Alex Schalk was such a prolific scorer in his formative years that he was likened to German goal machine, Gerd Muller. Now firmly settled in at Ross County, the pacy striker who was previously coached by Ruud Van Nistelrooy is looking to make his own name in the Ladbrokes Premiership. Interview by Andrew Ross.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in the game?
A: “NAC Breda was the professional club in my city and I got scouted by them when I was nine years old. I played in every age group until I was 18 when I signed my first professional contract and made my debut.”
Q: “How did it feel to make your debut for the club?”
A: “I grew up as a supporter, going to every game with my Dad so it was amazing to make my debut. They were my club, from my city and all my friends went to the games with me too so it was a dream come true to make my debut.
“I had a great pre-season that year and scored a lot of goals and the last game of pre-season was against Olympiacos at home. They had a good team with guys like Kevin Mirallas and our stadium was full. We were 1-0 behind with 20 minutes to play when I came on. I scored two goals and we won so it was a very special moment for me.”
Q: How did things go after that?
A: “My first two year deal was renewed within six months to a better, three year deal. But after two and half years with NAC Breda a new manager came in and I went on loan to PSV.
“PSV are a fantastic club and bigger than Breda so it was an amazing experience. There were so many big names walking around the place. Bolo Zenden and Ruud van Nistelrooy were coaches so it was amazing to learn from them every day.
“I played with Memphis Depay who just moved to Manchester United as well as Zakaria Bakkali who is at Valencia. Even though I was only there for half a season I played a lot of games and had a great time there.
“I was looking forward to going back to Breda as I had another year left on my contract but the manager wasn’t keen. Luckily the Go-Ahead Eagles had just been promoted to the Dutch First Divison and they really wanted to sign me so I moved there on a two-year deal.
“I had a good year there and extended my contract but unfortunately we got relegated. A new manager came in and he said he thought I was a very important member of the team but that he wanted to use me as a left winger in the 433 formation. But I view myself as a striker – number 10 or a number 9.
“I played a few games on the wing in pre-season but knew I needed to make a decision for the good of my career because I really have the ambition to play as a striker and I think that is where my best qualities lie.”
Q: So what happened next?
A: “I took a bit of a risk and terminated my contract. Soon after that my agent told me that Jim McIntyre was looking to bring in a new striker with my attributes. He said they had watched videos of me playing and wanted me to come on trial.”
Q: What did you know about Ross County?
A: “I know Marc Klok from playing against him in Holland. I called him and asked him a few things about the Club before deciding to come. He was very positive about Ross County but also said, ‘You need to know that it is quite far north and you are not just in a big city in half an hour’, so I really appreciated his honesty. What he told me didn’t put me off at all, though, especially as he was so positive about the people and the facilities.”
Q: Did things immediately click when you came on trial?
A: “Yes. I really enjoyed those two weeks. Training was really good. It was high intensity. All the lads made me feel at home straight away too and I watched the game with Dundee and immediately thought there could be really good opportunities for me here.”
Q: Does it make a difference that Jim and Billy were both strikers like you?
A: “Yes, it makes a huge difference. In Holland my head coach was a goalkeeper and his assistant a centre back. But like when I was at PSV with Van Nistelrooy and Zenden as coaches, here I can ask Jim and Billy for advice because they know how I think as a striker.”
Q: Have you noticed any differences between Dutch and Scottish football?
A: “I’ve been surprised to be honest because I thought Scottish football would be more ‘kick and rush’ but it isn’t at all. In Holland we like to think it is but I’ve not found that at all. The manager likes to build from the back, get the ball wide and into the box early which is great for a striker.”
Q: Do you have any targets for the season?
A: “My first target is to be a regular in the starting 11. I am working hard for that and I know I will take my chance when it comes. I am here on a one year deal but if the Club like me and I enjoy it here – which I really do – we can look to extend but it’s up to the Gaffer!”
Q: And what are the team’s ambitions for this season?
A: “We definitely want to finish in the top six in the league which I think we can achieve because we are a good side. We also have a great draw in the League Cup. Some of the guys have told me about the last time we played Celtic at Hampden so it would be a dream to beat them, reach the final and lift the trophy.”