Roberto Lopes can’t bear to think what would have happened if Rui Aguas hadn’t been persistent enough to send him a second message.
The former Cape Verde coach first contacted the Shamrock Rovers defender via LinkedIn in 2018. He was keen to discuss the prospect he plays for the national team as he was eligible through his father. . Lopes ignored him. He does not speak Portuguese.
“I opened the college account years ago and used it sparingly,” he says. Air sports. “You were getting these spam messages and I just thought it was another one. Fortunately, he answered in English. This is what started me on this incredible adventure. “
Three years later, Dublin-born Lopes still plays for the Shamrock Rovers. Everything else has changed. He is now in Cameroon to prepare for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
Aside from “that constant worry that this will be your bad luck day and that you will test positive,” there is nothing but excitement. “I can’t wait,” he said. “I have been excited about this tournament since we qualified. I am so excited about this. “
The call did more than change his career. It transformed his life.
“I go to places where I would never have been on vacation. Seeing the appreciation they have for what they have opened my mind. I am now eager to try new things. I am so looking forward to learning the language and culture, discover Africa as a continent. “
Senegal was beautiful. The trip to Rwanda particularly special. “The country has a terrible history but I was just mesmerized by it. The people were so nice. We were able to take a tour of the cemeteries which was really shocking but it was important to see. “
It wasn’t just the experiences that changed him.
It is its own relationship with its own roots.
“We didn’t speak Creole growing up. I probably didn’t pay as much attention as I could or should have. dig deeper trying to immerse myself in it. “
Although he still has family on the island, Father Carlos left when he was 16. He was a shipmaster working in Belgium before a chance encounter led to a job offer on a ferry to Ireland. “He ended up going with them, fell in love with Ireland and my mother, and the rest is history. “
Reconnecting with Cape Verde brought such joy. “When I made my debut my dad was so proud. I think I put Cape Verde on the map in Ireland because everyone I meet is wondering. The trips I take and the places I can see, they just buzz for me. “
The change is all the more remarkable given that not so long ago Lopes had virtually given up on a professional career. “I have always been a realist. I was 22 and played in the Irish League which I loved, but thought the chance to play abroad was over. “
He spent two years working in a bank as a mortgage advisor. “The Irish League at the time was not that strong. You couldn’t get a mortgage doing it, so I figured I would need to find a career if I wanted to continue playing football as well. “
But he quickly realized that the bank was not for him and returned to football. “I still had more to give and I didn’t appreciate the work. He opted for a full-time professional contract with Shamrock Rovers. “It was one of the best decisions I made. “
At 29, he’s a better player now. Partly because of the opportunity to play for Cape Verde. “It took my game – physically and mentally – to another level,” he explains.
“The competition you face gives you the confidence to take it to the next level. You go back to your club and are determined to keep it going because you know that the next time you meet the national team the standards will be set high again. “
It may come as a surprise to some, but there is quality in the team.
“It opened my eyes because here in Ireland we think the Premier League is the best. Others are not getting the credit they deserve. We have players from Turkey and Bulgaria where they produce top quality. We think we can really hurt. teams. “
Sunday January 9 6:55 p.m.
They will be tested during this tournament. The first is Ethiopia, but a match is also looming against the Cameroonian hosts in front of a crowd in Yaoundé which could reach 60,000 people.
“Having hosts in our group is a good thing and a bad thing. You know they will have full support, but at the same time we can play in front of a big crowd in one of the biggest tournaments. All the games are going to be tough, but I’m really looking forward to it. “
It was an experience he almost missed.
“Even looking back now, I can’t believe how rude I was to ignore it just because it was in Portuguese. All I had to do was copy and paste it into Google Translate, which I did later.
“I am just blessed and so grateful to Rui Aguas who had the time and patience to write to me in English. I have learned my lesson since then. I check LinkedIn every day. And since that post, I’ve never looked beyond one more post on LinkedIn. “
Watch Ethiopia vs Cape Verde live on Sky Sports Football from 6:55 pm Sunday; kick off at 7 p.m.