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'When I was a little boy, I always looked up to Jaap Stam'

Dutch defender Jordi Balk is determined to help St Patrick’s Athletic stay up after settling into life in the League of Ireland.

Balk has impressed since joining the Saints.
Balk has impressed since joining the Saints.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

IF ST PATRICK’S Athletic are to go on and avoid the drop this season, Jordi Balk will have proved an inspired signing.

With the Saints involved in a relegation scrap, the Dutch centre-half was one of several new recruits brought in by manager Liam Buckley over the summer — arriving from FC Oss in July.

The 23-year-old slotted into Pats’ backline almost immediately and produced a number of commanding displays to become an instant hit among the Richmond Park faithful.

In his nine league starts, the Inchicore club have won five, drew one and lost three and Monday night’s victory at home to Shamrock Rovers means they’re up to eighth but still looking nervously over their shoulder.

“I heard from everyone that I’ve settled in really fast,” Balk tells The42. “We’ve had some good results and the players and staff have helped by making me feel very welcome.

“They’ve been great with organising an apartment and getting me to training so I’m very thankful for that.”

From a small town in the province of Utrecht called Cothen, there was only ever one club Jordi wanted to join growing up. He signed for his local Eredivisie side as a 17-year-old and developed there until the age of 21.

“I still support Utrecht now,” he explains. “I played there with the youths for five years. It was a very good academy and if you were a young boy who loved football from that city you wanted to play for them.”

Having started out as a striker, Balk had moved to centre-half by 11 and he has idolised one of Dutch football’s greatest-ever defenders ever since — ex-Manchester United, Lazio, AC Milan, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax man Jaap Stam.

When I was a little boy, I always looked up to him,” he says. “He was a great defender and he played for my favourite club in England, Manchester United, as well as the likes of Lazio and AC Milan. He was one of the best in the world. He’s doing really well at Reading as a manager now too.”

Would Balk go as far as to say he based his game on Stam’s?

“It’s hard to compare yourself with other defenders, especially with someone who was world class,” he replies. “For me, I’m quite a good header of the ball, I’m quite fast and I’m a good tackler. I like to take the lead in defence.

“I can’t compare myself with other defenders, I just look at myself. I know what I’m good at and what I could do better.”

Jaap Stam Jaap Stam was the player Balk looked up to as a boy. Source: INPHO

In 2014, a former team-mate who was playing at Ross County, Marc Klok, informed Balk that they were after a young centre-half. Keen to progress his career, he saw it as a promising opportunity and accepted a trial before making the switch to the Scottish outfit.

In Holland, my former managers always told me I had the capabilities to play in England or Scotland because my style of play.

“I was young, it was fantastic to be there and get a one-year contract. It was a great experience but it was way too short if you ask me. Derek Adams was in charge and he got sacked after seven games.

“The new manager came in and you know how it works, he made other choices because he wanted more experienced players and I was only 21. It was great and I enjoyed living on my own in a different country for the first time.”

Balk returned to his homeland and agreed a deal with FC Oss in the Dutch second division, the Eerste Divisie. There, he became a regular over the following two-and-a-half years.

“You have four periods in the season there and and we became champions of one,” he remembers. “Then you get to play for promotion to the top league.

“That was great because we won a lot of matches against the top clubs, we played very well and I was important for the team. That was the best memory I have from my time at FC Oss.

“After two-and-a-half years, it’s hard to leave a club where you’ve made friends and have a good relationship with the directors and the fans, but sometimes it’s good to make new experiences. I felt I had to move on and go somewhere else.”

At the end of last season, Balk told his agent that it was time for a new challenge and his contacts led to an offer to link up with SSE Airtricity League Premier Division club St Pat’s.

“They were in the relegation zone going into the last part of the season,” Balk says. “I saw it as a great opportunity. I spoke to Liam Buckley and trained with the club for a few days. He told me they needed some new players as they didn’t want to get relegated. I’m really happy to be here.”

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Moving to Ireland with his girlfriend of eight years has helped with difficulties of adapting to a new country and while his grasp of English is excellent, Balk is eager to improve it.

“It’s really good to have her here as she’s a great support and helps me with everything. We’ve been working on our English together.

“I was in Scotland as well and thought I would understand them, but over there and in Dublin if you speak too fast sometimes it’s hard for me to get it. But on the pitch, the football terms are the same and I know how to use them so that’s not a problem.”

Already a fans’ favourite, Balk was nominated for SSE Airtricity League/Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month for August.

“It’s great to hear that because I give everything I have,” he says of the positive reception he has received. “I want to improve myself and help the team. The results are getting better but we need more points to stay clear of relegation.

I’m happy the fans are happy with me, but my goal is to make sure we don’t go down. With the quality that we have and with what we showed on Monday, we have a good chance.”

Having only signed until the end of the season, Balk is eager to focus on the job at hand and not think about his career beyond the next month of football, but suggested he could be willing to stick around if the Saints can retain their top flight status.

“To be honest, I’m here with one goal and that’s to avoid relegation. After that, we will see what happens. I’m happy at the club as they have treated me very well. If we stay up, then we will talk. That’s the most important thing.”

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