Netherlands tests McGarry's talent

James McGarry has returned to Dunedin for his off season after his first year playing in the...
James McGarry has returned to Dunedin for his off season after his first year playing in the Netherlands.PHOTO: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR
If you wanted to go to a country to learn your football craft, there would be few better than the Netherlands.

That land of Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and the de Boer twins, the Netherlands has been a breeding ground for talented footballers over the past 50 years.

James McGarry has just finished his first season with Willem II, a side which plays in the Dutch first division and is based in the city of Tilburg.

The left-sided player said it had been a great year - tough but enjoyable.

"It was tough but I knew it would be as it was a big step up from where I had been playing at the Phoenix. But to be honest I think I did quite well. I managed to keep up with the pace," he said.

"You are playing against some big teams, Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV - teams that have done really well in big European competitions. It was an amazing experience. I played in 5-6 games which is more than I played in the four years I was at the Phoenix."

The 21-year-old, who left Dunedin for a football academy in Christchurch, when he was 12, and has been in the game ever since, said the talent level in the league was a significant increase.

McGarry, the youngest son of former All White Mike McGarry, said he played a couple of games as a left back and the rest further forward on the left and said the coaches were encouraging. He was looking forward to the pre-season which will start at the end of this month.

"The thing I liked about it is the harder you work then you will get the opportunities. The coach that we have is a guy who will reward you if you work hard. So that is up to me. I need to have a really strong pre-season and go from there.

"Dutch players are sharp, technically really talented. So you have to work really hard on your game."

Total football was a term used to apply great Dutch sides in the 1970s, where any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team.

"That Total Football term still applies now. The players work hard on their skills. But our team was slightly different in that 60-70% were internationals."

The side played in a packed stadium of about 15,000 every week and the atmosphere was intense.

"You can have flares going off and chants the whole game. They can be brutal. If you are not performing they will let you know.

"I didn't really know what to expect as I had not played in Europe before but it was a real experience."

The side ended up finishing 10th in the 20-team Eredivisie [first division] and was eighth before losing the last couple of games, which cost it a chance of playing in Europe.

He enjoyed the Dutch lifestyle and with everyone able to speak English found getting round relatively easy. NZ under-20 goalkeeper Michael Woud, who was a star of the show in the NZ under-20 side's performance at the tournament in Poland, is a team-mate and also flatmate.

McGarry had his eyes on making the New Zealand under-23 side which was aiming to make the Tokyo Olympics next year. The national side was having some camps in a couple of months but commitments to his club side meant he could not attend.

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