IT’S GONE from Khmer to C’mere for Paddy Barrett as the league-winning defender looks ahead to a new challenge at the heart of the St Patrick’s Athletic defence
The former Dundalk and Waterford centre-half turned his back on a potential league title in Cambodia after finding it difficult to adjust to a very different lifestyle amid a global pandemic.
The 27-year-old Barrett had spent the previous two years in the United States with Cincinnati and Indy Eleven, captaining the latter, before joining Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng after Christmas.
The culture shock proved too much for the Waterford native, who won two league titles in Dundalk, as he struggled in particular with the poverty and deprivation surrounding him.
Just over a month after his move to Svay Rieng was announced, here returned to the League of Ireland to link up with his former Lilywhites teammate Stephen O’Donnell, now Pats gaffer.
“It was tough on the eye to see so much poverty – I didn’t expect it,” says Barrett.
“Obviously, it’s a third-world country so I probably should have expected it. It was difficult that side of it, and on the football side it was difficult because of the language barrier.
“It was difficult to communicate with people, to feel that close environment that you should feel when you’re at a club.
“Obviously, it’s your job, it’s your everyday thing so you want to feel comfortable, you want to feel that kind of happiness every day and it wasn’t there for me.
“It was difficult for me because 95% of the team had no English and couldn’t understand with me. I had to learn the basics of the Khmer language; ‘go, stop, wait’ just to communicate.
“It didn’t play to my advantage because I like to lead, I like to use my mouth on the field and help others. For me, it was difficult, that side of it.”
One upshot of returning to Ireland is a step up in standards as Barrett regards the League of Ireland of superior quality to the USL in America and the C-League in Cambodia.
His first aim will be to step into a new-look Saints team that has been bolstered by the addition of loanees from England as well as his ex-Lilywhites teammate John Mountney.
Goalkeeper Vitezslav Jaros has arrived from Liverpool, Alfie Lewis from West Ham United and Nehum Melvin-Lambert from Reading, all on initial six-month loans.
After successive sixth-place finishes, Barrett’s greatest contribution might be to bring in that winning experience to Richmond Park.
And there’s no better game to kick things off with than a Dublin derby in Tallaght with the defending champions Shamrock Rovers before travelling to Bohemians two weeks later.
The Athletic were the only side to take points from both their games with the Hoops last season, and Barrett feels the team are capable of going one further on Friday night.
“We want to start this season as strongly as possible so we’ll plan to win both games.
“Obviously the first thing is to improve on last year, to finish higher and to play better than we did last year.
“After that hopefully we can climb the table and our overall aim is to go and win trophies, whether that be the league or the cup. Every competition we’re in, we want to win everything.”