Jordan De Graaf is headed to the second-biggest city in Romania to play soccer professionally, after signing with CFR Cluj. The move marks the achievement of a goal the Courtenay-native has been striving towards for years.”If I could play for one of the best teams in any European country – that was it,” he said. “It’s everything I could have hoped for.”
After a major ownership shakeup in 2002 CFR Cluj has vaulted to prominence in the soccer world, winning both the Liga I championships and the Romanian Cup three times and the Romanian Supercup twice. The club, affectionately called the White-Burgundies due to the colour of their uniform, even managed a victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford stadium in 2012 Champions League action.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in,” he said, adding he knows he’ll have a lot of work to do to stand out on the pitch. “Right now I’m starting again at the bottom. I want to make sure in two years I’m the top guy again.”
The 19-year-old played on the G.P. Vanier soccer team in Grade 11, but spent much of his high school career traveling to Victoria or Nanimo to play in the metro soccer league. In the second semester he even played for the B.C. team, heading to Vancouver for the weekend.
“I’d have to leave school early to catch a ferry,” he said. “I’d come back on Sunday.”
His passion to improve required a lot of dedication.
“I missed a lot of events,” he said, adding, “I can party when I’m 40.”
Ever since he started playing in a soccer league at the age of seven De Graff was hooked. As he grew older he started to see the game as a legitimate option for taking care of his family one day.
“It was hard, but at the same time I matured at a young age and I knew what I wanted,” he said. “If you want something you have to sacrifice.”
Zak Christiansen, a friend from his Vanier days, says De Graaf always remained focused on moving towards a life in professional soccer.
“Jordan would always hang out with us, but he wouldn’t be up drinking with us at night,” he said. “He was always on track.”
His talent was striking during the metro soccer game in Vancouver he watched, cheering on his buddy.
“The first time I saw him dribble a soccer ball I was pretty impressed,” he said. “It was mostly his drive and confidence that made me believe he’s going somewhere.”
At one point, however, the dream of playing professionally seemed to have slipped away.
“Europe’s on the other side of the world,” he said. “It’s not like they’re going to come and get me.”
De Graff got mono and missed a chance to try out for the Vancouver Whitecaps at age 17, while five of his friends got picked up for the club’s junior roster.
“In hindsight it’s probably the best thing that could have happened,” he said, noting each of those players were since released by the club.
Bill Merriman, head coach of the Vancouver Island University Mariners helped De Graff get bursaries to attend the school.
From there he made the leap to the Genova International School of Soccer in Italy, playing for Melbourne Phoenix FC, even playing in a game against Inter Milan.
It was this exposure that snagged him the up-close look from Cluj management.
“I was one of the only international players,” he said of the test games he played after flying to Transylvania.
De Graff says he’s ready to work his way up the ranks in the club system.
“You have to try it. If I wait any longer I’ll be too old to get in with the club,” he said. “I can’t wait to see where it goes.”