After missing out on European football for the past two years, T&T and AEK Athens forward Levi Garcia relishes his return to the UEFA Europa League for the 2023/24 season.
Garcia made his Europa League debut in 2016, appearing in AZ Alkmaar 's 2-1 loss to Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The Greek club recorded a winning start to this year’s competition after edging English Premier League club Brighton 3-2, on match day one, last Thursday. Garcia assisted the second goal in the 40th minute.
AEK Athens are in Group B alongside a tough line-up comprising Brighton, French Ligue 1 team Marseille and Dutch club Ajax. The top two teams advance to the next round.
Garcia recently recovered from a small tear in his quadriceps suffered during leg one of the Uefa Champions League playoff vs Royal Antwerp. AEK Athens lost 3-1 on aggregate to miss out on Champions League qualification, but advance to the Europa League.
On his return to European football, Garcia was elated.
“Competing in Europe has always been a difficult one. but I’m grateful and blessed with the opportunity to play amongst the best set of players and teams. It’s a good feeling to be playing European football."
What is the atmosphere like for European nights?
“The game itself generates this type of energy and motivation to play it, the focus comes naturally. It’s a feeling you really cannot explain, it’s just something you have to live or live through seeing the person play or whatnot.
“But it’s really great experiences and the best dream or wish any player could go through in their life. I’m really grateful to be living these moments,” he told Newsday on Friday.
Garcia’s next European test comes against the struggling Dutch giants Ajax, next Thursday.
After his recent recovery, the Santa Flora-bred striker said the drive to provide for his family is what keeps him motivated during his down spells and recovery periods. He was elated to be back out competing.
“It’s only when you get injured or cannot play you really understand how important it is, and to appreciate, when you’re healthy and injury-free. That is basically motivates me to find my way back. Knowing my family is always there, my kids, they give me that motivation to go on, knowing that I have so much mouths to feed and people to take care of.”
Garcia described his recovery and reintegration process.
“Preparation, usually lighter sessions, because the schedules are heavy with league games being three and four days before. So sessions are usually a bit of tactical work.”
Both Levi and his brother Judah missed out on T&T’s two opening Concacaf Nations League matches earlier this month because of injury.
T&T, however, churned out a 1-0 win over Curacao in their group opener and then edged El Salvador 3-2 to currently sit atop Group A of League A.
Despite his absence, Garcia is considered the nation’s most prolific player right now. Asked how he handles such a high profile, the 25 year old said hard work got him there.
“To be honest, it’s a great feeling. It wasn’t my intention but I guess through hard work things always go your way, and I’ve been working hard and continue to do so no matter what. It’s just the beginning of great things to come, so it’s a blessing and I'm really grateful for the status at the moment.”
Garcia should be available to bolster TT’s frontline for the upcoming Nations League matches against Guatemala on October 13 at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo, and then away to Curacao, four days later.
"For AEK Athens last year, Garcia bagged a team-leading 14 goals to help his team lift the 2022/2023 Greek Super League title. He also finished as the league’s runner-up for the Golden Boot, finishing behind Olympiacos’ Cedric Bakambu’s 18 goals." (with reporting by Narissa Fraser)
SOURCE: T&T Newsday