Gregory van der Wiel hopes to regain soccer passion with TFC

Gregory van der Wiel is looking to regain his passion for soccer with Toronto FC. The Dutch international defender signed with Toronto last week after the MLS club reached a transfer agreement with Italian Serie A squad Cagliari.

Dutch defender joins Toronto following pair of disastrous seasons in Europe

Gregory Van Der Wiel, centre, signed with Toronto last week after the MLS club reached a transfer agreement with Italian Serie A squad Cagliari. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Gregory van der Wiel is looking to regain his passion for soccer with Toronto FC.

The Dutch international defender signed with Toronto last week after the MLS club reached a transfer agreement with Italian Serie A squad Cagliari. The six-foot, 158-pound Amsterdam native joins the defending MLS Cup champions following a disastrous couple seasons in Europe.

Struggles began for van der Wiel after he signed a four-year contract with Turkish club Fenerbahce in 2016 following four seasons with French side Paris Saint-Germain.

"After three months I already had problems there," he said during his introductory press conference Monday. "The club treated me not well.

"I started off bad with stomach pains, for example, I had three months [of] stomach pains and nobody bothered me to ask me, 'Hey, what's up? How are you feeling?'"

Off the pitch, van der Wiel ran into problems following poor business decisions.

"I met somebody there, influential, and I wanted to invest some money, like I'm still doing to this day," he said. "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."

The 30-year-old registered one assist in 17 appearances with Fenerbahce prior to joining Cagliari where he suited up for six games.

Fills an immediate need

Van der Wiel's signing provides the Reds with a replacement for Steven Beitashour, the starting right fullback who signed with the expansion Los Angeles FC.

"He can play at the wing back and at a back five or back three and get up and down the line. He's runs very easy," said TFC coach Greg Vanney. "He adds a whole other level of soccer sophistication on our right side.

"He can play in that system, he can play in the back four. On any given day, I don't know if he'd love it, but he can play in the back three if we needed cover there. He could step inside into midfield positions whether that'd be in a rotation [or] whether that'd be in one of our rotations or he can play out against the sideline."

Scrutiny off pitch

Van der Wiel also models and was scrutinized for the perceived lack of attention on the pitch when images surfaced on his Instagram account. Van der Wiel admitted the scrutiny became tiresome and that's part of the reason why he's in Toronto.

"It was the right time to make this step," he said. "Maybe a bit earlier than I expected, but that's how my life went.

"I'm a bit tired to be judged by the way I look, by the way I do in my private life, by the pictures I post on my Instagram. If I like to post nice pictures, it doesn't change me as a person. I always have the mentality to become a top player and the last two years I got judged and sidelined by other things than my football quality. I can't even explain, sometimes, why."

Vanney, who spent time as a player in Europe, understands the problems van der Wiel encountered.

"People really frown against you being involved in anything outside of the club," Vanney said. "As we all know, in sports here, it's a commonplace. I think that's a bit thing. He has other ventures and other things.

"He has been involved in other business ventures. I've been over there enough and played over there enough to know that some clubs, that's not even an option."

Van der Wiel is expected to be ready for Toronto's CONCACAF Champions League match against the Colorado Rapids on Feb. 20.

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