A Dutch centre half that takes free kicks, penalties and corners, who is Sydney FC’s new defender from Holland?
A Dutch centre half that takes free kicks, penalties and corners?
There are faint shades of Ronald Koeman in Jop van der Linden, Sydney FC’s new arrival from the Netherlands.
And the Sky Blues thought they’d snared a gem from Holland in Jordy Bujis. But after Bujis’ departure in the off-season, Steve Corica has moved fast in bringing another tough-tackling, Dutch dead-ball maestro.
A veteran of over 100 Eredivisie appearances, van der Linden arrived at the harbour city a month before compatriot Siem de Jong.
But while all many will flock to Moore Park to see Sydney’s new marquee man, van der Linden’s role as the new bedrock of the Sky Blues’ defence could yet be the most telling story of their season.
Who is Sydney FC’s new defender from Holland?
Van der Linden hails from the Dutch city of Apeldoorn, a municipality with 150,000 people an hour away from Amsterdam.
Surrounded by picturesque parks and market squares, it’s a beautiful, relaxed place where van der Linden made his professional footballing debut almost a decade ago.
“Apeldoorn is a bit smaller than Sydney!” van Der Linden told www.a-league.com.au.
“I played football all the time for an amateur club around the corner. I was there all the time.
“It was really peaceful and relaxed, and it was really nice to make my official debut in my hometown.”
Three years after making his maiden professional appearance in the Dutch second tier for the now-defunct AGOVV Apeldoorn, van der Linden rose through the ranks of Helmond Sport before helping Go Ahead Eagles reach the Eredivisie in 2013.
He was 22 years old when he helped Go Ahead Eagles back to the top flight for the first time in two decades, and even sported the armband on occasion.
While an impressive distributor of the ball on the ground, van der Linden is also a threat from the dead ball.
A thunderous in-swinging corner sure to wreak havoc in the Hyundai A-League this season and his impressive record of 20 goals and 23 assists in Holland demonstrates his value going forward.
A classic Dutch ball-playing centre half, it was van der Linden’s leadership ability and assurance that buttressed his rise to first team prominence for the Deventer club.
“In the Eredivisie there’s always build up from behind. We grew up with good technique and passing, playing football from behind.” he said.
“You play football and are attacking, always rushing forward.
“It’s a really exciting league, they score a lot of goals.”
Just as van der Linden began to establish himself as a regular face in Holland’s top flight, Dutch football found itself spiralling toward a crisis point.
This culminated in failed qualification campaigns for both Euro 2016 and FIFA World Cup 2018™ tournaments, and Sydney’s new defender admits the storied footballing nation are a shadow of their former selves.
“I think it’s more of a mentality thing,” he said.
“Our football skills are still good, we have a few good players.
“It’s more that we’re not a team, in Holland the last couple of years we are not proud enough to play for our country and not as strong as a team there.
“Unfortunately, it’s not going well, it’s not what it was.”
An unexpected call from Corica
Van der Linden spent last season on loan at Willem II from AZ Alkmaar, where he played 18 Eredivisie matches for the mid-table Dutch outfit.
After over a decade of professional football in Holland, van der Linden felt the chance to come to Australia was too good to refuse.
“My first reaction was, wow it’s so far! This is not what I expected,” he said.
“I was really happy with the opportunity to play in such a wonderful country and wonderful city and good competition.
“I’ve always wanted to play overseas and I’m at a good age now to go for the chance.
The decision to go down under was not at all straightforward though.
Van der Linden’s girlfriend is currently pregnant with a baby boy due in November, and it took a leap of faith from the pair to head to the harbour city for a year.
“It was difficult, we talked a lot about it. She’s here now, and the baby’s going to be Aussie so it’s really special,” he said.
“Hopefully in a few years we can tell the story to our little boy, and hope it’s a nice story to tell.”