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Former national footballer Brent Sancho made his official return to local football last Thursday, but not in the capacity for which he’s known and loved—as a member of the Soca Warriors.

Sancho, 31, took to the field at the Hasley Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo, Port-of-Spain, as the newest addition to former Pro-League champion Economy North East Stars.

He wore the number 17.

The ex-Soca Warrior, playing the sweeper position, seemed to gel with his North East Stars team-mates who got the better Superstar Rangers 3-1.

For many, it was odd seeing the experienced defender at home dressed in colours other than those assigned to the national squad.

Yet, somehow, Sancho did not appear to play with any less resolve.

Both at half-time and at the end of the match, Sancho left the field with no sign that he felt out of place or lacked confidence.

It was his maiden game and the result was an indication that he was signed to a team that aims high—exactly where he had his sights.

After the team’s post game chat, Sancho showered, change and sat down for this Arena interview.

But the international footballer was quick to declare that appearing under North East Stars’ banner should not be considered as a retrograde step in his football career.

Sancho said: “I don’t look at any move in relation to football as being backward or forward. I look at it as gaining a next contract and playing.”

He added: “I’m here because I’ve just finished my season in the US, with the Atlanta Silverbacks and couldn’t move to any other club in Europe, until January. This is how it is and this is the direction it’s going.

“Happiness is not always that big million-dollar move. I need to get that foundation where I’m enjoying football again.”

Lengthy discussions paved the way for his eventual arrival into the camp of North East Stars.

The club’s management convinced him that he’d be an excellent fit in the progressive outfit.

“They called me,” Sancho recalled. “I had a couple other offers. I could have gone to Clico San Juan Jabloteh, but I wanted a challenge.

“I want to fall in love with football again. Atlanta was great, now I want to go where I’m constantly being challenged. I felt that North East (Stars) would give me that opportunity.”

Sancho knew that explanation would not deflect pertinent questions from football fans relative to his absence from the national senior football team, in its World Cup 2010 campaign, when so many ex-Warriors have been recalled.

Being a role model

Even as the latest addition to the North East Stars line-up, Sancho believes he’s been given some sway to use his experience and expertise, towards bolstering the quality of game offered by his team-mates. He had no doubts that football locally has a long way to go to attain the international seal of professionalism, but he’s seen enough to take comfort that things are heading in the right direction.

As fate would have it, Sancho believes he’s one of many who had a vital role in this stage of football’s development.

“Maybe that’s my calling. God wants me to come back and impart some of my knowledge to the clubs and players, and I hope that I can do that. I hope I can give them that inspiration and give them a taste of what it’s like in Europe.”

A desire to win

Satisfied that his talent and fitness level remain polished, he denies any intent to sit back and pass in a rocking chair.

“North East Stars is a club that wants to win trophies. I want to win trophies.

“I want to look back on my career and say I won a Trinidad FA or League Cup,” he said.

Sancho lauded the spirit and conviction he witnessed from team-mates and describes the club’s management as passionate in the execution of their duties.

A big welcome

He sings praises that members of North Stars gave no resistance to his inclusion in the team.

“I thank God. The boys at North East (Stars) are a really good bunch. They’ve welcomed me with open arms.”

News coming out of the camp is that players are already looking up to him. Not only is he a role model, but a mentor.

Where are they fans?

Coming from a culture where stepping onto the field is saluted by a thunderous roars, Sancho expressed surprise about the poor attendance at Pro-League matches.

“I think the local game needs that support from the fans. I haven’t been here long enough to know why the fans stay away from the games and I wouldn’t speculate. It’s a disappointment.”

He made it clear that athletes must be able to rise above such happenings and know that once they cross the chalk, they are there to win every time.

Sancho confessed that he didn’t know what to expect when he took the field.

So what did he do?

“I prepared myself as though it was a game against Sweden. I went through the game in my mind the night before. I was going out there to win, giving a 150 per cent.”

Fit as an Ox

One month of training proved difficult for Sancho.

It seemed spending so much time abroad had reduced his tolerance, somewhat, for the much sought after Caribbean weather.

“Training has been tough,” he said. “The heat has been a factor. It was hard adjusting. Other than that everything else was good.”

Nevertheless, Sancho took up cycling during the August vacation and could find no better partner than national cyclist Ako Kellar.

“It’s a bit strange wearing a helmet and tights and riding to Macqueripe. And we did spin classes (too). Sometimes we train twice a day. It has helped with my level of fitness. It has helped my speed, given me another perspective into another sport and new techniques in fitness training.”

Soca Warrior Forever

Rumours continue to circulate that Sancho had not been called to duty by national coach Francisco Maturana because he has not been playing much football, as compared to his ex-team-mates. Further to that it’s been said that he’s not as fit as he used to be, although he had been playing football with US-based Atlanta Silverbacks over the past four months. But Sancho tackled the issue with a touch of diplomacy.

“If I get selected or not, is not up to me.

“It’s up to the national team manager. If the call up comes, then so be it. I’ll just wait an see,” he said.

He revealed that being left out of the team although he’s as fit and committed to T&T’s football goals as other foreign-based players was unnerving.

“The biggest joy I have is playing for my country. It’s difficult watching the boys play. I’m a patriot. I love for us to do well and I want to go out there and represent my country, but at the end of the day, there’s not much I can.”