Earlier this summer, Manchester United announced the signing of rather lowkey and unheard-of left-back Tyrell Malacia.
With the full-back tipped to join French outfit Lyon at first, Malacia made a shock U-turn at the last hour, joining United for a fee of around £12 million.
Malacia switched his birthplace Rotterdam for Manchester as the 23-year-old felt it was time to challenge himself in the Premier League, leaving Feyenoord, the club he had been at since the age of nine.
UtdDistrict spoke exclusively with Malacia’s good friend and personal trainer Jordan Kroon.
Kroon is the owner of House of Champions gym in Rotterdam, with his father having opened the gym long before the 25-year-old was born back in 1983.
He is a man who enjoys pushing his clients to the limit, working with high performance athletes in all kinds of sports such as football, judo and kickboxing.
Kroon first met Malacia during lockdown in 2020.
“Tyrell started working with me in corona season. In Holland the season ended, in England I think they finished them, but we were done. They had no games I think for four months, so he was looking for something to develop his skill set and his strength and conditioning and his mental game,” Kroon revealed.
Malacia has come leaps and bounds in such a short space of time, and Kroon has played a huge helping hand in that.
He said: “At that moment, he was the third left back for Feyenoord, so he was not playing at all, so he needed to develop his game and that was the main reason he started working with me.”
Since first working with each other, the pair haven’t looked back and speak every day, with Malacia being put through his paces on a regular basis in pre-season whilst United No.12 was still in the Netherlands.
With Kroon and Malacia now separated due to the full-back’s transfer, the duo are in contact more so via WhatsApp today.
Kroon said: “I’m sending him his programmes and we have daily contact. Every day, at the end of the day we look at how the training was going. What can be better? What was good? What can be developed?
“He’s just doing his thing over there and he is a boy who’s always looking to become better and make the next steps. He is always working more than the manager [has] asked.”
Since arriving at Old Trafford, Malacia has seemingly dethroned first choice left-back Luke Shaw for the position, and Kroon believes that is down to the number of hours Malacia puts in at the training ground.
He said: “Most of the time, he’s the last player at the Manchester United training field who’s leaving and in the dressing room who’s leaving. Most of the time at the end of the day, he calls me and films the dressing room, and everybody is already gone. So that’s a good thing.”
As often seen on United’s social media channels, Malacia usually carries himself with a smile on his face, showing how he loves what he does.
When asked how he would describe Malacia, Kroon said: “He is really not the football player who you think that most football players think they are.
“He is not a social media guy. He is really into a lot of things like reading books and self-development. He is really into himself so you will not see him in many restaurants, or you will never see him in a club or that kind of thing.
“He is really a guy who is really focussed and who’s really looking forward to every game and who is looking forward to developing his game and he’s always thinking: ‘How can I become better? Where can I do things better? How am I going to spend tomorrow? When is the next training?’ So, a really serious guy who’s always looking for better performances.”
Kroon often mentions the word development when speaking about the Dutch international.
Standing at just 5 feet 6 inches, strength is something that Kroon has worked on a lot with Malacia.
He said: “We are really focussing on his explosive moves and his conditioning of course [to] keep him really explosive and strong to get his mental game very strong because I think of his [first] Feyenoord period. He was too weak, but he was also too hungry.
“So he went [through] a lot of big problems like [giving away] penalties so we also needed to improve his mental game so he was not too hungry, but aggressive enough to win his 1-on-1 games.”
Fast forward just over four years, Malacia certainly has improved on winning his own personal duals.
The former Feyenoord man enjoyed his best outing yet in a red shirt against Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in a game where United beat their arch-rivals 2-1 at Old Trafford.
However, it was a game much earlier in his career which made Kroon believe Malacia has what it takes to play at the highest level.
He recalls: “I think by the games of the Dutch squad, when he played against Germany and also the big games in the Conference League like the final and the semi-final, you could see that he has a real lot of quality.
“A good example is against Sane in the game of Germany. You could see that he can destroy an opponent of that level so from that moment I knew he was possible of this. But in the Premier League, it’s every game. You have to do two times in a week. He is now proving that he can do it.”
Last weekend, statistically, Malacia enjoyed another positive showing against Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka.
As a friend, Kroon said he is “really proud”, and still believes Manchester United is the biggest club in the world.
“With all the fans, and all the audience, you can see it always that every game, the stadium goes crazy about every tackle.
“For us, it was a real big move. From the first day, I know he is going to do well because he is so hungry, and he’s so focussed that he will become a starter.”
Although Kroon hasn’t visited Old Trafford yet, he was present when Malacia signed his contract at Carrington earlier this summer.
On how it felt being at the United training ground, Kroon said: “You feel everything that it’s a real big club. A real good environment in to become a bigger player and a better player. It was a real nice experience to see how such a big club like Manchester United work with a player, and how they do the medicals and how everything went. It was a real nice thing to do.”
It has been around two months since Malacia was unveiled as a Red, but Kroon sometimes finds it difficult to believe his good friend is playing for such a big club.
He said: “It’s really crazy. Every game I watch and I’m so proud. Something I’m still not believing [is] that he is in the dressing room with Cristiano Ronaldo, with the big players in a big club. He is just so calm with it and is just doing his thing like [it is] a normal day at the office. It’s just crazy seeing him step out at Old Trafford.”
For Kroon, Malacia is one of a number of high-profile athletes he works with.
Feyenoord midfielder Orkun Kokcu is someone that often works with Kroon, as is the case for several of the Turkish international’s colleagues at club level.
Kroon has also worked with one of Europe’s best centre-backs in Stefan de Vrij.
After name dropping the likes of former Aston Villa defender Ron Vlaar, NBA champion Francisco Elson and European Muay Thai champion Gokhan Saki as other’s he has worked with, Kroon said: “The list can go on.”