1975-1990: EARLY YEARS
I was born in Rotterdam. My name seems to confuse people but there´s no Italian blood in my family - my father comes from Indonesia and my mother is Moluccan - but mum just seems to have liked the name Giovanni. I grew up in a small town outside the city, where eventually my little sister Elvira was born when I was nine.

My dad introduced me to football and taught me to play. When I was six, I went to an amateur club, LMO, in Rotterdam to learn the game properly. Dad was playing for the same club which, like most clubs in Holland, had a youth team.

When I was seven, I went to Feyenoord which was the start of a 16-year association with the club I supported. They had a lot of teams for every age level - Under-8, Under-10, Under-12, Under-14 and Under-17. So you could always get a game, but it was more difficult to play for the first team. I played left midfield in those days, just as I do now.

Being with Feyenoord was a great honour for a kid, because even though the 1980s were not a great period for the first team - apart from when Johan Cruyff came to the club and we won the title in 1984 - the club was still one of the top names in the country for youth football. Ruud Gullit had come through the ranks in the early 1980s.

Competition for places was strong. Not many of my colleagues from the youth side made it, although one who did was Bobby Petta, who went on to play for Celtic. Bobby and I played from 14 onwards and both reached the first team before he left to join Ipswich in England.

At youth level, Feyenoord, Ajax and PSV dominated the game just as they did in the first team. But, as I said, the Eighties were not a good time at the club generally and by the Nineties - when I was ready to step up into the professional ranks - not many players came through from the youth teams and started in the first team.

Thankfully, I had a very good coach, Maup Martens, who took care of me at the right age, between 12 and 16. I still see him and the other coaches in Rotterdam. It´s only now that I realise how well Maup taught us because our training was not just about skill, we also learned tactics.

In 1990, when I was 15, my hopes were fulfilled when Feyenoord offered me a contract to become a professional. Walking out at De Kuip in front of those supporters was a dream for me, and I knew from the moment that I signed that contract that I had a real chance of making it.
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