Sometimes fate has unexpected situations in store for soccer players. A clear example is that of robert lopez, a 29-year-old Irish defender, who would never have imagined that at the height of his professional career the opportunity to represent the small and distant islands of Cape Verde in the African Cup of Nations. But the story becomes even more surprising, since the call came through one of the main job search platforms in the world.
the player of the Shamrock Rovers, reigning Irish Premier League champions, scanned his account LinkedIn in mid-2019 and came across a peculiar invitation in a foreign language. Who was the sender? The then coach of the Cape Verde national football team, Rui Aguas. The native of Dublin ignored the message, downplaying the enigmatic content written in another language. Lopes did not know that he was passing up an opportunity in international soccer.
Some time later, the protagonist of this story regretted having looked the other way instead of translating the message and sought an explanation: “Out of sheer ignorance and probably rudeness! I just assumed it was spam and that it was a standard LinkedIn greeting in Portuguese., (language) that I do not speak”, admitted Robert in a chat with the British site Sportsmail, focused on fighting against Senegal the round of 16 of the African Cup of Nations: he will take to the field this Tuesday, January 25 at 1:00 p.m. (Argentina time).
It is that nine months after the first message, the soccer player realized with astonishment that he was not being contacted by a machine, but that the Cape Verde Football Federation he really wanted him to declare himself a citizen of the small island country in the Atlantic Ocean since his father had Cape Verdean roots. The lineage comes from the side of your parent Carlos who had the opportunity to leave Africa at the age of 16 as he was a chef on a ship working in Belgium. Years later, a chance encounter led to a job offer on a ferry to Britain. “He ended up accepting the offer and fell in love with Ireland and with my mother. The rest is history”, explained Lopes.
Robert revealed that he created his Linkedin account in college eight years earlier, while studying Business Administration at the Dublin Institute of Technology. How useful it ended up being. “I went back, copied and pasted the original message into google translate and he (Rui Aguas) asked me: ‘We are trying to get some new players, would you like to represent Cape Verde?’. I was absolutely delighted as I never saw the opportunity coming and it just came along. I’m so glad I got back to you on time!” admitted the Irishman about the happiness he felt after ignoring the proposal for almost a year.
And he added about the reasons that led him to think that the call for Cape Verde was a lie: “Growing up in my professional career as a soccer player, you often received prank phone calls where they pretended to be from a club in England. You don’t know how genuine the contact is on social media until you get a formal contact. The message in English put my mind at ease and removed any skepticism I had.”
With the possibility of representing his native Ireland ruled out, birth certificates and passports were quickly exchanged and, within weeks, Lopes trained for the first time with the African team ahead of a friendly against Togo in October 2019 in the Stade Parsemain, on the outskirts of Marseille. But there was one problem to solve: born and raised in Ireland, Robert could not speak Portuguese or the national language of Cape Verdeans.
“I really wanted to play international football, but the nerves were due to the language. My mother is Irish and my father speaks the native language of Cape Verde, but I never learned it. But once I landed and met the rest of my teammates, they were fantastic with me. They all spoke English, made an effort with me and helped me learn bits of Creole to help me when I’m on the court. It was brilliant, my first trip was incredible”, he recounted in the first person about that call.
Finally, he played the 90 minutes against Togo with a 2-1 win to make his international debut. Today, after two and a half years as a Cape Verdean player, the 29-year-old defender is preparing to compete against Senegal in the round of 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations, after qualifying as one of the best third-placed players by sharing Group A with Cameroon, organizer and venue of the event, Burkina Faso Y Ethiopia.
The current defender of Shamrock Rovers, and soccer birth in the bohemians Irish, played all the games in the current African Cup of Nations. In addition, he accumulates a total of 12 official matches with the Cape Verde shirt in which he completed the 90 minutes in each of the matches in demonstration of the defensive pillar in which he became for the selection of the volcanic islands. With a 3-4-3 as the preferred scheme chosen by his coach Pedro Leitao Brito, Lopes is positioned as a libero in each of the duels.
Lopes, more than happy with his present, also received during the first phase the support of his father born in Cape Verde from the stands of the different stadiums. “I have to say he is incredibly proud”, adding with a striking anecdote: “He had one of my jerseys from a previous game and people would come up to him and say, ‘We’ve been trying to get that one everywhere, where did you get it?’ When he said his son plays for the team, he was treated like royalty. Then he went to Sao Nicolau, which is the island where he is from and where my grandfather lives, and he said I have a fan club there!”
Cape Verde is preparing its final to surprise the African Cup of Nations. After one of the previous two appearances, in 2013 and 2015, the stick is planted in the quarterfinals. One game away from making history and reaching that stage, the team is ready to face any rival. It should be noted that the Cape Verdean selected It is made up of soccer players from 16 different leagues among the 26 players chosen for the tournament. Within the competitive squad that the humble country put together, Jamiro Monteiro stands out, striker for the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer and wearer of number 10.
Looking longer term, with Africa’s World Cup entrants increasing from five to nine by 2026, Lopes admits the next goal he and his teammates will have will be fighting for a place in the biggest sporting event to be held in Canada, the United States and Mexico. “We realize that we are capable of competing at this level. I would love to reach a World Cup with Cape Verde, that is the next goal. But for the moment, we need to focus on the round of 16.”
The African contest reached the best moment of competition and 16 nations will fight hand in hand in search of the new king of the continent. There is no doubt that Cape Verdeans will be on the edge of their seats, ready to watch another surprise from their national team.
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