long read | “Siniterra should be the prelude to more success stories”

In the most beautiful way imaginable, Luis Sinisterra said goodbye to Feyenoord this week after four seasons. A star player, through the front door and for the club’s highest transfer fee ever, he left for Leeds United in the Premier League. Few would have expected that he would ever make that step when scout Steven Aptroot spotted the then 17-year-old Colombian five years ago. On FR12.nl he told his story.

That story starts on February 5, 2017. Feyenoord is fighting for the national title under the leadership of trainer Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The selection consists largely of Dutch players, a few Scandinavians and one South American with Eric Botteghin – who has, however, been active in the Eredivisie for a long time at that time. A direct transfer from that continent has not taken place in De Kuip for years. But in Colombia, Scout Steven Aptroot finds himself on the trail of a new talent.

That does not happen in Manizales, the city where his club Once Caldas plays its home matches, but from Rotterdam, via the online scouting platform. Wyscout† ‘A winger with speed, depth, class, action, kick and creativity. Needs to see more, but looks like a super talent,” says the first report on Luis Sinisterra, who was then only 17 years old. “I had only seen one match, but damn what a player. From that moment on you will follow such a boy.”

First contact
However, Feyenoord seems to be missing out on the talent that summer. Club Brugge is also impressed by the technical winger. “They already had a player from the same broker, so they had a head start,” Aptroot said. He tries to convince the club management to act quickly, but without much success. “We had just become champions, so money came in through the Champions League. But there was not really a vacancy for such a young boy. And at Feyenoord a South American was not exactly welcomed with open arms. If a boy like that chooses us, it must be nothing, such was the sentiment.”

‘If such a boy chooses us, it will probably be nothing’, was the sentiment.

The club ignores Sinisterra, but gets another chance after the summer. Club Brugge is not going through – Aptroot doesn’t know why – and the attacker picks up again in Colombia. There the scout, who still follows him intensively, sees how he quickly sustains an injury. The way he handles that gives him the final push to approach the player for the first time. “I saw a boy who felt something in his hamstring and immediately got out. Most players then start to force, but he said: I stop, that’s better for me.

“I then made contact with him. I asked him about his injury and told him about Feyenoord. I explained to him what kind of club it is, how we played football and how I thought he would fit in the Netherlands and at the club. had already gathered a lot of information about him at that time. About him as a footballer and as a person, about his family. When such a boy gets the idea that you have a genuine interest in him, you gain his trust. He told me what his dreams were and what he wanted to achieve in Europe. That’s how we got into the second phase.”

After the personal contact with Sinisterra, Aptroot returns to the club management. “I could now say that he is not only a good football player, but also a great guy. Intelligent, civilized. The last signals went green. In the meetings it became a bit more compelling from then on. Yes, it may take some time. The first year he will mainly float between Jong Feyenoord and the first. But it is the greatest achievable talent in South America. And he wants to come!

After others at Feyenoord also see the young talent at work at Colombia Under 19, the board is convinced. Other clubs are also eyeing him, but that is no cause for concern. After many discussions with Aptroot, Sinisterra has a clear preference for a move to De Kuip. On July 9, 2018, he signs a contract that initially binds him to Feyenoord for three seasons. For the first time in ten years, the club is attracting a player from South America.

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Aptroot’s story is far from over with that. The scouting process is over, but he remains closely involved. “I talked to that boy for months, convinced him that Feyenoord – despite a bad track record in South America – was the right choice for him. Such a choice at a young age can make or break a career. Then it is important that you continue to show confidence, take him seriously. Even if there are doubts.”

Such a choice at a young age can make or break a career. Then it is important that you continue to show confidence.

Those doubts abound after arriving in Rotterdam. Internally, Sinisterra has yet to dispel the fearful attitude towards attracting South American players, and the outside world is not yet convinced either. “Through Football International an article came out. It stated that Ajax and PSV didn’t like it at all and that the boy didn’t even have an agent. That was absolute nonsense, but you could feel all the Rotterdam skepticism coming up. Both inside and outside the club.”

These are question marks that Sinisterra cannot immediately remove. As expected, he needs time to catch up and his debut in the cup match against VV Gemert is also quite disappointing. “That was a huge blow for me too. I thought: Damn, you only get one chance to show it. It was a breaking point. Questions were also raised internally: What should we do with it? Is he better than Mo El Hankouri? Cheick Toure? Joel Black? That’s how we went into the winter break, and it didn’t go much better after that.”

