PLAYING for Weston is a long way from keeping Lionel Messi goalless in a World Cup match.
But at 39 and after almost three years out of the game, Kew Jaliens admits competing in the Northern NSW NPL this year will be a mental and physical challenge.
“For me, the main thing is my conditioning,” Jaliens said. “I never had any injuries, so the body feels good. I think it’s more of my own mental challenge – accepting that I’m not as fit or as strong as I used to be, and can I still do the things that I have in my head? I think it’s more of a personal challenge than being able to play.”
The Bears announced on Wednesday the signing of the former Newcastle Jets captain, who will be among the best credentialed players ever in the top NNSW league.
The centre-back last played in May 2015 after 11 games for Melbourne City and 36 with Newcastle. Those stints came after more than 400 matches across stays at top Dutch and Polish clubs. His international career included the 2008 Olympics and 2006 World Cup, where he helped the Netherlands contain Argentina’s Messi in a 0-0 draw.
Since retiring, Jaliens’ football focus has been on creating a youth academy, which the Bears will provide crucial space for at Weston Park.
Jaliens will join a long list of former A-League stars, including Jets great Joel Griffiths, who have played on in the NNSW NPL. He said the advice from Griffiths was: “Just go in blank because it’s totally different and just enjoy it rather than getting all the frustrations about professional stuff that we were used to ... you can crush your head if you get a bad pass or things are not working, but these things will happen and to just enjoy it.”
The Bears have finished last the past two seasons and Jaliens said the goal this year was “just to compete”.
“If you come last two years in a row, you want to leave that behind and just compete,” he said. “I’ve seen some games and in some we weren’t the lesser team, but sometimes inexperience can kill you.”
He hoped to provide crucial leadership and experience alongside returning stalwart Nathan Morris and veteran midfielder Josh Maguire at the Bears.
“For me, I just want to be there for the boys,” Jaliens said.
“I just want to make the ones around me better than they are now and contribute to what they want to do.
“I’ve done it all before, so it’s easy for me, but there are a lot of young boys here who might have a passion to play at a higher level or even bring this club to a higher level, and I think that’s where I come in.”
Off the field, he hoped to provide that guidance to juniors in Weston and the surrounding suburbs.
“Where my passion lies is to work with youth, to develop youth and give them a football education like I had when I was back in Holland,” he said.
“The plan still is to have an academy, so my priority and energy was in setting that up and that’s coming off the ground now.
“That’s one less worry for me, so now I can focus on other things.”
Jaliens was technical director at Weston in 2016 and part of last season but now felt the time was right to return to the field.
“I’ve been around Weston for a bit, most of the time working with the kids, but lately also running with the first team,” he said.
“The body feels good, I don’t have any complaints and even when I trained with the boys, I enjoyed it.
“Especially this year, I think we’ve got a good mix of talented boys and some experience and I think that’s a good mix to start with.
“Last year we had a lot of talent but not so much experience and I think that’s what cost them a bit. I think this year there’s a very good mix and I enjoy being with the boys.
“Even though it’s a lower level, it’s still up to you to challenge yourself every game or every training session to be the best you can,” he added about his return.
“In that sense, I think it’s enjoyable to do the thing that you love.”
Jaliens, now a permanent resident in Australia, said he had enjoyed spending extra time in recent years with his young family, who have stayed in Newcastle since he joined the Jets in 2013.
Bears president Rod Henderson said the influence of Jaliens and Morris “will be sensational in guiding the young players through to the next level”.
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