Talent Alessia Norbiato (20) was replaced at the last minute by reserve Noa Muller in Chile after she developed flu symptoms. In the following days she checked which flights were going back to the Netherlands. Not only out of sadness, but also out of anger about the decision that had been made. But she says she has now made the switch.
‘Tonight we celebrate Sinterklaas. I’m curious whether Santa Claus will also come all the way to Chile,” the Amsterdam talent joked on Tuesday morning, in the hotel in Santiago where the Dutch Juniors are staying. Fortunately, Norbiato can laugh again. She took the first blow. But it has been different in recent days. ‘Luckily I’m doing well again now. But I was angry. If I had been sick in bed, I would have understood the choice. Now that was a lot harder for me. In retrospect, I think I could have just played our first match [against Australia] on Wednesday.’
Norbiato showed the first flu symptoms in Santiago
At the table in the breakfast room, Norbiato tells what she thinks has happened in Chile recently. On Saturday, the Dutch Juniors played a practice match against the United States when they felt sick for the first time. At the time she thought it was because of the heat. In Santiago it is around 30 degrees during the day. But the next morning Norbiato still didn’t feel well. When she went to team doctor Sophie Baart for paracetamol, the first alarm bells went off internally. It was decided to temporarily isolate Norbiato from the group. Not only because of the risk of infection, but also to give her some rest so that she could recover.
Norbiato did not have breakfast the next day with the players, but with the staff members. She skipped the outing with the gondola to Cerro San Cristóbal, the mountain with a beautiful view of Santiago. On Monday she was fit enough to be in the hockey stadium, but did not yet play in the practice match against New Zealand. During the night from Monday to Tuesday she slept poorly and sweated a lot. The next morning things went a bit better. Her temperature was measured, but she had no fever: 36.5 degrees. It was decided that she would train with us, but separately from the group. And that she went to the stadium by taxi instead of taking the team bus together.
But just before the start of training, the last before the opening match against Australia, everything changed. Norbiato was suddenly called into the locker room. She was just tying her shoelaces when national coach Dave Smolenaars sat next to her. He gave her the bad news.
‘That was a slap in the face. I didn’t see it coming at all. I was relieved that I didn’t have a fever and I actually felt better again,” says Norbiato. ‘My world collapsed. Dave then quickly had to go outside to lead the training. The physiotherapist and the team doctor stayed with me in the locker room. But at one point I asked them if they wanted to leave. I wanted to be alone for a while. I sat alone in the dressing room for half an hour to 45 minutes to let the news sink in.’
From the perspective of the technical staff, a number of things played a role, Smolenaars said earlier this World Cup. First of all, it was unclear how her flu symptoms would develop further. With a bit of bad luck, Norbiato would be critically ill in bed the next day. Now the player list could still be adjusted without having to make a substitution. By replacing Norbiato with Noa Muller, the Dutch Juniors could at least start the World Cup with eighteen fit players.
I didn’t think it was fair. I felt that I was pushed aside too easily. It wasn’t like I was lying in bed very ill.
In addition, Norbiato could now be designated as a reserve and can therefore come in if an injury occurs. If they had waited a day and the staff had then had to change her, she would no longer have been a reserve. In addition, Norbiato was still struggling with a training backlog due to her knee injury a few weeks earlier. Due to the flu symptoms, she had not been able to catch up.
Norbiato: ‘What I found difficult to understand is that I was told in advance that there was room in the group stage to see how my knee would fare. If I felt the need to take it easy for a while, that option was there. Why didn’t this apply to my flu symptoms? I didn’t understand that. I didn’t think that was fair. I felt that I was pushed aside too easily. It wasn’t like I was lying in bed very ill. That’s why I was angry. It really crossed my mind to go home.’
A call with Amsterdam assistant Immink kept Norbiato in Santiago
Norbiato says that she even went so far as to check on her phone which flights were available back to the Netherlands. ‘I found it difficult to stay in Chile. I thought: I can’t handle having fun all the time. And then I also have to stay fit for the tiny chance that someone gets injured. Then I better go home.’
Ultimately, it was assistant coach Thomas Immink from Amsterdam who talked her out of the Netherlands from leaving everything and everyone behind and flying back home. He called her two days after the bad news. Immink and Norbiato have known each other for years. He was her trainer in the youth of Amsterdam. It was a good conversation with him, she says. When she hung up, she knew she was staying.
‘That conversation made me look at the situation differently. Thomas helped me turn the switch. He said that I would have booked a plane ticket a long time ago if I really wanted to. He also made me realize that everything I do here is not just for the Dutch Juniors, but just as much for Amsterdam. If I continue to train here and keep myself fit, I will also do so with a view to the EHL and the play-offs.’
‘Moreover, it remains wonderful to make a World Cup. Also as a spare. Fortunately, thanks to Thomas, I now see that again. I’m here with a nice group of girls in which many of my friends play. It is freezing in the Netherlands, but I am sitting in the sun, in Chile of all places. How often do you experience that? I am twenty years old, this is my first and last World Under-21 Championship. I am proud that I was selected for this in the first place. That’s why I give myself this adventure.’
The Dutch Juniors will play the quarter-finals of the World Cup-21 against Spain in Santiago on Wednesday, at 1:00 PM Dutch time .