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Tue, Sep

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"I have tried and tried," said Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Brent Rahim, "but football is about opportunity and a bit of luck. It is about ability too of course, but I think I do have the ability to play at the highest level.


"But sometimes it is about being at the right place at the right time and just getting a break. I think if I just keep working hard and keep working hard and keep working hard, then my break will come.

"And, even if it doesn't come, at least I will know I gave it everything I have."

It must seem as though Rahim has been waiting forever for his chance.

He is still four months shy of his 26th birthday and his accomplishments in the game would put many talented Caribbean players to shame.

At international level, Rahim has played in two CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments and was a semi-finalist-Trinidad and Tobago's best ever finish-at his debut competition in 2000 competition while he also lifted the Copa Caribe trophy in 2001.

In the Caribbean tournament, Rahim notched the second goal in a 3-0 Copa Caribe final win over Haiti while his winner in a 2-1 group win over Jamaica set the host nation's tone for the competition.

There has been success as well in Bulgaria-league and cup titles with Levski Sofia in 2000/01-and the United States where he was a NCAA Division One winner and All Star selectee with the University of Connecticut.

The Los Angeles Galaxy were interested in the classy midfielder and a Major League Soccer (MLS) career beckoned at one point while there was also a stint at renowned English club, West Ham, before Rahim signed for Scottish Division One team, Falkirk.

And yet, there is a nagging feeling that he has not come close to fulfilling his talent. Or, at least, the dreams that others have had for him.

It can only be a testimony to his precocious abilities that a professional career in a division, which once provided a launch pad for players like Russell "The Little Magician" Latapy, Marvin Andrews, Anthony Rougier and, more recently, Collin Samuel, somehow seems beneath him.

The grubby Ochilview Stadium-Falkirk's temporary home as they continue work on their own ground-is as different to Old Trafford as Woodford Square is to the Red House's Parliamentary Chamber.

In truth, though, they are different parts of the same vehicle.

As intrinsically linked as a Crew's Inn steak is to a St James slaughterhouse.

Ochilview's uneven surface was more PSA than Hasely Crawford; it's facilities closer resembled the Aranguez Savannah than the Centre of Excellence.

It is hard for the average football fan to appreciate as much after being saturated by live Sky Sports football matches that invariably alternate between games at Highbury, the Nou Camp or the San Siro Stadiums. But it is grounds like Ochilview that truly represent the cradle of the game.

It was on a similar playing field that Pele's father taught him the rudiments of football. Or that Diego Maradona was spotted playing in a scrimmage. Where Roy Keane learnt about creating his own atmosphere within his head whether they were 20 or 20,000 spectators present.

For every "Keano", though, there are a million never-beens or nearly-beens.

Rahim is not blind to that fact.

He explained that his family is his fiercest and most loyal supporters. His mother, Shirley-Ann Rahim, is always ready with words of encouragement; his brother, Chris, is virtually his manager.

But, most of all, Rahim grabs his tugs and heads to the football ground because he believes that it is what he was born to do.

Falkirk have six more engagements from 42 professional games this season. At every outing, Rahim will imagine a scout in the stands who he must leave suitably impressed.

It is an approach that has compelled Falkirk to award their signing the "Young Player of the Year" award

"I go into every game as if it were my last (before being snapped up by a bigger team)," he said. "Anything can happen in football."

His love for the game is simultaneously the wind at his back and the millstone around his neck.

He was just nine years old when his dreams began in earnest.

As a Ken Elie Coaching School member, Rahim was selected among a team of ballboys for Trinidad and Tobago's famous 1990 World Cup qualifying campaign, along with Dundee defender, international teammate and namesake, Brent Sancho.

As the "Strike Squad" captivated the nation, and much of CONCACAF, Rahim and Sancho vowed there and then to become international stars one day.

"When we saw Russell (Latapy) and Kerry Jamerson play," he said, "we would go back to the training ground and try to copy everything they did."

He did not do a bad job either.

