FC Groningen's Peter Leeuwenburgh on sentimental Ajax clash, and lessons from Cape Town City

FC Groningen goalkeeper Peter Leeuwenburgh told ESPN that Saturday's Eredivisie clash against boyhood club Ajax, at the Johan Cruijff Arena, will be more special than most.

One could hardly begrudge Leeuwenburgh, who was at De Toekomst from 2004 to 2018, for any lingering warmth towards his first employers, whom Groningen will face in an 18:45 kick-off (local time) on ESPN.

The former Netherlands U20 international appeared to be on course for a bright future on the books of Saturday's hosts, but his career was derailed by shoulder injuries which struck just as he was attempting to break into the Ajax first team.

Leeuwenburgh told ESPN ahead of his first-ever game against his former club: "It will be a special game -- a little bit more special than the other games, because I grew up at Ajax. I played there for 14 years, so it's nice to be back.

"On the other hand, it's like any other game for us, because there are points on the table. It will not be easy, because Ajax is in very good form, but we will do everything we can to get a result."

Toppling the defending champions and early Eredivisie leaders will be a colossal task for Groningen, who are 14th in the table after back-to-back losses against Willem II and Vitesse.

By Leeuwenburgh's own admission, the visitors are likely to find themselves with backs to the wall against a free-scoring side with 27 goals in six league games so far this season.

"We will watch their videos like we always do and it will be a game like any other game in terms of preparation, but we will probably not play like every other game," Leeuwenburgh admitted.

"We will have to defend a bit more than we are used to, so we will do that and try to stay in the game as long as possible and then try to create a few chances. Maybe we can score a few, and then, who knows?"

Of his derailed career at Ajax, Leeuwenburgh was pragmatic, looking back on it to find the silver linings, one of which was the timing of it all.

He said: "I would say that they [the shoulder injuries] came at a very bad period, where I was [breaking] into the first team and playing a lot of games for the second team... but I also learned stuff in that period -- how to work on your body.

"In the end, I needed surgery. Better earlier in your career than later, because now I still have a lot of years left to play."

Leeuwenburgh revived his career at Cape Town City in South Africa, a club which matched his youth and ambition.

He starred as they won the 2018/19 MTN8 knockout tournament for the best eight teams in the country in his first season. His steady form over the next two years ensured that he earned a move back to the Eredivisie with Groningen.

According to Leeuwenburgh, his return to the Netherlands was always the plan, and that he has taken the first team experience gained in the Mother City back to his motherland.

The stopper said of the move back to Holland: "It was the goal, to be honest.

"You never know how it works out, because you go to another country that is far from home and far from what we are used to in the Netherlands, but it worked out very well for me.

"[I learned] the rhythm of playing games week in, week out. I was the number one there and I learned to be number one for a professional football club at the highest level, which is quite high in South Africa.

"I learned how to be a professional football player and not just train, go from Jong Ajax to the first team, and maybe be a little bit in between.

"I always went there with the idea to come back, not to go there for a vacation or anything else. I wanted to play; I had that opportunity in Cape Town, so I decided to go and try my luck. It worked out. I worked hard for it and now I'm here.

"The circle is closed now."