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EU vice-president Timmermans on his passion for Roma

Frans Timmermans is the First Vice-President of the European Commission, the second in charge in the corridors of power at the European Union.

He is also a massive Roma fan.

For the Dutchman, born in 1961 in Maastricht, Thursday's Europa League meeting with Ajax promises to be something of a derby.

Ahead of that tie, we spoke to Timmermans to learn more about how he became inducted to a life in Giallorosso...

Timmermans talks with former Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in 2017

We'll start from the draw - what did you think when Roma got Ajax?

“I thought that we had two amazing games in store. They are two teams that like to play with their heads up. Roma play some incredible football at times, but they struggle a bit with consistency. The key thing then is that they don't lower the bar at all. If they are able to do that, then they should have their chances over the course of the two legs."

What do you make of this current Ajax side?

“I think the key to the game will be in midfield. Ryan Gravenberch, 19, is an amazing talent and has a great view of the game. Another key player in that part of the pitch will be Davy Klaassen. And then there is Dusan Tadic, who is a very dangerous forward.

"In defence, the two Argentinians [Lisandro] Martinez and [Nico] Tagliafico love to push forward - so Roma could find themselves getting a few chances on the counter-attack too."

In percentage-terms, how likely do you think Roma are to get through?

“I think a Roma side in good form has a 60% chance of getting through the tie."

In Brussels, have you had a chance yet to discuss Roma with another fan - Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi?

“[Timmermans laughs] I always talk about football with the Italian politicians. Football isn't just a sport, it's a way of life. Through football we understand each other better."

And that has been the case with Draghi?

“Yes - last time we talked about the change of ownership at the club."

You grew up in the era of Johan Cruyff and some great Ajax sides - yet you chose to support Roma. Why?

“As a youngster I lived in Rome. On Sunday I would always go to the Olimpico. I did not always have the money for a ticket, but my friends would help me out."

Which Roma players have left the biggest impression on you?

“Don't you see the shirt [Francesco Totti's] behind me right now?!"

And other than Totti?

“Above all Falcao - but also De Rossi and Voeller."

Which players do you think are key in the current side?

“The player I like the most is Leonardo Spinazzola. That boy has a lot of talent and is really fast too. He's a better class of player."

Rick Karsdorp, a Dutchman like yourself, is also having a great season. Did you expect that?

“Yes. He has a lot of talent too. He's really been through a lot; injuries ruined the start of his time at the club. I think a lot of people thought that he would never come back as good as he is now.

"Right now he's having a great season. Spinazzola and Karsdorp are the sort of players that are only going to become more common in the future: fast and dangerous going forward, but solid defensively as well.

"Ajax have a few players like Karsdorp too. For him, having come from Feyenoord, it will be a bit like a derby as well. In Holland, Ajax-Feyenoord is a bit like Roma-Lazio."

Eduardo Galeano wrote that there “is nothing more sad than an empty stadium". How much does this team miss having the supporters there?

“We all miss that opportunity to go to the Olimpico. The fans miss that and the players miss it too, I think. They are not used to that silence from the stands either. We all hope that perhaps one day Roma will be able to play in a more intimate stadium. One that will allow the fans to be even closer to the team."

Let's finish with a message: What would you say to the players ahead of Thursday's game?

“Ragazzi [lads], winning the Europa League would be a dream for us. Forza Roma. Daje."

"Football isn't just a sport, it's a way of life" Frans Timmermans
 
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