Laurens De Bock opens up on Sunderland move, his style of play and what Simon Mignolet told him about the club
For Laurens De Bock, Sunderland represented a major opportunity.
A first foray into English football had been unsuccessful, with his Leeds United career drawing to an end after just seven games.
He had started well, impressing in his first two games, but circumstances quickly conspired against him. Manager Thomas Christiansen was sacked, and there was an injury, too.
The 26-year-old never got another significant chance and the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa did not change his fortunes.
An experienced campaigner, De Bock ticked the boxes for Jack Ross after a long and frustrating search for an answer at left-back, Reece James and Bryan Oviedo both leaving the club in the summer.
De Bock, as he revealed on his first day at the club, had seen Sunderland ‘Til I Die and so although he was dropping down a league, the size of the club was well known to him and a significant draw.
It helped, too, that he was able to speak by far the most successful Belgian to ever play for the club.
De Bock is the fifth and if he has half as much success at the second, it will be a mutually beneficial move.
“I spoke to Simon Mignolet because we have the same agent and he convinced me a little bit about Sunderland,” De Bock said.
“He told me the atmosphere at the club was good and it was a big club so it was a good opportunity for me.
“I didn’t really need convincing but he told me life was good and everything around the team, the training ground, the stadium, the people and the fans are amazing and everything is here to feel good and to just play football.
“He was really happy, he liked it here but if you have the chance to go Liverpool, you have to go. He was positive about living here with his family and the club.”
Though De Bock has plenty to prove in English football, his experiences at Leeds United and Club Brugge, where he competed for titles and played in the Champions League, should stand him in good stead for the pressures of a promotion push.
He will compete for a place in the XI with Denver Hume and when describing his style, it is clear to see why Ross felt he could be a good foil.
“I’m a real defender, I like to tackle,” he said.
“I like to cross the ball too, I’m really a team player.
“Now a lot of coaches want the backs to go really high and play attacking football but I’m more defensive than attacking.”
Ross wants Hume to develop and it was for that reason he looked for an experienced player to compete with him, rather than sign a young defender on loan from the Premier League.
De Bock has had no assurances over gametime and is more than happy to prove himself on the training pitch.
“We haven’t spoken about who will be first choice, we just have to see who’s best in training,” he said.
“The competition is good for everybody. I can make him stronger, he can make me stronger and the best will play.
“But I’ve obviously come to try and play the majority of games.”
The move came at a good time for the left-back, who has had a fortnight to get used to his new surroundings and build his fitness.
The latter is particularly key after his difficult exile from Elland Road.
“It was a little bit frustrating this summer because you don’t know where you’re going to play and what you’re going to do but I’m happy to be here and able to prove myself,” he said.
“I was not at Leeds in pre-season, I was at home waiting all the time for clubs [to get in touch]. I went to Greece to speak to a club but it didn’t go through so I just trained on my own with a programme I got from a fitness coach in Belgium. I need a little bit more team experience.
“The day I arrived there was a practice game that day but I wasn’t involved because I only arrived in the morning and the game was at 12.30pm, so I’ve only been training so far.
“I don’t know yet [when I’ll play], I’ll have to see from the manager when the time is right to play. I’ve just got to get training and see how far we get.”
De Bock is confident he can adapt to the challenges of League One.
Accrington Stanley may come too soon but if not, the Belgian says perhaps a steep learning curve is the best way.
In the Championship he found the pace of the game less severe than he had been warned to expect, and with fewer long balls, too.
It’s pointed out that League One may bring a few more of those.
The 26-year-old is confident he can thrive in what he says is a ‘positive’ environment, and though there is no clause in the contract, he hopes that a successful season could lead to a longer partnership
“We spoke about it and if everything goes well and I feel good over here we can always talk about the possibilities,” he said.
“We will see how the next few months go. There’s no option in the deal but I think the contact between Sunderland and Leeds has been very good.”