The ex-Real Madrid hype machine courted by Man City & Chelsea that wants a second chance
When Mink Peeters drove through the gates at Real Madrid’s training ground for the first time in 2017, the young Dutchman dared to believe he had reached the promised land.
He always dreamed of following in the footsteps of Real Madrid’s global icons and becoming a star at Spain’s most decorated club. When he sealed a move from Ajax, it seemed as if he could break through that glass ceiling.
Yet the step to the first team proved to be a little too far for this gifted attacking star, and at the age of 25, the player who was one of the most talked about in European football when he sealed to the Spanish capital is looking for a new club.
“At the start, it was great. You are young, you want to live the dream and everything is amazing. I was going to the stadium to watch the big guys play and everything was just amazing,” Peeters said in an exclusive interview with Planet Football.
“After some time, you feel the pressure building as you look to go to the next levels and it can get into your head. You wear the white shirt, you are a Real Madrid player, it feels amazing. Also, you then have to deliver on the pitch.
“When you play for this club, you always have to win and you always have to be the best. There is no other option.”
Madrid were about to embark on a run of three successive Champions League triumphs and had some of the best players in world football in their squad. Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale were all at the club when Peeters arrived.
And that’s not forgetting Cristiano Ronaldo. “They have their own training pitches, but we had a shared swimming pool,” Peeters recalled. “We could hang out with them and it was crazy to be in the same jacuzzi as Ronaldo and chat a little about football with him.
“The first team players were very welcoming to us. They wanted to know where we were from and check what position we played in. It was great to see they were great normal people as well as great football players.”
Proud to be in the middle! Zidane-Mink-Ronaldo pic.twitter.com/pyZe9f6HPn
— Mink Peeters (@mink_98) April 28, 2015
It was the culmination of a pathway that started when Peeters was a child, gathering hype for his footballing ability from the age of 10.
“I was training at PSV Eindhoven then and I was just better than all the players in my age group,” the Dutchman said.
“I was moved up to players two years older than me and still developed well with them and was also playing with the national team in the youth levels. At around 15 or 16, there were lots of English clubs asking for my signature and that is when we had a decision to make.”
The English clubs in question were Chelsea and Manchester City, but Madrid held a special appeal. And Peeters had that confidence every young talent requires that he had what is required to make it at the very top level.
“What I could see for me from an early age was that I am better than the other players and I had a feeling that I could reach the highest level,” he said.
“I was lucky enough to reach that at Real Madrid by playing with great players like Martin Odegaard and Federico Valverde and at Ajax with Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, so when you see these guys getting to the top level you think this is your path and my destination. Having worked with these players and felt as if I was on the same level as them I always felt I could become a top player in European football.
“They set out a plan to get me to the first team as quickly as possible, but you know the level at Real Madrid is the highest that it is. That makes it hard to go from the youth to the first team. I had some great moments at Real Madrid and the feeling is the experience I had at that club will be massively beneficial for me at my next club. It is something I will also take with me whatever happens next in my career.”
Inspiration from Odegaard
And as Peeters turns his attention to what is next, he takes inspiration from one of his former contemporaries, Odegaard, now competing at the top level in England.
“We used to go out for dinner sometimes,” Peeters said. “Martin is a great guy and a great player. You could see how good he was at the time and now he is going some amazing things at Arsenal.
“A lot of people were saying a lot of big things about him at the time and like me, he felt pressure to show that he could do that. Now he is doing some great things at Arsenal.
“I can learn a lot from him. He has done an amazing job of taking his career to the next level after leaving Real Madrid. I have not spoken to him for some time now, but I would love to meet up with Martin if I get a chance to play in England.
“Some people write good and bad things about him, but he ignored all that and just did what he needed to do to reach the top.
“I have been in his position and it is tough. He just stayed focused and always believed his moment would come at the right club.”
As for Peeters, while he did not manage to make his mark at Real Madrid, his time in the youth team and out on loan – he spent time at VVV-Venlo, Almere City and Lleida Esportiu while still on Real’s books – has undoubtedly prepared him for the challenges ahead.
He has been to Serbia with Čukarički, back to the Netherlands with FC Volendam and more recently in Dubai with Gulf United since leaving Real for good, showing resilience and a determination to succeed in the game that will stand him in good stead for whatever lies ahead.
Now Peeters is working hard to get his next opportunity, fit and ready to play, with Hull City and Lincoln City already showing an interest in this once prodigious talent.
“I am training hard at the moment and my ambition is to do everything I can to get my career to the highest level possible from this point,” Peeters added.
“I am looking for the best club to share the belief I still have in my story. England is a country I would love to play in and you look at the Premier League and the Championship and they have incredible crowds for every match.
“A friend of mine, Zian Flemming, is playing at Millwall at the moment and tells me how amazing the Championship can be, so it is a league I would love to play in.
“I still have a lot of faith and believe in what is still to come for me.”
By Kevin Palmer