Curacao's Gino van Kessel (pctured) hopes to play in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Photo courtesy of Federashon Futbol Korsou)
Curacao international Gino van Kessel is an emerging talent in CONCACAF. The 23-year-old forward player had a 2016 to remember. He was top scorer in the Slovakian top flight, netting 17 goals and earning a move to Slavia Praha in the Czech Republic, where he scored once in five UEFA Europa League games. Recently, van Kessel was loaned to Poland’s Lechia Gdansk. Additionally, his goals in the 2016/17 Scotiabank CFU Men’s Caribbean Cup helped Curacao to its first-ever CONCACAF Gold Cup berth. Van Kessel took some time to speak with CONCACAF.com about his accomplishments and future ambitions.
How old were you when you first started to play football?
I was five-years-old when I started at Kolping Boys in Alkmaar in the Netherlands. When I was 12, I started playing professionally at Telstar in Ijmuiden. This was when I started to take football more seriously and view it as a vital career option for me.
Did you look up to any footballers while growing up?
I never had any favorite football players to whom I looked up. However, when I was young, I liked to watch AZ Alkmaar because many times I went to the stadium to see the matches. AZ Alkmaar was my team growing up. I was very passionate about them and the fans. It was a team you wanted to watch every single week.
You were born in the Netherlands in 1993, but you represent Curacao internationally. What are your connections to Curacao? Did you always want to play for Curacao?
My mother was born in Curacao. When I was young I never heard about the Curacao national team. When some guys who I know went to play for Curacao, I really wanted to join the team. When Patrick Kluivert first called me up in 2015, it was an amazing feeling. Now I feel I have grown into my role and I am very passionate about representing the country of my roots.
How important was Ajax in your development as a professional football player?
I think it was very important for me. It is the club with which I signed my first professional contract and the name Ajax is known everywhere. It really is a big advantage that I had a contract at Ajax. They taught tactical discipline and they are very good in developing young players in all positions.
Curacao is now the first Dutch Caribbean Island to qualify for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. How do you feel about this tournament coming up in the summer?
It is a great feeling, not only for me and my family, but for the entire island of Curacao. I talk to my fellow Curacaoan teammates on a regular basis in a group chat and all we talk about is participation in this big tournament come the summer. We are really excited about this. To be rubbing shoulders in a tournament with the USA, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica and many more is a privilege and I can’t wait for the summer. The United States has great stadiums and there will be many spectators. I think it's a dream for every football player to play in a major tournament. I am so excited and I am looking forward to this. We are also looking forward to the semifinals of the Caribbean Cup in June, taking the title from Jamaica would be another accomplishment for us.
In 2016, you scored seven goals in seven games for Curacao. How do you feel you are settling into the team right now?
I believe I am settling into the team quite well; I really do. I feel fine playing with the boys around me. In the end, we as a team need to win matches. Of course, I would like to be one of the players who scores the goals, but if somebody else is in a better position, I will try to give it to him. If we win and I do not score then I will still be happy and commend that individual.
What are your goals for 2017?
My goals are to be a better player and get good results with my club and with Curacao. I don’t like to quantify my goals, but I will say I just want improvement.
What advice do you have for young people who want to play football professionally?
Train hard and try to do new things every week. Use both legs to control, pass and shoot. In the beginning, this will be difficult, but after a while it will be to your advantage. That would be my advice to any young person who wants to play football professionally.