Huddersfield Town defender Radinio Balker reveals inspiration from Liverpool great Virgil van Dijk - and ex-Groningen player

Huddersfield Town defender Radinio Balker reveals inspiration from Liverpool great Virgil van Dijk - and ex-Groningen player

KNOWN as the ‘capital of the north’, Groningen is some distance from Dutch football’s ‘big three’ clubs in the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven.

It still remains the place where one of the game’s true individual success stories of recent times embarked on his road to greatness.

The journey of that particular player in question in the shape of the ubiquitous Virgil van Dijk has had a profound impact upon another central defender who headed to the Euroborg to get his career going in recent Huddersfield Town signing Radinio Balker.

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An unpolished centre-half in his teens, Van Dijk headed to Groningen after failing to make the grade at Willem II.

Huddersfield Town's Radinio Balker challenges Sheffield Wednesday rival Kristian Pedersen in Saturday's Yorkshire derby. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.Huddersfield Town's Radinio Balker challenges Sheffield Wednesday rival Kristian Pedersen in Saturday's Yorkshire derby. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Huddersfield Town's Radinio Balker challenges Sheffield Wednesday rival Kristian Pedersen in Saturday's Yorkshire derby. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

He found redemption and a few years later, he earned a move to Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic and the rest is history. Not that it was always easy in the northern outpost of the Netherlands.

Van Dijk’s story has provided inspiration to Balker, who now finds himself across the North Sea.

If the career of the Town stopper is even a quarter as successful as that of the imperious Liverpool and Holland captain, he won’t be complaining. Neither will Huddersfield.

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Balker, who made an impressive first start for Town in Saturday’s thumping 4-0 win over Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday, said: "Of course, Van Dijk started at Groningen and I really like to look at him as a player and the leader he is and that I can really learn things from that.

"His attitude and how he approaches things is very, very big for me.

"The coach who coached him has just come back to Groningen (head coach Dick Lukkien) and they are still in contact. It was nice to know that coach was (also) coaching me.

"It was good to know and there’s always an influence as he’s a really big player right now.

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"It shows it is possible to go from a team to one of the biggest in the Premier League.

"I have watched the Premier League and always saw that as being the ‘top’ for me and what I want to reach.

"Hopefully we can stay in this league and progress with this team or maybe myself progressing and getting there. I always looked at it as the top league and have always wanted to play in it.”

Balker’s praise of van Dijk’s character alongside his obvious playing credentials is revealing and therein also lies a story.

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In his early days at Groningen, van Dijk struggled. On a modest contract, he cycled to work and had no car. To compound matters, he would suffer a serious illness which saw him hospitalised and spent a spell in intensive care before thankfully recovering.

Balker’s initial stint at the club was also tough.

After moving from Almere City just over three years ago, the Amsterdamer damaged his ACL in pre-season ahead of the 2021-22 campaign and was ruled out for most of that season.

It was the toughest of times for Balker, a fair distance from family and friends back in Amsterdam. It is to his credit that he summoned up the will and character to get his career back on an upward trajectory over time.

He continued: "We were just in pre-season and it was the second or third training (session) when it happened. It was my knee.

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"I didn’t know anyone and just came from the lower league. I didn’t know what my level would be and then that happened..

"It was a hard time, of course, but I still gained a lot and got to know my team-mates, so I could start later.”

Balker was part of a Groningen side who were relegated to the Dutch Eerste Divisie last term. His performances were one of the shining lights in a rough campaign for the club known as Trots van het Noorden - Pride of the North.

There was certainly pride - and a welcome supply of that - on Saturday with Balker doing his bit to help his new club produce their best moment of a troubled season just when it was needed against the Owls.

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It is the sort of thing that should also help in Balker’s assimilation process at his new club. Welcome smiles were back on the faces of all and sundry at the John Smith’s Stadium last weekend.

Speaking of the Owls, a former Wednesday player whom Balker knows well from his time at Groningen in midfielder Joey Pelupessy has given him the lowdown on life in Yorkshire.

As has a player briefly on the other side of the Steel City divide in goalkeeper Michael Verrips, who has spent time at Groningen over the past two seasons.

Balker added: "Joey saw a player in me who could fit in the Championship and he told me a lot of good things about this area and the Championship and that I should enjoy it and show everything I have got.

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"I also spoke to Michael Verrips who played for Sheffield United as a goalkeeper and he told me a lot of things to help me as they know the area a little bit better than I do. It’s helpful to have those people.”