van Hecke: We've found our feet in Europe

Defender says Albion have to show 'fire and desire' in the Johan Cruyff Arena tonight.

By Bruce Talbot • 09 November 2023

By Paul Hazlewood
Jan Paul van Hecke trains in the Johan Cruyff Arena ahead of Thursday night's game.

Jan Paul van Hecke believes Albion have found their feet on the Europa League stage as they prepare to face Ajax tonight.

A fortnight after beating Ajax 2-0 to claim their first win in Group B, the Dutch defender believes that Amex success demonstrated how much the squad have learned in their first three games.

“Europe is a different way of playing and in the first game [3-2 loss to AEK Athens] maybe that showed a bit, even though we should have won that game,” he said. “After the first 25 minutes in Marseille we turned it around and against Ajax at home we were the true Brighton.”

At the press conference in the Amsterdam Arena, Roberto De Zerbi praised his young defender, describing the 23-year-old as a ‘great player.’ “He has been a surprise for me and maybe also the club,” added the head coach. “His improvement is incredible and I hope he plays the same way in Amsterdam the same way he does in England.”

The feeling is mutual, and van Hecke also appreciates how much of an influence his central defensive partner Lewis Dunk has also been in his development in the last 12 months.

By Paul Hazlewood
Jan Paul van Hecke believes Albion have found their feet in the Europa League.

“My game has progressed a lot, from day one to now is incredible,” he said. Credit to the gaffer for making me a better player and I think myself for working hard to improve. I’m really happy and I love the way we play.

“Dunky? He leads by example. He is so composed on the ball but also in duels, it’s not without reason that he’s in the England squad and people are talking about him. It makes it easy for me to play alongside and learn from him.”

It goes without saying that tonight is a special occasion for van Hecke, whose uncle Jan Poortvliet played in the 1978 World Cup final for Holland, and compatriots Bart Verbruggen and Joel Veltman, who played more than 200 games for Ajax.

Ajax have won two games since John van’t Schip was appointed in the wake of their defeat at the Amex and he has promised a front-foot approach from his players tonight. But van Hecke says Albion will be ready.

“We need to have the fire and desire to play like we can. We’re really excited and we’re looking forward to it. I know it’s a big club with a big history and when the stadium is full it will be an incredible atmosphere. There is always pressure, we need three points and this team plays every game to win.”