ON ARRIVING at Huddersfield Town just a couple of days into the new year, Terence Kongolo described himself as a “warrior” and someone who tries to “eliminate my opponent”.
Manchester United youngster Scott McTominay will be able to vouch for the Dutch international on that score having been inadvertently wiped out by the Terriers loanee during last weekend’s Premier League match.
Having beaten Kongolo to the ball in an aerial challenge by a fraction of a second, the 21-year-old midfielder was sent sprawling by the force of the impact that made many inside Old Trafford wince, but saw referee Stuart Attwell wave play on.
United manager Jose Mourinho was left incandescent on the touchline at his side not being awarded a penalty, but the 3,000 visiting fans from Yorkshire loved it.
Here was the commitment and desire that will be needed in abundance if Huddersfield, who slipped into the relegation zone courtesy of losing to the Red Devils, are to get themselves out of trouble during the final dozen games of the season.
The man himself insists he did nothing wrong and that the criticism he subsequently received on social media could be put down to one thing.
“I think they were Manchester United fans,” he said to The Yorkshire Post with a smile when asked about the first-half clash that left McTominay requiring lengthy treatment.
“I don’t care if what they say is positive or negative because I was going for the ball. I was not trying to kill him or something. It is just football.
“The referee did not whistle. The game continues. That says a lot. Sometimes I am like a pit bull, but I am a nice guy. I did not do this on purpose.”
Town will need that fighting spirit in the coming weeks as tomorrow’s home game with Bournemouth heralds the start of an eight-game run that is likely to decide the fate of Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative.
Kongolo, hugely impressive since joining on loan from Monaco, will be a big part of that battle to avoid the drop.
Able to play at either left-back or in the centre of defence, the 23-year-old is someone totally unfazed by pressure.
This much has been evident since he prospered after being thrown into the Feyenoord side by Ronald Koeman as a teenager.
His £11.4 transfer fee when moving to the reigning Ligue 1 champions last summer as the replacement for Manchester City-bound Benjamin Mendy is proof of that. Even finding his opportunities limited in the Principality – he featured just six times in the first half of the season – has not dimmed his ambition.
”I want to be one of the biggest defenders in the world,” was Kongolo’s bold statement of intent yesterday.
There may be some way to go on that score, but it is clear Huddersfield will not lack for confidence with the Swiss-born Dutch international in their ranks.
“I like pressure,” he said. “If there is pressure, I just want to do better. I did not feel the pressure.
“Mendy did well last season so Monaco wanted me to replace him. But I did not feel the pressure.
“The coach did not give me a lot of chances, but when he did give me a chance, I played well. For me, I have to play a lot of games to be at my best. If I don’t play every week, it is not the same. Not good for me as a player.
“I had five or six games. I played well, but, after that, we were not in the Champions League and the coach said he wanted the squad to be smaller. So he wanted me to go out and play.
“There was other countries mentioned. France was one. There was also speculation about elsewhere in the Premier League, but I did not hear anything concrete.
“I have faced some very big players in my first two (league) games (against Liverpool and Manchester United). But it doesn’t matter if I play against (Mohamed) Salah, (Alexis) Sanchez or any other striker, I need to be focused.”
Kongolo’s switch to England brought a welcome reunion with his mother and two younger brothers, Rodney and Fidel.
The trio all moved to Manchester from Holland a few years ago when Rodney, now on loan at Doncaster Rovers, joined Manchester City’s Academy set-up.
The family are close, though Town’s loanee admits to not having seen his brother in action yet.
“I am yet to watch Doncaster because we play on the same day and the same time most weeks,” said the elder brother. “This weekend is also difficult because we train and have the match (on Sunday). But I hope to see him soon. I speak to my brother every day on the phone. So, when Huddersfield wanted me, I asked him what it was like in the UK.
“He plays in League One so he said it is a tough competition with only long balls, but that the Premier League was different because there are also clubs who play football.
“I asked about the weather and he said every day it rains or there is snow. It meant I was able to prepare myself.
“Now I am in England he sometimes comes to my house. He lives 40 minutes away. My mum is in Manchester. She came with him when he joined the Academy with my other little brother, Fidel. He is 13 and a footballer, too. He is big and very physical.
“It is, actually, my dream to one day play against my little brother. We are different ages, he is only 20. So, it has never happened before. That is why it is my dream.”
Asked who his mother would support, Town’s Kongolo smiles. “Definitely my little brother. He is her favourite.”