NEW Melbourne Heart midfielder Marcel Meeuwis could have been pulling the strings in the centre of the park for A-League leader Central Coast - had he accepted an offer from Mariners boss Graham Arnold before the new season started.
But the 32-year-old opted to stay with his club VVV Venlo in Holland, despite the positive message about the A-League he had been given by compatriot and Mariners stalwart Patrick Zwaanswijk.
Six months later he finds himself in the sweltering sun of a Melbourne summer morning training with the Heart, looking forward to reacquainting himself with the Mariners centre back and hoping to drive his new club's run to a finals berth.
Meeuwis is small and skilful, what the Dutch like to call a ''controlling'' midfielder. Thanks to the information he received from his countryman, he has not arrived expecting the A-League to be a picnic.
''Zwaanswijk told me the level of the A-League was higher than people think in Europe. It's physical, but tactically it's getting better every year, Patrick told me,'' Meeuwis said.
His contract is for just three months but he gives every indication that if he does well and the Heart likes him, he is looking to stay. Meeuwis said he had had a difference of opinion with his coach at Venlo, was not playing and both decided a fresh challenge would be the best thing for him.
''We had a good talk, and we decided to separate as adults. It was better. My agent called me if I wanted to go to Australia. I took a couple of days to think about it and then decided I would,'' he said.
''In the pre-season Graham Arnold called me and asked if I wanted to play at the Mariners. I almost did it and I had a little regret that I didn't do it. But I looked the Heart up on the internet. I spoke to John Didulica [football operations manager], I spoke to Patrick Zwaanswijk, then I decided I wanted to come to Australia to enjoy playing football, and for the life as well. I had an option to go to Sweden, but I signed for Heart because I wanted to get into the team, then we will see what happens.''
There are plenty of faces on the Heart coaching staff with whom Meeuwis is familiar. ''I knew Joe Didulica [from his time with Ajax and AZ Alkmaar] and I also know Peter Zois because I played three months with him at Willem II [a Dutch top-division club],'' he said.
Meeuwis is confident he will be able to make an impact in a short time - and aware of the consequences if he does not. ''Football is an international language. I have learned the names very fast, it's not easy, but I think I will succeed. If I don't I will be back in Holland. John Aloisi will show me some videos on how they want me to play …''
He says he is impressed with the physical capacity of Australian players. ''Almost everyone here has a good condition,'' he said. ''That's the first thing I noticed, everybody is in good shape. In Holland not everybody is.''