SoccerAlex Schalk talks about his arrival in Japan
The former Servettian is the delight of Urawa Red, who has already scored three goals in the Asian Champions League. We called him.
At a time when Servette is drying up on his copy when pushing the ball into the back of the net, Alex Schalk, ex-Grenat since the end of March, is a hit. Three goals in three out of six Champions League matches with his new club, Urawa Reds. We called him to tell us all about it.
Alex, how was your arrival in Japan, a little over a month ago now?
It was stressful in the preparations. Leave Servette, Geneva, return to the Netherlands and, from there, fly to Tokyo. I had to observe a three-day quarantine when I arrived there. At the hotel, where I still reside today. Afterwards, I was able to go out, train with my new team. And the following weekend, I played my first minutes in the league.
Yes, nine minutes. But after the transfer, the trip and only three days of training, it was normal.
Then there was the Asian Champions League. But not in Japan?
No, the whole group was moved to Thailand, to Buriram. For reasons related to Covid. We played the six group matches there, in three weeks. In fact, I just got home on Monday. And we all had to observe a three-day quarantine on our return last Monday. So, since I signed in Japan, I spent more time in Thailand…
But for the good cause, the Champions League. And with three goals for you!
Yes, it’s fantastic. The most important are the victories. We finished in second place in our group, we qualified for the round of 16. It’s awesome. On a personal level, it is extraordinary. In the Champions League, the rule here is three foreign players on the match sheet. And we are four strangers. So there was a twist. Of the six matches, I played two, twice for about an hour and half of the third. And I scored three goals, despite a little lack of rhythm. No, I couldn’t dream of a better start.
You must love Thailand since, right?
Yes of course. In fact, we were in a bubble. Hotel, training, matches, hotel. But it was ideal for me. For my integration into the group, being 24 hours a day with my new teammates, for three weeks, was perfect. I was able to adapt, build relationships, with the players, with the technical staff too.
What is changing compared to Europe?
It’s different, everything is based on the idea of high intensity. And respect for hierarchy. And then, on the field, in training, we don’t talk a lot. Me, I’m a bit used to yelling, so that I can be given the ball, or to encourage someone to recover it if they have just lost it. This is not done too much here, limit it is frowned upon. But everything is going very well. Except when I make a mistake…
There are different behaviors. You just have to know it and adapt to it. The first day with the team, I went in the shower with my shlaps, my tap shoes, what. Ouch! Here, it does not happen at all. Everyone looked at me weirdly. Ditto when I went to the physios room: you have to take off your shoes before entering. It’s like that. No problem now.
And for the diet?
After practice, we eat together. There are chefs from the club who prepare lunches for us. I informed them that I was dietary vegan. It surprised them. I can understand. I am in Japan, where there are undoubtedly the best preparations of fish and where the beef is of exceptional quality. But I don’t eat it. That said, don’t worry, they’re preparing stuff especially for me, everything’s going well.
And the night? Now you’re going to have to organize yourself, since your return from Thailand, right?
Yes, sometimes it’s complicated to do your shopping when everything is written in Japanese. But I’m still at the hotel. And I can eat there. The club did it right: they notified the chef of the hotel who knows exactly what to prepare for me to respect my diet.
For the moment, you are alone there: will your partner and your child join you soon?
First I have to find an apartment or a house, but yes, after that we will be reunited.
And Japanese: do you learn it?
I have already started lessons, yes. I admit: I don’t think I’m going to learn it as quickly as French. It’s a little complicated. But I already want, first of all, to know the formulas of politeness and some basic phrases. We’ll see after.
Alex: do you still have time to watch Servette’s results?
But of course! I can no longer see the matches live, because of the time difference. But I consult the highlights every time. I am still in regular contact with several players.
So you see Servette’s current difficulties in scoring goals. But you are no longer there…
Yes, all of this is unfortunate. I think I had the qualities to continue playing at Servette. I know I was appreciated. Afterwards, knowing why they didn’t want me anymore… Maybe the club thought they could have better than me and that’s their right. But that’s football.