Vancouver 'keeper at Home in the Netherlands
from Canadian Press
Tuesday, 10. November 1998 11:34:28 PM






Eight months ago, Mike Franks was playing goal for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Today he's the No. 3 goalkeeper for renowned Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.

The 21-year-old from Vancouver is in the big leagues of world soccer.

PSV has won the Dutch league title more than 10 times, not to mention the UEFA Cup (1978) and European Cup (1988).

``It's unreal. Having Bobby Robson as a manager. It's unbelievable,'' Franks said from his flat in Eindhoven, located in the southeastern part of the Netherlands.

Robson, in his second stint in Eindhoven, is the former England boss who oversees a star-studded PSV squad that includes Jorginho, Luc Nilis and Gilles de Bilde.

Ruud Gullit played there. So did Ronald Koeman. Recent alumni include Philip Cocu (Barcelona), Wim Jonk (Sheffield Wednesday), Arthur Numan (Glasgow Rangers) and Jaap Stam (Manchester United).

``You can't get a bigger club for the first time,'' Franks said.

The roster reads like the United Nations with players from Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, Ghana, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia and Slovenia.

And now Canada.

The Russians, for one, were quick to welcome Franks.

``When I first came here, the Russians were asking how Pavel Bure was doing and how the ice hockey was doing,'' Franks said.

At six foot five and 200 pounds, Franks really is a big talent. Big enough that Pat Onstad, who started for Canada in May against Macedonia, says he thinks Franks may now be the No. 2 national team 'keeper behind West Ham's Craig Forrest.

Onstad, named goalkeeper of the year in the A-League this season after compiling 16 shutouts, should know. He was an assistant coach at UBC during Franks' first year, helping his development.

Franks, who played for Canada at the world under-20 championships in Malaysia in 1997, had tryouts in England before settling in the Netherlands. One of those trials was at Sheffield Wednesday under former England manager Ron Atkinson.

``I thought he liked me but right afterwards he got fired,'' Franks said of the man known simply as Big Ron in England.

Franks, whose British citizenship allows up him to circumvent import rules in Europe, also worked out for Sunderland in England and Shelbourne in Ireland.

The Dutch offer - a two-year deal with a three-year option - came afer the Canadian Olympic team held a camp in the Netherlands.

``He's in a great place now . . . They have fantastic facilities, great coaching. It's a great environment to learn,'' said Canadian Olympic coach Bruce Twamley.

Twamley, coincidentally, is a friend of Robson's. But he says Franks earned the job on his own, with some stellar performances in exhibition games with the Olympic team during the Dutch training camp.

PSV plans to loan Franks to another team for the rest of the season to give him a chance to play regularly. ``But we want him back,'' said a team spokesman.

The current No. 1 goalie is Ronald Waterreus, with Patrick Lodewijks as backup. The other 'keeper on the reserve squad plays for the Dutch Olympic team.

Had Franks signed a little earlier, he would have been eligible for Champions' League play. One of PSV's top two goalies was suspended for a game, which would have given the No. 3 'keeper a chance to dress.

``That would have been fun,'' he said wistfully.

PSV plays at German title-holder Kaiserlautern in Champions' League play today.

In the meantime, he's playing for the reserve squad, sometimes training with the senior team, living in an apartment rented by PSV and taking Dutch lessons.

He's also getting used to playing with the big boys in a country whose soccer is known for its elegance.

``It's a different tempo,'' he said. ``It's a lot faster and everything's a lot quicker. So it took me a bit of time to get used to it.''

Just being with players that talented rubs off, he said. But along with those skills, comes cut-throat competition.

``Everybody's so competitive. In training even, you notice how everybody just wants to win all the time. No one lets up. Everybody's going 100 per cent all the time.''

Some of his teammates speak English and Franks speaks French, so communication isn't too hard. And he already has a start on a Dutch vocabulary - right, left, behind you - so he can marshall his defenders.

Robson, of course, has his own style of speaking. Not to good with names, Robson regularly referred to one player as `thingy' during one training session, the British magazine FourFourTwo reported.

``He forgets a lot of times,'' Franks said fondly of Robson, a soccer icon.

Soccer runs in the Franks' family. His older brother Chris, a member of the Vancouver 86ers, made his debut for the national team in the Macedonia game. His father Ian, a UBC professor originally from England, used to coach the national Olympic team.

While Franks misses home ``a bit,'' he admits he's hard-pressed to think of other negatives in playing soccer professionally with a top European club.

``It's been really good.''

The Canadian Press