New Toronto FC defender Gregory van der Wiel has hailed the professionalism and mentality of Major League Soccer, claiming it is “10 years ahead” of Europe.
The fullback joined the reigning MLS Cup champions after a rough couple of seasons following his departure from Paris Saint-Germain, one spent in Turkey with Fenerbahce and the other in Italy with Cagliari.
The experience left a sour taste in Van der Wiel’s mouth and convinced him the time was right for a move across the Atlantic to the United States.
"I always wanted to play in MLS,” Van der Wiel said in quotes published on MLSsoccer.com. “I've been many times to this side of the ocean and what I've picked up is that the mentality, how the people live with their sport, the professionalism, here is way different from Europe. I think on this side it's 10 years ahead."
Specifically, Van der Wiel suggested pictures posted to social media and his private life may have contributed to unfair perceptions of him with his clubs. The experience dampened his love of the game — something he hopes to reclaim in Toronto.
"I'm tired [of being] judged by the way I look, the way I live my private life, the pictures I post on Instagram,” Van der Wiel said. “I've always been a person who works hard, always had the mentality to be a top player. The last two years I got judged and sidelined by things other than my football qualities. I wanted to be in an environment where it was different.
"I'm already feeling, my first week, that it is a totally different world: you get treated well, everything is well arranged… this is everything I hoped for. I need to get my pleasure back. That will come; I have no doubt.”
Van der Wiel also discussed other problems he encountered in Europe as he lost money to an investment scam.
"I met somebody there, influential, and I wanted to invest some money, like I'm still doing to this day," he said to the CBC. "I like to do things on the side of football to be smart about my money, but it was not a smart move.
"I trusted somebody and in the end, I never saw my money back."
Someone who believes Toronto can help Van der Wiel bounce back from his negative experiences in Europe is Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney, who specifically cited the examples of Victor Vazquez and Chris Mavinga as players who rediscovered their love for the game with the MLS side.
"When you make choices, not always do they turn out as hoped or expected," Vanney said. "[Now], Victor and Chris love playing again, found that passion.
"It comes down to us being human; understanding Gregory as a person, providing the things that people expect, allow him to be himself, enjoy and play the game. This is a club full of good people, eager to help and support each other. From that you find joy in life and on the field. And when you win, that helps."