Kljestan: "Crazy feeling" to go to Belgium
After four and a half years in MLS, Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan has finally been given his dream opportunity Europe.
The Red-and-White captain has signed a contract with Belgian giants RSC Anderlecht to become the first American to ever play for the club. The four-year deal, which was officially announced on Thursday, will see the 24-year-old move to his new club early next week to begin preparing for the 2010-2011 season in Belgium.
“I’m very excited,” Kljestan in an interview with MLSSoccer.com on Thursday morning. “Anderlecht is a club that I know have been following me for a couple of years, and I’m very excited to be over there and get started trying to earn a spot in the team.”
Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht, which is commonly referred to as simply ‘Anderlecht,’ is the most successful club in Belgian history. The team has won five trophies in European competition and boasts 30 championships in the Belgian First Division. Most recently, the squad was crowned winners of the 2009/2010 domestic season by an impressive twelve-point margin.
“It’s a big club,” Kljestan said. “But when I was there, they really made me feel like I was part of the family. It feels like a very family-style club. My first impressions over there were great and I can’t wait to get back.”
Anderlecht’s top finish domestically earns the club a spot in the 2010/2011 UEFA Champions League, an added bonus that only sweetened the deal for Kljestan.
“It’s a crazy feeling,” Kljestan said. “I’ve been watching Champions League since I was a young kid and I’ve seen all the great players that go through there. To match up against some of the biggest clubs in Europe and test myself against the world’s best players will be exciting.”
Kljestan has already travelled to Belgium once, meeting with the club last weekend to finalize the transfer and get a feel for his new city.
“I met with the coach for a couple of hours and spoke with the general manager,” Kljestan said. “They took me on a tour of the stadium and a little tour of the city, and are trying to get me acclimated as fast as possible. Everybody in the club has been really helpful in finding me a house to live in, getting a car sorted out for me, getting a cell phone, a bank account, and all that stuff. It’s all been taken care of.”
On the field, Kljestan will have a lot to prove to his new employer. Anderlecht features a host of world-class players, including Czech superstar Jan Polák and Belgian National Team stalwart Olivier Deschacht, and will be looking to repeat as Belgian First Division Champions.
“I have to show up and work hard every day,” Klejstan said. “I think the people at Anderlecht recognize that I have the mentality to be successful in Europe, which is why they signed me. I hope to come in and work hard to earn my spot every day in training and prove that I’m worth a spot in the starting XI.”
The Belgian First Division features sixteen teams, and will kick off the 2010-2011 season in late summer. The league is a strong one, but sits a tier below the European powerhouse divisions like England’s Premiership or Spain’s La Liga.
“Belgium isn’t the biggest league, but something I really wanted to do when I went to Europe was start out in a smaller league,” Kljestan said. “Sometimes, at bigger clubs, you find that you can get lost in the shuffle.”
“From what I’ve heard, it’s a pretty physical league,” he added. “But I think MLS is pretty physical as well. I’ll have to adjust to a quick speed of play, and maybe play a different position in the Anderlecht system. But I think I’ve adapted to a lot of changes in my career and I’m ready to adapt to a new one.”
Kljestan will certainly need to adapt quickly. The Huntington Beach, Calif. native will only have a few weeks to settle into his new home before the club starts preseason training. And with third-round qualifying for the Champions League in late July looming, there will be no time to waste.
“Right when I get there, I want to play in some preseason games and prove to my teammates and to the coaches that I belong in the team,” Kljestan said. “Our first goal will be the Champions League qualifier. That’ll be a big home and away series to get us into the group stage. Hopefully I’ll be part of the team that wins that.”
While Kljestan is certainly excited for his new European adventure, he is thankful for his experience at Chivas USA and will use his MLS experience to help him take this next step in his career.
“I’m very excited and proud to be joining a club like Anderlecht, and I wouldn’t be there to sign with them today if I hadn’t been for Chivas USA,” Kljestan sad. “I’m thankful to everybody at Chivas USA, from the coaching staff, management, all the fans, and teammates over the years that have helped me mold into the player I am today. I’m ready to take this exciting step in my career.”