Former Southampton youngster Pat Suraci was just 18 when he headed to Belgium to join second-tier side Lommel United.
The attacking midfielder spent the 2016/17 season on the continent before returning to England where he has since played for non-league sides Gosport Borough (pictured above), Bognor Regis Town, Weymouth and Blackfield & Langley.
His stint abroad at a young age taught him a lot. Having just turned 18 ahead of his eventual successful trial, the midfielder would have to come to terms with living abroad quickly.
It was a successful spell for the now 22-year-old who currently plays for Southern Premier League side Blackfield & Langley and works as an academy coach.
During his time in Belgium with Lommel United (now known as Lommel SK), he trained with the first team who were in the second-tier at the time, making two appearances for them. The majority of his game time came for the club’s B team where he had a big impression, scoring 12 times.
I caught up with Pat to hear how the move came about, living alone and what he can take from the experience as he looks to move abroad again. Read on to hear Pat’s in-depth look into life in Belgium, highlighting the differences in their game compared to the style in England.
English Players Abroad: How did the move to Belgium come about?
Pat Suraci: Someone close to me had some contacts in Belgium and mentioned to them that I was doing well in England and they were keen to have a look at me. So me and my dad drove to Belgium for me to have a weeks trial, I trained with the under-23s all week and played a game which I scored in.
Before I left to go back to England they pulled me in for a meeting and said they wanted to sign me for the start of the next season. It was a little bit awkward at first because they said I would need to report in for pre season training on 26th June but I said that me and my brother have booked a holiday to California until early July so I won’t be able to move over until then – but it was fine!
EPA: How was living abroad at such a young age, did you find it difficult to settle?
PS: To be honest it was a lot harder than I thought. I had only just turned 18 that summer and I didn’t speak the language at all and it wasn’t until October time that I could start Dutch lessons. I lived with one woman on my own and it was tough, of course when you’re that age you miss your family and friends. But I definitely think now that I am older and more mature it wouldn’t be a problem for me.
EPA: What did you think of the standard in Belgium and how did it compare to back home?
PS: It was a good standard. A lot different to England, very technical based training. We would spend hours a day just training with the ball, we barely did any running, just a lot of technical passing drills, possession games, 1v1s & 2v2s. For the whole time I was there, we only stepped in the gym just once! The players weren’t as big and strong but nearly all players were very skillful and even the center backs could dribble with the ball. I was playing in the Second Division so if you are comparing that to the Championship in England then I would say it was a bit off that, probably equivalent to League 1, I would say.
EPA: Would you recommend Belgium as a good place for a English youngsters to go to?
PS: Yes definitely, as far as the football style goes it was a great place to play my football. I think it suited me personally as well as I am a player that likes the ball and when we played we would keep possession a lot, in the first couple of months I had scored around 12 goals. It was all played on the floor for the most part and quite tactical, the ball wasn’t played forward as quickly as it is in England. I think for young English players it’s a good place to learn a different culture and I appreciated how much they put technical ability first, as a player I definitely improved by the time I came back to England and it was an experience I won’t forget.
EPA: Finally, would you like to play abroad again?
PS: Yes 100%. I really enjoy learning new footballing styles and generally experiencing different cultures and different countries. I’m not a massive fan of the cold weather in England so I think a season in Spain would be ideal!