DOMINANT: Orlando EngelaarHEART midfielder Orlando Engelaar has always towered over the opposition.
Jets defender Kew Jaliens grew up in the same Rotterdam neighbourhood as Engelaar. They are of similar age and shared the same circle of friends. Afternoons were spent playing pick-up games in the local park.
‘‘Oh yeah, he was always big,’’ Jaliens said yesterday.
‘‘He played [youth football] at Feyenoord. I came through Sparta, but we grew up in the same neighbourhood.
‘‘We used to meet with our buddies and play games. We were on the same pitch all the time. I know the qualities he has. He is a good player and I’m looking forward to meeting him again.’’
Both players went on to professional careers.
After leaving Feyenoord in 2000, Engelaar spent time at NAC Breda, Racing Genk, FC Twente, Schalke and PSV Eindhoven.
Jaliens spent most of his senior career at Willem II and AZ Alkmaar.
Standing 1.99m, Engelaar does not fit the regular mould of a midfielder.
‘‘He is big, but he has quick feet and great technique,’’ Jaliens said.
‘‘That is what makes it difficult to compete against him.
‘‘On the flip side, if you are fast – he is not that fast any more – and are on top of him all the time, he won’t like that.’’
Brought in as the marquee player, Engelaar broke his leg in a pre-season trial and missed the opening 14 rounds.
He made his debut off the bench in the 3-1 defeat over the Jets in round 15, ending a 19-game winless streak which had stretched back to last year.
Since the Dutchman’s return, the Heart are unbeaten and have strung five straight wins together to rocket back into finals contention.
Their latest win was a 4-0 shutout of arch rivals Melbourne Victory, which propelled the former cellar dwellers to 24 points, two adrift of the Jets and four outside the six.
The dramatic transformation has not surprised Jaliens.
‘‘Engelaar is very good at ball possession, changing the point of the game and giving the through pass to the strikers,’’ he said.
‘‘That is what they had been lacking. They always had a good team but never had a No.10 who could give the ball to the strikers.
‘‘He makes some good passes and is scoring himself.’’
Ruben Zadkovich and Zenon Caravella will shoulder most of the responsibility for restricting Engelaar’s influence.
Both will be give away size and weight, especially Caravella, who is 29cm shorter and only slightly built.
‘‘Engelaar is the main man in delivering the final pass to the front third,’’ Jaliens said. ‘‘If you get him out of the game, it will be a big loss for them.
‘‘Zenon has to be smart. Don’t get in a fight with him because Zenon will lose that one. Zen has to be smart about when to step in, when to let go and when to wait for assistance.’’
Jets coach Clayton Zane said the challenge of containing Engelaar was ‘‘going to be interesting’’ for his defensive midfielders.
‘‘Definitely in terms of a match-up, it’s more one for Ruben to think about Engelaar this week and we try to get Zenon into forward areas,’’ Zane said.
‘‘But in saying that, Zenon’s more than capable of lifting to the challenge that’s required.
‘‘One thing that he’s very good at is getting in positions where he can actually not have to compete but pick the ball up through interceptions and spoiling tactics, rather than having to compete physically with someone of such a size.’’
The Jets midfielders were two of the standouts in the 2-0 win over Wanderers on the road last week.
Zane is expected to field the same line-up, and Jaliens is confident they can produce a repeat performance.
‘‘From the first second we were on top of Western Sydney and didn’t allow them to play,’’ said Jaliens, who hopes to sign a contract extension as early as next week.
‘‘This is Wanderers’ great strength, and we cut that out of them. Last week gave us confidence to keep this form and keep going.
‘‘As a team, we want to make the first six. To do that we have to win tomorrow.
‘‘The Heart are on a high and have played some good matches.
‘‘On the flip side I see some weak points, and this is where we have to strike.
‘‘In transition they leave a lot of space in the midfield.
‘‘If we are as tight as we were last week in the transition, we can get to score.’’
READY: Kew Jaliens training at Hunter Stadium on Friday. Picture: Peter Stoop