Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nani bringing skills to Manitoba

Portuguese Man U winger plans to spend five days at soccer camps in 'Peg, Brandon

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If things go according to plan, Nani will arrive in Manitoba three days after contesting the final of the European Championship in Kyiv.

The Manchester United winger is currently preparing for Euro 2012 with the Portuguese national team (they host Macedonia in a tuneup match today) and will begin the quadrennial tournament on June 9 against Germany in Lviv. Portugal are in the competition's "Group of Death" and face a difficult path to the knockout stage. Once there, however, anything can happen.

"We have a great team," says the 25-year-old. "We will do our best."

A continental title would no doubt represent his highlight of the summer, but Nani is also looking forward to spending five days working with young footballers at soccer camps in Winnipeg and Brandon.

"I've been to Canada twice -- on tour with Manchester United and also with Sporting some years ago," he says, "But I've never been in Manitoba. It will be a great experience being with the kids and motivating them to play soccer. I think there is a lot of work to do to promote soccer in Canada and I'm glad I can do it."

Nani was invited to participate in the camps by Brian Rowland, a former Canadian Under-20 international and Manchester United trialist.

Rowland, who makes his home in the eastern United States, connected with Nani after rooming with a teammate from the Cape Verde Islands (where Nani grew up) during his playing days. Each summer Nani hosts a one-day tournament in his neighbourhood and will be drawing on the experience when he works with Canadian youngsters this summer.

Rowland, meanwhile, has been operating his Rowland Soccer Academy since retiring from a playing career that took him around England and the North American leagues for eight years. He says he learned early on that soccer education would eventually become a big part of his life.

"I was a goalkeeper at 5-foot-11," he says. "I learned very quickly to be a pro. At training I was going to put my work in--to understand what I was doing and why I was doing it."

Rowland sees North America as fertile ground for his soccer camps, given a "lack of fundamentals" among many young players. He says he hopes to give youngsters a base skill level so that when they turn 16 or 17 years old they're on the same technical platform as kids in Europe.

There is also a local connection. Rowland's brother lives in western Manitoba, and the two had talked for years about doing a soccer camp in the area before finally arranging it this summer.

"There doesn't seem to be as much direction (in Manitoba) as there is in Toronto or Vancouver," he says.

"We can bring something (to Winnipeg and Brandon) that a larger city in Canada would be accustomed to."

Rowland says he attended soccer camp every summer as a youngster and understands how including a high-profile figure such as Nani can create a lasting impact on those who attend.

"At one camp (I attended) there were coaches from Parma," he says. Those are the times that stick with me. Those are the things that opened my eyes to the global aspect of the game."

The Rowland soccer camps will take place in Winnipeg and Brandon from July 4-8. Nani says he's excited about doing some sightseeing in the area at some point during his stay.

Euro 2012 notebook

-- An injury to England backup goalkeeper John Ruddy means Jack Butland will be traveling to Poland and Ukraine with the Three Lions. Butland, on the books at Birmingham City, kept three clean sheets in four matches during last summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia.

-- Hugo Viana has been called up to the Portugal squad for the first time since 2007. The Braga midfielder is a replacement for Sporting's Carlos Martins, who will miss Euro 2012 with a calf injury.

-- Russia will be without a pair of defenders at Euro 2012. Full-back Roman Shishkin has been ruled out with a stomach problem and Vasiliy Berezutskiy (thigh) is sidelined as well.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2012 0

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