Sunderland are rumoured to be close to announcing the signing of defender Jan Paul van Hecke on a season-long loan from Brighton & Hove Albion.
That news first arrived via Rich Sharpe of the Lancashire Telegraph at the weekend, with him reporting Blackburn Rovers look to have been unsuccessful in efforts to bring last season’s Player of the Season back to Ewood Park for a second year running. Wise Men Say’s Graeme Atkinson caught up with Rich, to get the low-down on our potential new signing.
WMS: You were the first to break the story linking defender Jan Paul van Hecke to Sunderland AFC on Saturday night. Is there anything you can update us on regarding the potential loan deal?
RS: Given his exploits last season, the van Hecke situation is one that I’ve been keeping an eye on, particularly given his contract situation. That made his availability unclear as there wasn’t really a likelihood of him being loaned out without signing a new deal. It seems we’ve reached that scenario, with all indications that will go through and then a move to Sunderland will be sanctioned.
van Hecke was awarded Blackburn Rovers’ Player of the Season for 2021/22 so is clearly highly regarded there. What were his standout performances throughout the season and why?
The way he responded to his red card in a club-record home defeat at the hands of Fulham showed his character. His personality shines through in his performances and with Rovers’ back three key to their good run of form that moved them into promotion contention, van Hecke was at the centre of that. A goal, and a clean sheet, at Bournemouth in early December was a standout.
van Hecke is on record as saying how much he enjoyed his time with the Blue and Whites. Although nothing has been confirmed, why do you think the club have seemingly not been able to entice him back for a second spell?
Rovers had a deal lined up for Liverpool defender Sepp van den Berg, but that’s on hold due to injuries in Jurgen Klopp’s squad. When the club hoped that would go through, van Hecke was likely unavailable, which could be one reason. Equally, the player may well have just opted for a different challenge as it’s rare to spend back-to-back seasons with the same club.
Alex Neil has typically played three at the back this season and following Dan Ballard’s injury we need someone mobile who can slot straight into that right sided position. Is this something van Hecke could be capable of doing well?
I’d say yes, but equally much of his football for Rovers came in the centre of a back three. He did play a couple of times on the right, but it was in the centre where he most impressed. He kept Daniel Ayala out of the side when he was fit, which shows how good he was.
He is reportedly good with the ball at his feet, in the event he signs on loan, should we expect a player who is both technically sound and, with van Hecke helping Rovers secure 12 clean sheets last term, also defensively solid?
He’s more of a runner with the ball than a passer. He tends to carry the ball out of defence, rather than pass it out, but that is in his armoury. You’d regularly find him run with the ball, play it out wide and continue his run into the box.
Defensively, his reading of the game is his best attribute. Sometimes he can become a little too ‘involved’ in a physical battle and really does play on his emotion which will make him a fan favourite.
Rovers narrowly missed out on the playoffs last season. How crucial was van Hecke to the club’s campaign overall, for example does he possess leadership qualities both on and off the pitch?
He won player of the season, and played every game after his return from a three-match ban, so was an integral part of the side. He’s really passionate, but articulate, but his leadership was rarely spoken about last season.
At 22 he is young but has played 28 games in the Eredivisie and 31 for Rovers in the Championship. Do you think he could soon be a regular performing in the Premier League?
In time, yes, and I think Brighton certainly see that by offering him a new deal. If they didn’t, I’m sure they would have cashed in. Equally, another good season means his value would be high next summer.
In summary, what would you say are van Hecke’s key attributes as a defender and what areas of his game does he still need to work on?
His strength can also be a weakness. He’s very passionate and emotional and uses that in his performances. Sometimes that can lead to him becoming rattled, and spill over. His disciplinary record wasn’t the best last season. He’s an excellent reader of the game and will make lots of interceptions. He’s quick enough without having express pace but will be better suited in a back three.
You can find Rich Sharpe on Twitter.
The graphics in this piece are courtesy of @HenshawAnalysis.