A long lunch with Miron Bleiberg saw Bas van den Brink move to Australia and Perth Glory couldn't be happier.
Perth Glory defender Bas van den Brink believes it can never be just another game when you face your old teammates for the first time as he prepares for a big clash with Gold Coast United at nib Stadium on Saturday night.
The 29-year-old Dutchman, whose taken just eight weeks to become a new cult hero at Glory, played almost two seasons with Gold Coast alongside his now Perth teammate Shane Smeltz. The pair were part of Miron Bleiberg's inaugural roster when United entered the competition during 2009 and van den Brink says it's naturally a tough scenario coming up against your old friends.
It's a strange admission from van den Brink, however, as most players want to emphasise playing your old team is 'just another game'. But the thoughtful and well-spoken Dutchman certainly isn't like most players.
"It's a bit more exciting when there's something more in the game, when you play against your old team," he declared with a grin.
"I don't think we're (himself and Smeltz) going to be more nervous, but it will definitely play on the minds a bit more often during than the week than normally. I'm looking forward to playing against them but I'm more looking forward to winning," he said.
Like the entire side, van den Brink is also looking forward to bouncing back after last weekend's 4-0 loss to Brisbane Roar. Heading into that match, impressive displays against Sydney and Melbourne Victory - where the team came from two goals down to draw with 10 men - had given Glory hope they'd prevent Brisbane setting a new record for unbeaten matches in Australian sport. But, it wasn't to be and suffering from injuries and suspension, the undermanned Glory couldn't stop Brisbane achieving their 36th unbeaten result.
It was a tough night at the office, one van den Brink feels demonstrates why he's somewhat reluctant to be called a 'cult hero', even if his impressive performances so far this campaign, and especially against Victory, have made him a firm favourite for fans in The Shed.
"I didn't know I was a cult hero," he said. "But I think it's a great compliment and when I'm getting praise or compliments, I try to enjoy them as much as I can because I know it can be over after the next game, 'cause you might do something horribly wrong. So when it's there, when people say things like that, I definitely enjoy it and I feel fortunate that people think that way about me."
Van den Brink also feels fortunate his former coach Bleiberg felt that way after seeing him in action in his native Netherlands. Born in Amsterdam, VDB played for Dutch sides FC Utrecht, Emmen and Omniworld before Bleiberg took him for a 'long lunch' and invited him to take a punt on the Hyundai A-League.
"We got along well straight away," recalled van den Brink. "It was quite good the first time we met and he raised the prospect of going to Australia. It excited me and also made me a little bit nervous 'cause I'm leaving my place and then going far away from home. Only New Zealand would be further away, so I was a bit nervous how things would go. But I was definitely looking forward to playing in the league, playing with new team-mates and against new teams, so I was all excited and in the end it was even better than what I expected."
Since then, van den Brink also spent a difficult time last season with Korean side Busan I'Park, although he now says it made him fully appreciate football in Australia and paved the way for his recruitment by Perth.
"Basically I was injured and still playing games and doing my training sessions and I was disappointed with how I was performing 'cause I was injured," van den Brink said. "I think they were disappointed in the way I was playing too. (So) we had a conversation and then I think they just made a pretty quick decision, 'ah he's injured, better get him out of here', and so they offered to terminate the contract. I wasn't really happy with my situation there and my whole life in Korea, it was pretty hard for me to adapt, so I was kind of happy when I could just leave the club without dealing with any legal things."
"I didn't have a great period there but it just made me realise and appreciate more how good it is to play football in the A-League," he added. "It probably doesn't make me more determined and I have no revenge feelings that I have to prove something, but it does make me appreciate the lifestyle in Australia a bit more."