Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Nedved Interview: Sido Jombati & Florin Pelecaci

Sido Jombati extended his hand, and with a warm smile on his face said, 'My name is Sido.'

I couldn't help but laugh. I had just contacted him a few days ago to tell him what a big fan I was, and to request an interview with him for this blog. I certainly knew who his name. I was to learn, though, that Sido is as unassuming as he is friendly.

He had suggested we speak after the AFC Totton match. 'How will I find you?' I asked. He wrote back, 'Anytime, just call me and I will come to you.' It sounded too easy and I worried it wouldn't' happen. In the end, however, I 'called to him' while he was having his post-match meal in the club bar, Charlie's. After he had finished we stepped out the side door. I turned on my dictaphone and tried my best to pretend like I knew what I was doing.

The reason I wanted to interview Sido was simple. Besides being an exciting player to watch, he is a rare example of an overseas footballer in non-league football. I wanted to know exactly how he had come to play football for Bath City. Sido is also central to the mysterious appearance of Bath City's other foreign player, Florin Pelecaci. Reportedly, Florin had started training with City after being recommended to Adie Britton by Sido. But how did a twenty-two year old from Portugal come to know a twenty-nine year old first-division footballer from Romania? It all seemed a little bizarre, and so far the local football media had failed to discover any sort of explanation.

I contacted Sido without really expecting him to agree to be talk to me. I am, after all, just some strange blogger. I was very pleased when he agreed, and even more pleased when he asked Florin to speak to me as well. Having never interviewed a footballer before I was pretty nervous, and began peppering him with random questions as soon as he introduced himself.

Sido Jombati was born in Lisbon in 1987. He was on the books with Sporting Lisbon as a youth player until he was sixteen. Finding his opportunities in Portuguese football limited, he was encouraged by a family member to try his luck in England. I was surprised to hear that one of the main reasons for the move was money. 'The pay in the Portuguese second division is like the Conference in the UK,' he said. I assumed I had misunderstood him, so I had him say it again. I had not misunderstood. 'The pay I get at Bath City is about the same as the second division in Portugal.'

After a short spell with Exeter at age eighteen, he signed for the then Conference National side Weymouth. He moved to Basingstoke last season, where he was voted 'Player of the Year' by the supporters, and finally to Bath City last summer. One of the reported reasons for his move to Bath was family living in Somerset, but when I asked him if he had any family locally he said he no longer has any family living in the UK.

'Do you miss Portugal?' I asked.

'Yeah, a lot.'

I asked him if he went back regularly. 'I used to but not recently. Now that I live in Bath, though, I hope to start flying from Bristol'

I asked him about the different styles of football played in Portugal and England. 'Playing in Portugal is easier,' he began. 'You have a lot more space. England is harder. I prefer the ball on the floor. Here you don't have any space. You don't have time for two touches. This league is very tough. If you try to take one or two touches you just lose the ball.'

At this point we were joined by Florin Pelecaci. I was more nervous about talking to him because I hadn't spoken to him directly before. I also wasn't really sure how interested he was in being interviewed by a supporter. I was only nervous briefly, however, because despite coming across as a serious and earnest person, he was remarkably friendly and unguarded. I asked him how he liked playing for Bath City.

'I like it. I like Bath, only today I am not happy because I did not play.'

I asked him why he thought he had only been used as a substitute.

'It was something to do with a tactical problem. It was [Adie Britton's] option.'

The big question for all Bath City fans, however, was why Florin had come to City and what his plans were. Not knowing how to build up to this exactly I just dived right in and asked him.

'Firstly, I want to do my job for Bath,' he began. 'To play very well in the [FA] Cup firstly. This is our chance, the Cup.'

After pressing him on how long he expects to stay in Bath and where he would go next he said, 'I will stay here for the next two months for sure, and I don't know in the future what I will do. It depends on my football, on how I will play, and it depends on what the club wants for me. At the moment I hope this level can help me to go where I want.'

