Happy Birthday Nigel De Jong: Remembering The Netherlands' Kung Fu King

De Jong turns 38 today. The Sportsman looks back on 'that kick'
08:00, 30 Nov 2022

Nigel De Jong turns 38 today. By any measure, his career was a resounding and memorable success. 81 caps for the Netherlands national team. A Premier League title with Manchester City, and Eredivisie with Ajax. The midfielder came within four games of a century of appearances for AC Milan. De Jong even squeezed in a glamour spell at LA Galaxy, the measuring stick for big name expats since David Beckham put the MLS club on the map.

But chances are when you hear De Jong’s name, these Hall of Fame accolades are not what springs to mind. You’re likely thinking about the 2010 World Cup final. Spain against the Netherlands. Xabi Alonso heads the ball. De Jong unleashes a studs-up, chest-high kick. The sort of kick that has won more WWE championships than World Cups. Hulk Hogan would be proud. As Alonso writhes in agony, referee Howard Webb gives De Jong a yellow card.


It is impossible to put into words how seismic this felt if you weren’t watching at the time. There is a catharsis that comes from the doling out of a red card. An acceptance that an incident, duly punished, can be confined to the past. But the fact De Jong continued to play, in a World Cup final no less, was huge. 

The tackle made a star out of its perpetrator, now cast as football’s new bad boy. In the nascent age of internet memes, one could find comedic images of De Jong daubed in a karate gi or placed into the Street Fighter franchise. Roy Keane for the Facebook generation, fans couldn’t get enough.

Webb also enjoyed burgeoning notoriety from the incident. Already a target for many supporters for perceived slights against their team, the fact he had let a tackle that would have carried a prison term outside the ground made him the most ridiculed official on the planet. Given Graham Poll’s infamous blunder at the 2006 World Cup, giving Josip Simunic three yellow cards before sending him off, the moment said little for the standard of English refereeing.

But Webb wasn’t derailed for too long and neither was De Jong. When he wasn’t destroying Spanish sternums, De Jong was one of the great midfield destroyers of the era in the Premier League. A vital part of Manchester City’s rise from rich pretenders to genuine force, he helped his team win the FA Cup in the season that followed. A year after that, he was lifting City’s first Premier League title. To the wider world, De Jong is most remembered for his kung fu prowess. But for loyal Cityzens, he will always be a catalyst for their rise to power in English football.

Like all things from football’s past, one day we will lament the fading of De Jong and his ilk. What was once a planet-stopping moment of lunacy, from both player and official, will soon become something we tenderly impart to future generations. “In my day, Big Nige De Jong kicked a man in half. You can’t do that nowadays. The game’s gone.”

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