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 The Christmas period can be especially hectic for professional footballers in Britain.

 

 

There can be as many as five fixtures crammed into the festive period, which is a crucial phase of the football season.
 
For Trinidad and Tobago star Brent Sancho, it might be a defining chapter of his career.
 
The 30-year-old defender has nine days and three matches to resuscitate his floundering career at relegation-threatened England League One outfit, Millwall, or possibly face another extended episode outside the embrace of the professional game.
 
Today, Boxing Day, he hopes to make his Millway debut at home to Brighton but should take little for granted after being left out the first team for the past two matches.
 
How did it come to this for the combative defender whose long dreadlocks were once the talk of the game's most prestigious tournament, the Germany 2006 World Cup?
 
Sancho shot to international prominence when England and Liverpool striker Peter Crouch grabbed a fistful of his locks en route to a late and ultimately decisive goal in the World Cup group stage clash between the two nations. Up to that point, the "Soca Warriors" had lasted more than 170 minutes without conceding against gifted attackers like Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Henrik Larsson and England's Michael Owen.
 
A goalless draw against England would have prompted dreams of a place in the second round but, instead, defeat to the former colonial power was followed by a similar 2-0 loss to Paraguay and the Warriors were packing their bags.
 
Sancho, incidentally, scored an own goal midway through the first half against Paraguay that paved the way to a South American triumph.
 
"I hope that was not my last game for my country," Sancho told the Express. "The World Cup was like a whole other world with all the drama of the own goal and almost getting married and so on."
 
Sancho proposed to his long-time girlfriend during the World Cup but the euphoria of Germany was temporary. After rubbing shoulders with the game's elite and receiving the Chaconia Gold Medal from the Trinidad and Tobago government, he returned to an allegedly lukewarm reception from his English employer, League One stragglers, Gillingham.
 
The anticipated offers from more high-profile clubs never materialised while he was felt - by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) at least - to be at the forefront of a World Cup bonus dispute between players and administrators that is before an international sports tribunal at present.
 
In a flash, Sancho was "blacklisted" by his country and frozen out by his club manager Ronnie Jepson, who felt he had lost focus and, according to the player, never forgave him for picking country over club during the World Cup qualifying campaign. His darkest moments coincided with a split from the woman he hoped to marry.
 
"Everything just seemed to be so difficult after the World Cup," he said. "You would think, after the World Cup, things would blossom and it was difficult in terms of my expectations. Whatever was supposed to materialise never did and it was especially difficult not being able to represent my country again for a year after so much joy in playing at the World Cup."
 
It got worse as Sancho, then a free agent, failed to land a deal in Britain last summer despite a few trials with lower division clubs. He claimed to have spurned offers from Greece.
 
"I got to find out through different agents that (Jepson) was giving me bad references to clubs," he said, "and it is difficult to find a new club when you have a bad tag to your name."
 
He credited family, friends, God and his World Cup teammates with helping him stave off depression over the past five months. He and goalkeeper Kelvin Jack have been especially chatty. Jack played alongside Sancho at Scottish outfit, Dundee, and followed him to Gillingham but also fell out of favour at the club and is expected to move on when his contract expires next June, if not sooner.
 
But the most important figure in Sancho's rehabilitation, hopefully, would be Millwall manager Kenny Jackett.
 
Jackett, who tried to sign Sancho last year while he was Swansea manager, offered a four-week deal to the former Trinity College and Malick schoolboy earlier this month.
 
"I want to settle in with a club for a long period of time," said Sancho. "I lost quite a bit of that hunger with all the disappointments after the World Cup and I think I went into a state of shock. The hunger is back now.
 
"I will be working extremely hard (over the next two weeks) to get another deal and to push on from there."
 
He described his hurt at prospective employers who questioned whether he was capable of playing at Championship level - a rung below the Premiership - after he felt that he did so well among the world's best players at the World Cup.
 
"I guess this is life and a good lesson for the younger players," he said. "They will always be questioning your credentials because you come from a small country and you have to keep fighting.
 
"I strongly believe I can play in the Premiership and I want to achieve that goal. But first, I want to do very well for Millwall because they gave me that opportunity and I know I have to repay them."
 
Thus far, there is little indication that Millwall signed Sancho for any reason other than to provide cover in case of injuries over the hectic Christmas season. Millwall played twice since his arrival and the Warrior was not in the 18-man squad for either fixture.
 
Incidentally, Millwall lost the two games and conceded six goals while scoring just twice. They clearly need steel in the back as well as some Christmas magic.
 
Hopefully, Sancho will get the chance to provide both before his contract expires on January 3.