Coach change
From then on, Aptroot’s hopes lie with the Under-20 World Cup that summer. Can Sinisterra show what he has to offer to the Colombian youth team? From that moment on, he has been working hard towards that tournament. The attacker is starting to feel fitter and stronger, is performing better in training and even makes Feyenoord doubt whether it should release him for the tournament, the preparation of which coincides with the end of the Eredivisie. However, Feyenoord ensures European football in time, so that the World Cup for Sinisterra is not endangered.

“At Feyenoord there was actually hardly any interest in that World Cup,” Aptroot recalls. “But I saw him do very nice things at that tournament. I also told them that: I still see a very good footballer. I think we’ll be sorry if we let him go.A new opportunity for Sinisterra follows that summer, when Giovanni van Bronckhorst leaves Feyenoord. Aptroot wants to stand up for the successful head coach. “He was criticized for not using it, but a head coach is looking for players he can rely on. to build. It was calculated that that would not be the case with Sinisterra then.”

Successor Jaap Stam is the one who does give Sinisterra the chance the following season, but he also doesn’t see it in him initially. “He first said how he had seen him stumble in a league game against NAC, and that he had seen little good. But during the preparation he became convinced. This guy can really play football† In the exhibition games that followed, he became a basic player and he scored his first European goal against Dinamo Tbilisi. Then he was through.”

Stam’s stay at Feyenoord is short-lived, but Sinisterra continues his form under the new trainer Dick Advocaat. “Despite the fact that Feyenoord did not play very well, Luis did very well. Until that February day in Zwolle”, he refers to the serious cruciate ligament injury that the player incurs in that match. “I was in a stadium in Spain when I heard about it. I was sick of it. I quickly caught a flight and was sitting next to Luis on the couch the next day. It was terrible. His world had collapsed. He was finally there through, broken through, gained the confidence of the supporters. And now everything was back to zero.”

It’s unbelievable how he handled it and how fast and strong he came back.

Still, there’s little Aptroot can do for Sinisterra at that point. “I had to leave it to Luis, his mental strength and his family. Leigh Egger (Head Performance at Feyenoord, ed.), the medical staff and the doctors at Erasmus have all put in a world performance to get him back. It is unbelievable how he dealt with it and how quickly and strong he came back.Of course there was a lesser period after that, but when you saw him come on against Wolfsberger AC and VVV-Venlo you saw: the team is getting a lot better here from.”

Top transfer
In the year and a half that follows, Sinisterra is on the way up again. He shows himself more every week in the Feyenoord van Advocaat, and under successor Arne Slot he is completely revived. With 23 goals and 14 assists in 49 games, he has the best return in all of Feyenoord, making a significant contribution to reaching the first European final in 20 years. Aptroot sees it from a distance. Contact with Sinisterra is still there, but he himself left Feyenoord in February 2021.

Aptroot spoke to the player for the last time a few weeks before the Conference League final. A departure from Feyenoord is certainly not a foregone conclusion at that time, and he has no role in the eventual transfer. The transfer is also a special moment for him, although he insists that it is mainly ‘Luis’ day’. “I wholeheartedly give it to him. He ends up at a very sympathetic club. Now it’s up to him again. He starts again at zero and will have to show it again.”

long read | "Sinisterra should be the prelude to more success stories"

At least as important is what the transfer means for Feyenoord. In the first place for the good name of the club in South America. “The current scouts – who also have an excellent map of the market – can approach agents and say: Take a look: Sinisterra at Feyenoord has also managed to grow as a complete unknown into the star player of the club and international at Colombia, and thus force a nice transfer to the Premier League.Conversely, he hopes that the skepticism about getting such players has now really disappeared.

“The most important thing is that we have created a blueprint that shows that it is possible. With the right guidance, with confidence. Don’t think: that will be nothing† That seeps through, also to the player himself. You don’t have to get ten South Americans per window. But the moment it’s really a good one, that fear shouldn’t be there. Let’s also hope that Luis’s path is the prelude to more success stories. If that is what he is leaving behind, then it is just as historic for Feyenoord as the amount he has delivered.”