Rav van den Berg reflects on his first year at Middlesbrough and whether it met his expectations

Rav van den Berg is congratulating Lukas Engel
Rav van den Berg is congratulating Lukas Engel -Credit:NurPhoto via Getty Images

Rav van den Berg might have won Middlesbrough's Player and Young Player of the Year awards in his first season at the club, but when asked how he would rate the campaign, 'pretty good' was as lyrically as he would wax.

That's not to say the 19-year-old has not enjoyed his first year at Boro. Nor is it in any way an indication that he was not flattered and possibly even slightly overwhelmed at picking up the two fan-voted awards at the club's end-of-season presentation. Instead, it's a reflection of the high standards and lofty ambitions that the Dutchman sets.

Ending the season in strong form, there is much hope for the future, with Van den Berg keen to help Boro back to the Premier League. But having failed to do that the first time of asking, 'okay with it' was as good as his verdict on his first year at the club could be.

READ MORE: 'We're lucky to have him' - Michael Carrick on Middlesbrough Player of the Year Rav van den Berg

Speaking at the awards ceremony, he said: “Pretty good. In my first season, I’ve won two trophies, which is amazing. Of course, there have been a few ups and downs, but we end the season quite well. Some things can go better, 100%. But if I look at the season overall, I am okay with it.

"It’s a new experience for me in the Championship. In Holland, it’s always all about playing football - ball on the ground, no long balls. Here it’s more like what I would describe as ‘real football’ - long balls, physically demanding. The positive thing for me is that, for my age, I’m quite big/tall. So I had that going for me.

"Of course, in the beginning, I had to adjust a little bit. Things are a little bit different here and you have to play a bit smarter, using your body and stuff like that I feel like I’ve learned a lot and I’m used to the league now. I’m really happy with the decision I made to come here and I’m really happy here right now."

Van den Berg would quickly earn the trust of Michael Carrick to establish himself on Teesside despite his tender years and relative experience. A huge prospect who turned down big clubs to move to Boro last summer, his quality was never in doubt, but he had been expected by Boro officials to need a little more time to settle.

Initially using the club's injury struggles to get game time at right-back, and on occasion even left-back too, it was when he eventually reverted back to his preferred role in the middle that he would excel in a Boro shirt and produce the form that earned him his personal accolades. Did his first season exceed his initial expectations in that sense?

“When I first arrived, the team had a great end to last season," he said. "Unfortunately they didn’t manage to go up, which was bad luck. For me, then arriving into that setup, of course I know my own abilities, but you can’t come straight into a team like that, particularly when I’m so young as well.

"So there were doubts about how much I would play, but I knew I had to just come and show my ability. I think I did that quite well. Did it exceed my expectations? I was hoping it would go as it did, let’s put it that way."

The two awards Van den Berg won were voted for by supporters - with the centre-back an emphatic winner in both categories. In a recent interview in his native country, he'd gone on record about his admiration for the Boro fanbase and their commitment to supporting the club both home and away - a culture not often replicated on the continent.

Asked about that bond with Boro fans, he said: “I think they like me, and I like them back. In the game, they are so passionate and support us really loudly. After the games too though, they stay to meet you and it shows how much they like you and how much they love the club.

"It’s different here to what I’m used to. It’s more like a connection, like a family. I’m really happy to have their support, and to receive their votes for these awards means so much."