Flying Kiwis – Marco Rojas Signs With Danish Club SønderjyskE

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When Marco Rojas was at Stuttgart, it was always about trying to play more games. He started well there in his initial preseason but an unfortunate foot injury cost him a bunch of time and when he returned the season had already started and the new fella found himself at the back of the queue. Not too long after that manager Bruno Labbadia was sacked and in the five years since Stuttgart have gone through eleven different coaches. So unsurprisingly Rojas had his best success on loan in Switzerland with FC Thun.

But when his contract with Stuttgart ran down it was back to Melbourne Victory to reinvigorate his career… which he promptly did, playing one season and looking bloody excellent. In July 2017 he moved back to Europe with a brilliant transfer to Dutch top flight side SC Heerenveen, a team on the fringes of the Europa League qualification most years.

So it goes. The Dutch excursion hasn’t been all that it was cracked up to be. In one and a half seasons he made 25 league appearances for the club, most of them off the bench. Initially he was getting minutes pretty regularly. They gave him the #7 jersey after all. But as the season dragged on those minutes shrunk to where at one point he’d barely played 100 combined minutes over a four month stretch. Injuries meant that he came back into contention at the end of the season and he even scored off the bench in the Europa playoffs however by the start of this current season it was clear that he wasn’t much in favour. 60 minutes across three subs appearances in the first half of 2018-19 Eredivisie. Clearly something had to change if the 27 year old wasn’t going to spend his prime years riding the pine.

And something has happened. He’s left.

All up he played 29 times for Heerenveen, with 19 of those games as a substitute. He scored four goals. It’s a shame because it wasn’t like he looked out of place when he did play, he was able to affect games and with more investment he could have been a very useful player. But this wasn’t only about ability. Heerenveen are stumped for cash at the moment and have been making murmurs for a few months about the need to offload some players and their newfound preference against signing expensive non-EU players. That’s not only put Rojas on the block but Japanese international Yuki Kobayashi who is a first choice midfielder, so you see what’s up there.

Not sure if Kobayashi will actually leave but he is available if a club comes calling. Same with Nemanja Mihajlovic - who signed at the same time as Rojas, plays in the same position, and has also mostly had to be content with a spot on the bench (he’s played more than Marco though). Kosovan star striker Arber Zeneli is another who is likely to leave and he should gather a decent fee (Chelsea are interested, they reckon – he’d fit right in there as a skilful but temperamental fella). Then there was the drama when Morten Thorsby tried to negotiate a deal with Sampdoria only to be told the club wouldn’t allow it. His contract ends in the summer and he wanted the club to get a fee but there was some bad blood after he went behind their backs and will probably leave on a free in six months now.

Combine the fact that Rojas wasn’t playing enough to be happy with the fact that the club basically said that they wanted to offload him with the fact that the club were 100% not going to pick up his third year option on his contract and it all made a lot of sense to have a peek around at the rest of the fish in the sea.

sc-heerenveen.nl: “Technical manager Gerry Hamstra called the departure of Rojas the best solution for both parties. ‘Marco had only had a few opportunities to play this season before the winter break. The coming months did not seem likely to change that. This is best for him and the club. We thank Marco for his efforts and wish him every success at his new club.’”

If you read Flying Kiwis this week then you know that Rojas was left out of the last matchday squad after being allowed to talk with an unnamed Danish club. Denmark, aye? Where Nikko Boxall is currently chugging away trying to earn promotion to the top flight, where Winston Reid rose to prominence and played internationally at youth level. You’d also have seen in Flying Kiwis a bit of amateur sleuthing, suggesting that Brøndby manager Alexander Zorniger would have been familiar with him from their time overlapping in Stuttgart, the only other connection I had was Winnie Reid and FC Midtjylland. But in the end it was neither, in the end it was the esteemed folks at SønderjyskE who came calling.

Rojas signs on a one year deal with an option to extend that, which the player and club will apparently discuss at the end of the season. He’s already completed a medical and will wear the #17 jersey. Rojas will be the second kiwi to play in the Danish Super League following in the footsteps of Winston Reid – who Rojas reckoned reached out for a nice chat after hearing about this deal, Reid used to live down the road from the club. Check the video interview later on.

Manager Hans Jørgen Haysen: “[Marco] is an exciting player and I am very pleased that we have managed to get him to the club. He has played 40 international matches for New Zealand and has been in some exciting leagues already, and he has some cutting-edge skills we can use on the team. He is first and foremost a really good ball player. He has a decent foot and is really good at free kick, and he generally finishes really well from the distance, so I also expect that he is a player who will make a lot of points for us. He is good and quick in the combination game, and then he is quite flexible in the front seats, where he can play most offensive positions.”

Now, SønderjyskE is a bit of a downbuzz compared to Brøndby or Midtjylland. Those two are currently top three in the league and cruising towards the top six Championship round in six weeks when the league splits in half (all points are carried over). Instead SønderjyskE are eleventh out of fourteen and likely to end up in the relegation round, playing against the bottom sides. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. They’re six points off sixth-placed Randers, who they just drew 1-1 with in a winter friendly, but sneaking into the top six would probably mean a bunch of defeats over the rest of the season… unless Marco really strikes it big, of course.

A theory: I don’t think that one-year deal was a coincidence. Wouldn’t be at all surprised if Rojas wants to use this opportunity to get as many games as he can, score and set up some goals, then sign with a stronger club after winning a bunch of new fans with his wonderful performances. A lot of gambling on his own self there but who better to put the chips on?

SønderjyskE were runners up in the top league only three years ago so they’re usually better than this, having been in the top flight since 2008. Not a team too likely to add to Rojas’ handful of Europa League games back in the day with FC Thun, which is a bummer, although the most important thing is that he’s probably going to get some proper minutes with this lot. By the look of it, Sondy are in desperate need of some goals, which is what Rojas will hopefully provide. Having started pretty well they only took two points form their last five games before the winter break started (plus got kicked out of the cup) and now have a new manager in place… so plenty could change when they get back into it on February 10. There should be a couple more friendlies before then which should help Marco to settle in.

Bottom line: not the best move imaginable but this is a bloke who knows what it is like to sit on the bench and he probably just wants to play. At 27 years old he’s a long way from washed and is still young enough to leverage some good form here over the rest of the season into another decent transfer… or he could just enjoy being here now and embrace it. Whatever floats the boat… but Marco has always been a driven individual when it comes to his career.

On that note, the A-League thing. Sure, he could go back any time and be a star in the A-League for the Phoenix or for any old club but that’s exactly why he’s not going to do that. Where’s the challenge? A guy like him is too competitive to walk out on European football at this point in his career, following a disappointing stint like this last one – it’d feel like a failure. If he failed because he wasn’t good enough then okay, that’s a different story. But here’s a bloke who’ll feel like he simply hasn’t been able to show what he can do and there’s no reason for him to return back without doing that. Stay outside that comfort zone.

This level might not even be all that much higher than the A-League but he’ll still be adjacent to the big fellas, with the potential to slide on up if he impresses. I expect the Nix put in a call, there’s no reason not to have, however if you thought Marco would seriously consider the A-League for his next club then not sure you understand what makes players like him tick. All goods, the A-League is always going to be there for him later on. Might as well give it all he’s got in Europe first.

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