Pijnaker hoping for Summer to remember

The past few seasons have seen a number of New Zealand internationals come to play in The Showgrounds including Ryan De Vries, Max Mata and defender Nando Pijnaker. The talented defender joined Rovers this season on loan from Portuguese side Rio Ave and De Vries played an indirect role in the move:

“How it came about was all a bit crazy in the end. Things had been really quiet in terms of a potential move for me and I was due to go on an international break with New Zealand in Dubai. I actually brought all my bags with me in case Rio Ave agreed to loan me out to a club while I was away. I was looking to try and get away to somewhere new so that I could get more game time. In the end the move kind of came about through Ryan De Vries who played here for a couple of seasons. There was a connection between his agent and my agent and that got things started and I ended up speaking with Liam on the phone and really liked his ideas and how he talked about how he likes his side to play football. So I thought why not and agreed to come here on loan and it has been a case of so far, so good.”

Pijnaker didn’t know much about Rovers or the League even though he did follow De Vries on social media, he spoke with his friend Adam Thomas ahead of signing to get feedback from him on what the League the like:

“I didn’t know much about Sligo before I signed, I was following Ryan on Instagram so saw his posts about the club and the town. Then I have a good friend Adam Thomas who has signed for Shelbourne and I talked with him and he filled me in a lot on the League and what to expect not necessarily on Sligo Rovers. So it was all a little unknown for me but I am really enjoying it.”

Indeed the links between Sligo Rovers and New Zealand run deep going back to Kevin Fallon who played for the club in the 1960’s and later went on to manage the country in the 1980’s. Indeed his son Rory is part of the coaching set up now for the national team:

“Yeah I was actually talking to Rory about this during the last international break. He told me that he actually came here to train with the club at one stage; I think it was when he was in-between clubs. It’s funny that we have that connection and quite cool that we can talk about the club and people who are involved with it seeing as his Dad is a former player.”

Pijnaker was also familiar with another New Zealand signing Max Mata as they two had played together for Swiss club Grasshopper:

“With Max we actually played together for Grasshopper in Switzerland for a year and get on really well with each other. I came here first and then 3-4 weeks later Max arrived which was great in terms of helping me to settle in. To be fair Irish people have been very nice and everyone involved with the club and the people of Sligo really helped me in those first couple of months and I feel well settled in now.”

Pijnaker is finding his feet in the League and has experienced both sides of the coin so far in terms of form as Rovers made a powerful start, had a small bad patch and now look to be back on track:

“So far it had been good albeit somewhat up and down. We had a great start and then a rough patch but that’s the way it is in football that there are times when things don’t go your way. That happened to us but then we got back to winning ways with the games against Finn Harps and Drogheda United. Now we need to keep it that way. I’m finding it really good. Football can be different in every League and every Country but it becomes easier to adapt with every training session and every game that I play.”

Despite his young age Pijnaker has already played in New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal and now Ireland and feels that every League is different which can take getting used to:

“I think it’s quite different, it has been different in every Country that I have played in and that can take getting used to. Here in Ireland it is a lot more physical, transitional in play and there is more long ball played. It can be more demanding on the body. But then you have the top teams likes Derry and Shams and they are very good teams who like to play with the ball a bit more so there is a big range but on the whole I think the level is quite good. I just want to keep improving and keep my place in the side and help the team to do well and hopefully challenge for honours.”

Of course Rovers have European football coming up in the Summer which was a big attraction in signing for Pijnaker as he hasn’t yet played in any such continental competition:

“100%, it is really exciting and when the manager told me about the games it was something that really caught hold of my imagination as something that I wanted to be a part of. I’ve talked the lads to ask them what the games are like and they have told me and told me how we have got on the past. I just hope now that I can play my part in ensuring that we are in good form leading up to the games in July.”

Of course that isn’t the only big game on the horizon for Pijnaker as New Zealand will be playing Costa Rica in June in Dubai in a World Cup play-off with the winner progressing through to the World Cup Finals in December meaning it is shaping up to be a Summer to remember:

“For sure there is a big build up to that game. We have actually done a bunch of tours in the Middle East and played games there 3-4 times at this stage which will hopefully stand in our favour. We know what to expect, we know what the pitch will be like and how the weather will be. In international football you don’t get much time together before you meet for the matches so it is important that I am doing as well as I can for Rovers and playing well then hopefully it will be same for my team-mates and they will all be doing as well as they can. So yes 100% it is shaping up to be a really exciting Summer and I think you play your best football when you enjoying it and I am enjoying mine at the moment and hope that things can continue to go well.”

Pijnaker was keen for the loan move from Rio Ave as felt he needed to get stability in his career and have a good run of games something he happy to be getting in Sligo and he hoping that will continue:

“Things for a football player in the World of football can be very tough at times and I have experienced that for whatever reason. It’s not been my fault or the club’s fault and there is an element of luck needed, look at how this move to Sligo came about. At the moment I hope the coach here is happy with me and the club and that we can keep working together, that would be my goal.”

While he is enjoying his football and feels that Irish people share a lot in common with his New Zealand countrymen, he did have to admit that the Irish weather took some getting used to:

“The biggest shock has been the weather. I think in my first training session there was sun, rain, hail and wind!! So I was kind of shocked at that but in the past few weeks the weather has turned. But the people at the club and in the town have been great to me and it is a big help to be in an English speaking country. They do speak English in Portugal but it wouldn’t be their first language. I feel like the culture here in Ireland is quite similar to that of New Zealand and I enjoy the banter with the lads in the dressing room. We have a good group of players and have all connected really well and hopefully that can translate on the pitch and lead to success.”