One Hecke of a signing!

One Hecke of a signing!

As the 2021-22 summer transfer window ticks down into its final days, Rovers have added their third loan signing of the season, as central defender, Jan Paul van Hecke links up with the East Lancashire club on a season-long loan, after departing Premier League side, Brighton and Hove Albion.

The 6’2” defender, who signed for Brighton during September 2020, arrived in Sussex for an undisclosed fee reportedly worth around £1.8m, which could rise to £2.7m depending on whether add-ons are met.

Prior to his arrival in England, van Hecke – who is the nephew of former Southampton manager Jan Poortvliet – played 37 games for then Dutch Eredivise side, NAC Breda’s varying youth and reserve teams during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, whom he signed for in 2018 from then-fourth tier side, VV Goes. During his time in the lower reaches of Dutch football, van Hecke impressed with his committed defending and his eye for a pass, as well as the odd goal, given he racked up 10 goals and one assist from the 37 youth and reserve games he played for NAC’s auxiliary sides.

His impressive displays for the youth and reserve teams saw van Hecke promoted to NAC Breda’s first-team, following their relegation to the Keuken Kampioen Divisie, the Championship-equivalent in the Netherlands. Although the season was curtailed at 29 games, following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, van Hecke racked up and impressive three goals and one assist, from the 11 games he participated in. After playing 13 minutes on his senior debut in August 2019, which came during a 5-1 victory over Helmond Sport, van Hecke’s continuous eye-catching performances for the youth and reserve teams saw him become a first-team regular in the New Year, as he played all 90 minutes in all of Breda’s games from late-December, until the season’s curtailment in March 2020. During this spell of 11 games, van Hecke helped NAC Breda claim three clean-sheets, as they only suffered one defeat, which came by a narrow 1-0 scoreline to Go Ahead Eagles.

His eye-catching performances for NAC Breda in the second-tier of Dutch football, saw Brighton and Hove Albion utilise the full extent of their scouting department and Premier League lure, in order to capture the central defender, who is also capable of filling in at right-back. After being announced as a new Brighton and Hove Albion player, the Sussex side wasted no time in shipping him back out to his native Holland in order for him to earn experience and first-team football at a high level. Less than a week after penning his three-year deal on the south-coast of England, the then-20-year-old defender, who had put pen-to-paper on his Brighton deal in Holland rather than flying out to England, was given the green-light to link up with Eredivisie side, SC Heerenveen.

Despite playing at Eredivisie level for the first time in his career, van Hecke took to it like a duck to water as he helped SC Heerenveen secure a solid mid-table finish in the Eredivisie. De Superfriezen, who had entered the 2020-21 Eredivisie campaign light on defenders, with only seven recognised defenders on their roster, including van Hecke, managed to finish a respectable 12th place – nine points and four places off the relegation-playoff spot. Although van Hecke played three games in the TOTO KNVB beker – the Dutch equivalent to the FA Cup – he helped Heerenveen into the semi-final, before they fell to Ajax, who beat them 3-0. The 21-year-old’s stint in the Eredivise was more successful, as in the 28 league games he played – with four being at right-back – he notched one goal, two assists and nine clean-sheets.

The towering Dutch defender took time to speak to RoversTV, following his move northwards:

“It’s a really good loan deal for me to come to a big club with a big history. That was a big thing for me, I knew about the club from watching Premier League football when I was younger.

“Having spoken to the coach and the assistant, it felt like coming here would be a big step for me. I spoke to the manager on Zoom initially and I could tell how much he loves football. We were speaking for just over an hour and I came away thinking how the coach would be perfect for me.

“This is how it needs to be and I’m here because of him. He feels the right manager, and this feels the right club. I’m coming here to play and become a better player in a team of good guys and a club that has so many good people.

“I’m someone who loves playing in front of fans and I get so much energy from them. I’m a better player when I’m playing in front of fans, I truly believe that.

“So, I’m really looking forward to getting out there in front of the Rovers supporters and showing them exactly what I can do. I had spoken to players who I know have played here before. Jason Steele and Shane Duffy were very complimentary about the club and they both told me how much I’d enjoy it at Rovers.”