IT MIGHT have been a move that came out of the blue, but for Michael Higdon it has turned out to be the right one.
The former Falkirk, St Mirren and Motherwell striker was the leading scorer in Scotland's top flight and PFA Player of the Year during the 2012-13 season while at Fir Park.
While it was not entirely unexpected that the Englishman chose to leave Lanarkshire when his contract expired, he did surprise many when he chose to sign for NEC Nijmegen in the Netherlands rather than return to his homeland.
Loading article content
"I had been in Scotland for six seasons and had the opportunity to do something different," said Higdon, who had also attracted interest from further afield, in China, Russia and Turkey. "The chance to play abroad was a good option for me. I hadn't done it before and I wanted to try it."
Joining NEC felt like the right fit, though, for personal as well as footballing reasons. The 30-year-old said: "The Eredivisie is a good league and people speak English in Holland as well. If I had gone to China, it would have been a bit difficult. Everyone made me feel welcome here at NEC, so that side of it was no problem."
Higdon signed a two-year contract and feels he has settled into his new life well. "Obviously, you miss your friends and your family," he said. "What else do I miss? I miss going to watch Liverpool play."
Nijmegen is not too far from Merseyside, however. "During international breaks I usually go home," Higdon said. "My family are coming over to stay with me this week, so it's not too bad."
Higdon jokes that one benefit of playing in the Netherlands is that the Dutch certainly know how to celebrate a victory - "when you win, the parties after the games are quite good" - but quickly dispels any notion that that was a significant factor in his decision.
He spends most of his time at NEC's training pitch and their ground, the Goffertstadion. "It's a nice country, but unfortunately I haven't seen much of it," admitted Higdon, who has been playing well for his new club.
This is despite the fact that the manager who signed him, Alex Pastoor, was sacked soon afterwards - replaced by former NEC player Anton Janssen - and even though the largely young team are currently second bottom of the Eredivisie.
Higdon won a berth in the starting XI soon after his arrival and has scored nine times in 24 appearances in the league and Dutch Cup, but feels there is room for improvement.
"Possibly, I should have had 14, maybe 15, goals. It could have been a lot better," he says of the season so far. "I think in some games I've scored and it's been a success, but in other games I've not played so well."
That it should take him time to adjust is unsurprising, given that Dutch teams play in a different style to those in Scotland, and indeed, England.
"A lot more football gets played here; the ball stays on the ground," Higdon said. "The game is a bit more direct in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. In Holland, it is a lot more possession-based. I think that's a big difference."
Asked if the Dutch way of playing suits him, Higdon says he prefers to let his feet do the talking. "I think that at the end of the season, when you look at the stats to see how many goals you scored, you can answer that question," he says. "But that's one of the reasons I came to Holland, to adjust to the football here and see a different aspect of the game."
NEC's fans quickly fell in love with their new striker. British players are rare in the Eredivisie, and Higdon has become something of a cult hero. "Supporters want their No.9 to score goals and work hard for the team. I think I have done that in certain games," he said.
"If the fans like me, that's brilliant. They have been great to me. They sing my name in the stadium, that's very nice. Hopefully I can reward them with a few more goals."
As to where the game will lead him next, Higdon is keeping an open mind. "You just don't know in football," he said, refusing to rule out a return to Scotland or possibly England. "At the moment I'm happy in Holland, and that's what I'm going to continue to focus on. But this time last year I didn't expect to be in Holland. You just don't know."