Before he could count the hairs on his chin, Rahim was already a regular classroom name for his Secondary School Football League (SSFL) exploits with St Anthony's College and national youth caps inevitably followed.

At 18, he had a six-week stint at English Premier League giants, Newcastle, where no less an authority than Kevin Keegan quickly invited him back for a six-month stay.

"That was my first introduction to the European game," he said. "I remember being just amazed by (French attacker David) Ginola. He was technically brilliant and did things so effortlessly."

Newcastle did not offer a deal and he left for the US instead where he represented the University of Connecticut while pursuing a degree in sports psychology.

The US collegiate leagues have been virtually a burial ground for top T&T players who left local shores never to return, but a call-up from national coach Bertille St Clair for the 2000 Gold Cup confirmed his progress.

It was no surprise when LA Galaxy drafted him into their plans before he had completed his degree. At the same time, though, there were offers for trials with French club, Auxerre, and Bulgaria's Levski Sofia and the lure of Europe proved too strong.

Levski Sofia were his first stop and, when they quickly put a three-year contract on the table, Rahim signed on the dotted line.

"I had about four classes left," he said, "but I felt that a chance like that comes once in a lifetime. My scholarship would always be there for me when I am finished."

Rahim managed roughly a dozen caps in his debut season but was frustrated by the language barrier and the regular changes within the technical staff-three coaches were fired that season-as well as the culture shock.

"Even understanding what your coach wanted from you was a problem," he said. "There would be blackboard sessions and the club would bring a translator on the day before the game but even his English was not perfect.

"The country too was very poor and the food was so different and bland...that I was not eating properly."

After one season, Levski Sofia agreed to send him to Britain where he felt he would better suited.

His first six months were spent at West Ham where then manager Glenn Roeder seemed to take an eternity in deciding whether to keep the "Soca" starlet.

The "Hammers" were in relegation trouble and suffering through an injury crisis but Roeder-who axed his compatriot Shaka Hislop in the previous season-ignored his form in the club's reserve league matches.

"I was confident I could have gotten a contract," he said, "but I think the fact that we were battling relegation ended up being a negative for me. He decided to go with more experienced players."

Incidentally, West Ham were relegated and Roeder was sacked within a year.

Rahim moved on to Division Two club, Northampton, where ex-CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh coach, Terry Fenwick, signed him on a short-term deal.

But Fenwick barely lasted two months before being dismissed and Rahim did not figure in the new manager's plans. Northampton were also relegated.

Rahim moved to south London club, Brentford, where his chances of a deal hinged on the club successfully flogging off an unwanted midfielder.

It did not happen and the midfielder must have been near his wits end when Latapy invited him to Falkirk.

The "Little Magician "had taken up an assistant coaching role with the modest club after a successful career that included spells with Portugal dynamos, Porto, and Scottish powerhouse, Glasgow Rangers.

"I just jumped on a train and came up," said Rahim. "At the time, I was renting in Camden and it was pretty expensive. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be here but that is what life is like."

The irony of linking up with his childhood hero was not lost on the midfielder.

"For me to come and play with (Latapy) at the end of his career is amazing," he said. "I remember when I had my first stint at Newcastle, he told someone in the media that I was a promising player and I was just on top of the world. Now, it is a pleasure to work alongside him.

"He helps my game a lot too by pointing out little secrets about awareness and positional play and the little things that make such a big difference. He has such a fantastic knowledge of the game."

At present, Rahim is working on his finishing as well as his service with his left foot to become a more complete and dynamic midfielder.

He has his heart set on joining Sancho and Andrews in the Scottish Premier League and dreams of playing for either of the "Old Firm"-Rangers or Celtic.

"I have no doubt that I will get there," he said. "If I were to bring doubt into my life, it will just bring negativity. I have to keep believing in myself and keep working for what I want.

"If I don't feel like that, it will never happen. That is my mental approach. I just try to keep my head down and work on it.

"God will do the rest after that."

No doubt.