YOUGHAL native Jake O’Brien is enjoying time at home this Christmas, during a 10-day break over the festive period.
O’Brien, who is currently on loan with Belgian First Division B side RWD Molenbeek from Crystal Palace, is thriving in his new surroundings. The former Cork City defender has become a regular in Molebeek’s starting 11 and believes he has developed as a player since arriving in Belgium five months ago.
“It will be good for Christmas this year. The league stops for a few weeks. I think the first game back is around the 20 January. The manager has been kind enough to give us 10 days off so I’m going to come back home and spend Christmas with family and friends.
“I’m really enjoying it here. It is different. You're trying to get used to a different culture. I suppose the language is the main difference. French is the main language used here. French wasn’t my language subject at school. I studied Spanish.
"However, most people do speak or understand English here. They would understand English better than I would understand French. At the club, we have a multicultural squad. We have lads from Brazil, speaking Portuguese, you have English speakers, Spanish and obviously French. The coaches here speak all of the languages, so even during team talk, there are switches in languages throughout.
“It’s not forced on the players to try to speak or learn French. I’m definitely picking it up. I’m not formally trying to learn the language. I don’t take lessons or anything but I do ask the lads at training to teach me a few words. It’s very casual really. I feel from being around people speaking it all of the time, I can understand a lot of it now and I’m much stronger at the language than I was when I arrived.
“When I joined, so did a teammate of mine from Palace, Luke Plange. I suppose knowing someone from the off was always going to help me settle in. He is living in the same apartment complex as me so we tend to spend a lot of time in each other's company.
“I do feel that I have improved technically since I arrived. The style of football here is very similar to the Dutch league. It is all on the floor, kind of ‘tiki taka’ football. It’s not as physical over here.
They like to play good football. I think I’ve done well since I came. The league is very multicultural as well. You have players from all over the world playing here. That helps because you are coming up against something different all of the time in terms of the different styles players will have because of the backgrounds they come from.”
O’Brien admits that he had options to stay in England but felt that experiencing a new league would give him the best opportunity to break into the Palace first-team. The influence of John Textor who owns the Molenbeek as well as being co-owner of Palace was also a major factor in O’Brien applying his trade in a new country.
“Mark Bright is the head of loans at Crystal Palace, and he comes over to a lot of our games. But there are others back at Palace who would do analysis on the games and give their feedback.
“I had choices about who to join on loan. There were a few clubs in England that showed interest. I just weighed up the options, and then Palace came to me with this option, obviously through the link of John Textor, who is the owner of Molenbeek and one of the owners of Palace. I just kind of weighing up what it would be like over here, and what it would be like for my development.
“Things like getting used to a new playing style. Living away and adapting to a new change. It seems to be working anyway. Of course, I was a bit curious about what it was going to be like. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like living in a different country because England is very similar to Ireland. Moving here; there is a different culture but it is easier to live here than I thought it would be.”