Working to Live: The Jacob Lensky Story

Early in life, Jacob Lensky made the decision that he would not be defined by his occupation, as so many of us are. It would be but one piece of the whole. In his case, being a footballer, it enabled him to travel throughout Europe, training at such prestigious youth academies as Anderlecht, Sparta Prague, Slavia Prague, and Blackburn Rovers.

He saw the world, and did it all before his 16th year. No easy feat for the self-described "lonely Canadian kid". He could have added Manchester United to the list, but while Sir Alex Ferguson offered him a trial, it was Martin O’Neill and Celtic that offered him a contract. It would be the first in a series of pragmatic decisions that verberate to this day.

Recounting his first impressions of the Glasgow giants:

"It’s a much different culture, a much different country, and I was going solo. I remember the first time walking through the dressing room and they’ve got like 40 kids, U17 and U18s, all these Irish and Scottish kids. You walk in there, you’ve got all these eyes around you, it’s intimidating, and it’s scary at first."

Jacob Lensky passes the ball at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex on 11 February 2013.

He was thrown into the deep end, playing at a European level, walking the fine line between obsession and burnout. It was a steep learning curve, dealing with many challenging individuals on a regular basis, but it was a necessary one. On the field, he was impressive enough to fetch the offer of a pre-contract with Feyenoord. Faced with the choice between washing his own kit and shining other players’ shoes, or playing in the first squad, he nearly bit their hand off to accept it.

Although Erwin Koeman had promised first team football, by the end of the season he had only forty-five minutes of it to his name. Koeman resigned after the season, and Lensky announced his retirement. Depression, fatigue, and the pressure to perform had taken their toll on the shy, sensitive 19-year old from Vancouver.

After more than five years in Europe, he returned home. He needed a break. He needed to reconnect with what matters. He spent time with his friends and family. He went to see the Stone Temple Pilots and Mötley Crüe. He enjoyed himself, and he has no regrets.

Come January, he was feeling the tug. He asked to train with Vancouver Whitecaps, at the time a USL First Division side, to regain his fitness. Teitur Thórdarson was kind enough to indulge him. It should be noted that it’s a common practice for football clubs to allow unattached players to train with their squads. It adds variety to practice, and occasionally leads to trials, or even contracts. Once again, he impressed. There has never been any doubt when it comes to his ability on the pitch.

Jacob Lensky shows off his new look at Thunderbird Stadium on 10 September 2012.

Thórdarson wanted him for the Whitecaps, Sigi Schmid invited him to Seattle Sounders' inaugural MLS training camp, but "there was an opportunity to go Utrecht as well." He had unfinished business in the Eredivisie. "I wanted to go to Holland or to Europe first, before I did that."

He went on trial at FC Utrecht, and before long he had earned himself a contract. "I got the opportunity to play left back and that was my chance to get into the team at Utrecht. Their midfield was all established guys when I got there, so when I got that chance at left back I took it. That gave me the opportunity to move up eventually." It was later extended for another year.

He played in the Europa League against Liverpool, Napoli, Steaua Bucureşti, Celtic, and in the Eredivisie against the likes of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, and Feyenoord. "I was very good, well, for the first while it was very good. On the field everything was great, I got along well with the coaches and the players, I enjoyed it on the field, but off the field . . . it got a little rough."

He’s home now, back in Vancouver, all settled in, and hoping to earn his chance. He’s a little older and a little wiser for his experiences, but has no assumptions. He’s ready and willing to do whatever is asked of him.

Jacob Lensky feeds the ball to an open team mate at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex on 11 February 2013.

When asked where he would like to play, he had this to say.

"I like 4-3-3 a lot, because if you’ve got three guys in the midfield I can rotate, play each position, there’s a lot of movement, you can create a lot of space, and you’ve got three forwards. I like to play one of those three, any of those three across the centre. But I can also play left back."

With Alain Rochat and Jordan Harvey, there shouldn’t be much need for a left back, but it’s always nice to have someone with that kind of versatility around.

As for his trial:

"I think it’s going well. Hopefully we can figure something out. I’ve been making progress, and I’m optimistic."

With spots on the MLS squad at a premium, and so many players battling for them, it’s going to be tough for all of the competing players to make the grade.

With all that Jacob Lensky has been through, and his continued desire to rise from that, you wouldn’t bet against him.