Where does he want to go? 'League 1, because it is comparable to the top of Romanian football.'

Sido and Florin then explained to me how they knew each other and how Florin had come to wear black and white stripes.

During Sido's time with Sporting Lisbon he became close friends with a Romanian trialist named Bogdan. Bogdan was not signed by Sporting, but he and Sido stayed in touch. Bogdan now lives in London where he plays for step-five non-league club London Tigers. Bogdan, it turns out, had a cousin named Florin Pelecaci.

After an unsatisfying year with top flight Hungarian club Diósgyőri VTK, Florin was looking for a new employer. He was tempted to London by an agent who claimed that he could arrange trials for several League clubs. These failed to materialise. Instead of giving up and going home he got in touch with his cousin Bogdan. Bogdan introduced him to Sido, who arranged for him to start training with Bath City. The training went well, and he was offered non-contract terms in mid-September.

It was good to discover the mystery of Florin's sudden appearance, but I was left with one important question.

'When is Bogdan going to come and play for Bath City?' I asked.

Both Sido and Florin laughed. 'He is a very good player,' Florin explained, 'but for the moment he needs to play more. He has spent a lot of time working and not playing.'

Sido popped back inside Charlie's for a few minutes to talk to some friends and I continued talking with Florin. He was born in Baia Mare in Northwestern Romania, not far from the current Hungarian and Ukrainian borders. His athletic ability was noticed at a very young age. At six years old he began training competitively in gymnastics. Two years later he won first prize for his age group in the individual floor event in the Romanian national championships.

'Is this how you learned to flip?'

It was indeed. Florin had stunned the travelling Bath City fans at in his second match against Willand Rovers. He celebrated his twenty-five yard goal with a series of somersaults and a flip. He had repeated the feat at home in the recent Basingstoke match.

'Against Basingstoke it wasn't my goal. It was an own goal, I think. But I felt I must do this [flip] because it was 2-2 and I knew we could win this.'

It certainly excited the City faithful, and has already become an iconic image (thanks to a well timed snap by City webmaster 'Yuffie').

'The flips are very comfortable for me. When you learn them at a young age you learn them for life,' he explained. 'I competed until I was ten, but all the records were lost when the Communists were overthrown in 1989.'

I was going to ask Florin more about the flip, but he furrowed his brow and began to speak very seriously. He had something he wanted to get off his chest.

'So, I want to say that sometimes in the newspapers I see a lot of nice words about me. I don't know if I deserve it. I like this, but I believe I have to be more modest. I am happy for this, but I know this is how English people like to talk about their players. I'm not as good as they say exactly. Against Basingstoke I did not play very well so I find it embarrassing, this "magic of Pelecaci."'

Having been one of the people who had written about how well Florin had played against Basingstoke, I was surprised. He continued:

'Too many nice words and I played a shit game. I can play better than this.'

Florin was adamant that Bath City fans have not seen him play at his best yet. Considering how impressed City fans have been, they will consider this good news. It was apparent to me that Florin drives himself very hard, and he is not happy unless he performs at his best.

Like Sido, Florin finds the style of play in the lower English leagues frustrating. Speaking of clubs in Romania he said, 'We like to put the ball down every time. It doesn't' matter if you are defending or not, we try to put it down and try to pass. But here it is very difficult for me because the play here is not my style. Every time they try to hit it with their heads and I don't know exactly what to do. You don't have space and you start to get nervous. Sometimes I am not able to concentrate when the ball comes to me because I am not in the game [because of the ball being in the air so much]. But I hope it will get better.

'[Bath City] has such good players, technical players, I do not know why we play this way. Why when it was 3-0 do we not put the ball down? When the game is 1-0 [in Romania] we pass to try and keep the ball away from the other team to disrupt their rhythm. It is not the style in England, although the English style is also good.'

