Newcastle's Danish import, Jesper Hakansson, is coming to terms with the physical nature of A-League competition. JAMES GARDINER reports.
JESPER Hakansson's son Nicholas comes home from school armed with a new word every day.
Yesterday was the five-year-old's fifth day at kindergarten.
It was also his fifth day in an environment where the only words spoken were English.
Don't fear. Little Nicholas is a quick learner.
He can already speak Dutch, Swedish and his native language, Danish.
Such are the consequences when your dad travels the world playing football.
Nicholas, two-year-old brother Alexander and mother Linda joined Jesper, the Jets' Danish midfielder, in Newcastle six weeks ago.
Like his son, Jesper is also adapting to Australian life and, more importantly, the A-League.
Hakansson is three months into a two-year deal with the A-League champions.
Fluent in English, language was never going to be a barrier for the well-travelled playmaker.
But as Hakansson has been quick to discover, there are other barriers overseas players encounter Down Under, most notably the physical nature of the game here.
"I did not know that much about the A-League, living in Europe," Hakansson said.
"To be honest, the level is higher than I expected.
"But it is different altogether to what I am used to. Here it is much more physical than Europe."
One of the smaller players in the league, Hakansson has been given a traditional Aussie welcome.
Time and time again he has picked himself up off the ground after yet another vigorous challenge. Bumps and bruises are a by-product of each game.
"Sometimes the tackles I see here, I think, 'What is going on,' " Hakansson said.
"I just have to adapt. That is the way it is here, and I accept that."
Adapting is something Hakansson, 27, has become adept at.
He made his first-grade debut for BK Frem in the Danish first division at age 16 before moving to the Netherlands a year later to join SC Heerenveen.
So began the odyssey.
The then 18-year-old marked his Dutch Premier League debut with a goal against none other than Ajax Amsterdam and went on to spend six years contracted to Heerenveen, including loan stints at Viborg and Roosendaal.
He left The Netherlands for Swedish club Djurgardens IF in 2005, only to return to Holland and link with ADO Den Haag a year later.
After eight years overseas, Hakansson moved back to Denmark in 2007 where he played for Lyngby and earned a call-up to the national team, but as yet has not played a game.
For the most part his family have been by his side.
So it was not surprising that they did not hesitate when the opportunity came to move to Australia.
"Obviously my wife and I took a lot of things into consideration before I signed here, but in the end she said, 'Just do it,' " Hakansson revealed.
"It is a totally different world for them, but they really like it.
"We like to see something new and like to travel. Now I have been seven years in Holland, one year in Sweden and, of course, Denmark.
"My kids love it. Australia is a nice country.
"The youngest, Alexander, is going to day care. The oldest has just started school.
"He does not speak English yet, but he has already learnt Dutch and Swedish. Now he has to learn English.
"He can say some words already and in a couple of months he will pick it up."
Hakansson was recommended to the Jets by Melbourne-based former Manchester United and Denmark midfielder Jesper Olsen.
Hakansson has represented Denmark at under-16, under-17, under-19, under-20 and under-21 levels.
Despite the glowing resume, it has taken the Hakansson time to settle in.
He is only now starting to find his feet after missing the opening two rounds with a calf injury and another game with concussion.
He played all but a minute in the 2-all draw with Wellington last round by far his biggest and most impressive contribution.
"I had a lot of injuries in the beginning, and I had to find my role [in the team]," he said.
"You always have to play a few games. Now I can see how the team plays. They also know how I play.
"It is getting much easier for me. I feel I am close to 100 per cent condition.
"It is not that far away. There is still maybe 10 per cent. That will come with the more games I play."
Jets coach Gary van Egmond is also confident that Hakansson's best is imminent.
"He is getting better, definitely," the coach said.
"I think it is a matter of him getting game time and getting that consistency.
"He needs to get some rhythm with regard to matches. Once he gets that under his belt he will be fine."
The A-League resumes this weekend after a weekend off because of the FIFA international date.
The Jets are at home to leaders Melbourne.
Not only is it a chance for Hakansson to get more game time, he will be out erase the memory of his Jets debut a 5-0 loss to the Victory at Telstra Dome in round three.
"We can forget that game," he said.
"It was not a good one [to make your debut].
"It was a whole new team and we did not know each other. Since then you can see it has got better.
"We have to go out and enjoy the game. Of course we have to play better, but I'm sure we can beat them."