boulahrouz:
“Don’t know what that will look like, but we’ll see on the day. The big question is who will play for them, because it’s been a long season for Bayern too, with a Champions League final just three days before. For us, it’s one of the matches we play in preparation for the European Championship, which means we’ll take it very seriously, like every other match.”