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Chris Young (Tor Star): Soccer's Captain Canada


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From The Toronto Star:

Soccer's Captain Canada

Londoner Jason de Vos shares his feelings on golf, chocolate and what he misses most about home



He's a lumberjack and he's okay, he sleeps all night and he works all day.

"Yeah, I get that now and again," Jason de Vos says with a wry smile.

When you're a strapping red brushcut-headed giant of a footballer — check that, soccer player — at work in the heartland of England's rough-and-ready First Division, and hailing from Canada, of all places, you will hear that from the singers in the stands. That, and a lot more.

But that season is done and de Vos, 30, is back home for a few weeks before another round of pre-season training in the Old Country with his brand new club, Ipswich Town, starting June 28. Much as he'd like to be hiking or golfing, it's hardly a vacation, with the 6-foot-4 central defender back wearing his Captain Canada suit on a men's side that started its World Cup 2006 qualifying campaign this week with a two-game set against Belize.

We caught up with the Londoner — as in London, Ont. — as he packed his bag for Canada's latest try at World Cup glory.

Q So what've you packed for this trip — any good books?

A Before, it'd be economics books. I used to spend a lot of time studying — I'm still doing my university degree. But when my daughter was born I decided to put that on hold for a little while, because I want to spend as much time as I can with her. So coming away on these trips, I do a bit of reading for pleasure. I've got a Tom Clancy that I'm halfway through. Here's a James Patterson. Lee Child. Mindless entertainment.

Q What are you studying?

A I'm doing a degree in business and economics. To be honest, my focus of that is changing all the time, though, as I get older. Initially, my intention was to do a degree in business, go back to grad school and do an MBA. But as soon as I became a father, my priorities shifted extremely. I don't have my mind set on what I'm going to do when I'm finished playing soccer. I'll just have to play it by ear, wait and see what happens.

Q What sports did you play growing up?

A Like every Canadian kid I played hockey in the winter, and I started playing soccer in the summer. When I was in high school I wasn't allowed to play soccer for the school team — I was considered a professional player, I'd signed with the London Lasers when I was 16, in Grade 10. So I played every other sport, volleyball, basketball, badminton. I gave up hockey when I was 12 to concentrate on football, or soccer as it's called here.

Q You're from London. Ever get kidded about that, or kid your teammates about it?

A Some of the less educated ones are surprised there is even a London, Ontario. The big thing you get kidded on when you're a Canadian soccer player, the first question they always ask is where's your hockey stick? They just kind of assume we all play hockey and we all live in igloos over here.

Q What is your favourite sport, besides football?

A Obviously, hockey's a big one for me, I've always enjoyed hockey. I enjoy all sports, to be honest. I love golf — I would play every day if I could.

Q What's your handicap?

A When I was single and I could play three or four times a week, I was playing off about a 10. Now, with our daughter taking up a lot of my time I'm probably about a 15, 16.

Q When you were a young man making your way, was there one instance or memorable moment that you recall as really opening your eyes?

A When I was 19 and I played in Montreal, I managed to arrange to go on loan to Charlton Athletic in England, in the First Division. That was a real eye-opener to me. To go at a young age and see what it's like to be a professional player — see how much hard work was involved — it really raised my awareness.

Q And yet George Best is one of the celebrated heroes of the game, a guy who had no work ethic.

A He's a good example, actually. He retired at 27. Could you imagine if he applied himself in a professional manner, what he could have achieved?

Q What do you do on vacation?

A I don't get vacations. Normally if I didn't have any commitments with Canada, I'd get about six weeks off, from the last game of the season to the start of the pre-season. What I tend to do is I'll take two weeks off and just rest completely and let my body heal ... Then I'll start training again.

Q Are you a beach guy?

A Not really. My wife is more in tune with laying out in the sun. I've always been a little bit bored by that, to be honest. I'd rather do something — play golf, or go hiking.

Q What's the best soccer chant you've heard?

A When I was playing at Charlton, there was a lad named Peter Garland who was a pretty heavyset guy. He didn't look like an athlete, he looked quite overweight, to be honest. He got subbed off and the crowd as he was walking to the dressing room started singing "Who Ate All the Pies?" So he pulled his shirt up and wriggled his belly in response. You hear some pretty good ones over there, none of which I could repeat for a family newspaper like yours.

Q What about you, do you get them?

A From opposing fans you get references to Mounties. Lumberjack, I get that now and again.

Q Who's the most famous person you ever met?

A Probably Pele. I met him when I was playing in Vancouver with the under-20 team in the qualifiers for the youth World Cup. I got to shake his hand. I've met a few people but it's not something I've ever really been impressed with — at the end of the day they're just people, normal people.

Q What's your guilty pleasure?

A I love chocolate, not Mars bars or things like that, but pure chocolate, like Belgian chocolate. I absolutely love it. I have to train pretty hard to make sure it doesn't affect me.

Q When you come back here to Canada after a season, what is the one thing that hits you that you've missed, the thing that you have to have?

A It's just the way of life. My wife's from Vancouver, I'm from Ontario, and we're probably going to live out in Vancouver when we come back to Canada. People are much healthier here. There's more opportunity to live a healthier lifestyle in Canada, I find.

Q If you could change one thing about modern football what would it be?

A I would change the fact that it is such a business. It's run like a business. There's no commitment to players any more from a club in terms of looking after them and showing them the level of commitment they show in return. I can only look at my own experience as an example. Playing for Wigan the last three years, my contract was coming up for renewal and I was really disappointed in the way the club handled the whole thing. They looked at it as a purely business decision — how much money were they willing to offer me, and they never once considered the fact that I played four months with a broken foot last year to get us to win the championship. Things like that — it doesn't seem to be a two-way street any more.

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