I asked Florin to tell me about his career before Bath City. His first real success was with Gloria Bistriţa, where he played in the Intertoto Cup. In 2006 he signed for Unirea Urziceni, where he played under former Chelsea star Dan Petrescu ('you played for Dan Petrescu?!' I asked). At the end of the season Florin was approached by another club, Progresul Bucureşti. 'Dan said to stay at Unirea,' he explained, 'but I preferred another team for much more money.' Soon after his signing, however, Progresul began to have money problems and he was released. Progresul were soon after ejected from the Romanian league for financial reasons.

He then spent one season with Diósgyőri VTK, where he was plagued with injuries (all of which, he assured me, are well behind him). But he did have one spectacular moment: a goal from the halfway line a la David Beckham. I asked him to tell me how it happened.

'I had been man of the match in the game before, but I started on the bench. At the end of the first half DVTK were losing 3-0. I was put in at forty-six minutes. I saw that the keeper was out of position so I tried to score. Too many times I tried to score like this, but this time it went in. I scored again a few minutes later but I was ruled offside. The final score was 3-2.' (you can see the goal here).

Sido rejoined us, and as the FA Cup draw was to take place the following day, I asked who they would most like to draw in the next round. They were both unanimous: the best team possible.

Sido said, 'Against good teams I always play well. Against bad teams, I don't know. I played well against Newport.'

They both preferred to at least a League 1 side. League 2 clubs, they believed, play the same style as in the Conference South.

I changed the subject and asked them what they thought of the Bath City fans. I was surprised to find out that this is a subject that both Florin and Sido feel strongly about. They were both adamant that their experience with English fans is very different from what they have experienced previously.

'I can feel the fans are so close,' Florin explained. 'I felt I did not play well, but everyone clapped. It's so nice to have fans behind you. It is the most important thing in football. Without fans you play for nothing.'

Florin then explained how he meant this literally. 'Fans give you the reason to fight. In Romania we have teams in the second division with no fans at all. It is so sad to see. They don't come to the game.'

I asked Sido what he thought of the Portuguese flag with his name on it that is hung at every match. He beamed with pride. 'When I score I will go to the flag,' he said.

I asked Florin if he would like a Romanian flag. 'Yes, of course. When I heard he had a Portuguese flag flown for him I was so surprised. So nice, so nice. It means the fans love him and it is important for him.'

At this point I began to run out of questions. I think it was a loss of nerve more than anything. I finished by asking Florin what he prefers being called. I had heard the players refer to him as 'Pele' and 'Dan.' Sido called him 'Florence' in one of his emails to me. He said he answered to all of these, but 'my game is important, not my name.' I thought this summed up Florin very well. He is very nice, very approachable, but very focused.

I thanked them both profusely for talking to me, especially Sido. He graciously offered to arrange interviews with anyone else from the team. He seemed to really mean this.

I walked back to my car feeling slightly giddy. The whole experience had been way out of my comfort zone and very different from what I expected. I had thought I would get a few minutes at best and that I would only get polite, pat answers to my questions. Instead I had spent nearly half an hour with two genuinely friendly and helpful people. Meeting your heroes is supposed to be disappointing. I am pleased to say, though, that if your heroes are either Sido Jombati or Florin Pelecaci this will not be the case.

4 comments:

  1. Saints Fan (Paul)5 November 2009 23:52

    Not bad for your first interview with a footballer! Even though I'm not a Bath City supporter, I found it very interesting. I felt both your nerves and your excitement as I read this!

    Still really enjoying the blog. Keep it up!

    Cheers,
    Saints Fan (Paul).

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  2. Excellent stuff Ned.

    Wouldn't it be great to see them both on a lap of honour at Blundell Park tomorrow

    Pete McC

    City Fan

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  3. Ivor (Mountaineer).24 January 2010 01:29

    As a Truro City fan

    Thank you, I must read more when time permits.

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  4. Very useful - hope he lives up to your billing at home tomorrow - we need to turn around our form at home.

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