On Floris Wortelboer’s Instagram page, there’s a picture of him with a sling over his right arm on a hospital bed, flashing a thumbs-up with a smile. And below it, the caption reads, “2nd and last time! On to a good recovery.”
That was weeks before the Tokyo Games, when Wortelboer had dislocated his shoulder for the second time in his career, which forced him to miss the European Championship and the Olympics for the Netherlands. He had sustained the injury in March during the semifinals of the Pro League.
The 26-year-old Dutch defender has had a terrible fate with injuries.
The first time his shoulder fell out in 2018, Wortelboer had to watch the 2018 World Cup from home despite being selected. Then two years later, he injured the same shoulder and another surgery ended his European Championships hopes.
He also has had his attitude questioned by the former national team coach, Max Caldas, who is leading the Spanish team in the ongoing World Cup.
Braving all these setbacks, Wortelboer, after playing 74 international matches, finally made his World Cup debut in front of a near 20,000-capacity crowd in Rourkela in the 4-0 win over Malaysia on Saturday. He then starred in another 4-0 win over New Zealand two days later.
“It was not easy, but I am happy to be here,” says Wortelboer, who plays club hockey back home with Bloemendaal. “It was hard to deal with it [injuries] but I knew that the tournaments are coming in the future. I was really looking forward to the World Cup.”
Explaining his misfortunes, Wortelboer says he was just ‘unlucky’.
Having put behind the disappointments, the towering defender says, “It was not easy because I play with a lot of my friends in the team. As a player, you want to play in these big tournaments. I am now enjoying every moment.”
His parents, Thomas and Karen, are in the stands, cheering and waving at him. His siblings are flying down to Bhubaneswar later this week to watch him play in the famous colours of the national team.
Wortelboer’s father Thomas is back in India with his son for the second time after the 2016 U-21 World Championships in Lucknow.
“That makes him also a better player and also a better person because now he knows what he has to do at this stadium,” Thomas says of Wortelboer’s setbacks. It was a hard time for him. So many times he has had to recover for months, training alone... that’s not so pretty.”
Thomas is considered a gentle giant in the dressing room with his energy and sociable skills, which his father, who is a banker, believes was the result of his choosing hockey as his choice of sport.
“In the Netherlands, hockey is very popular and every little village has a club where you can play hockey. You have the option of playing football or hockey and we as parents preferred that he played hockey. Because that’s a far more social sport and you can have better friends. Football is more about money, hockey is more…. we like it more,” says Thomas.
Through all the struggles, Thomas is pleased with how Wortelboer has overcome his adversities in life, putting on a smile on face.
“He is what you see, what you get. Flores is Flores,” he says. “He is a strong man after his recoveries, he is very social. We are very proud of him.”