INTERVIEW: RICARDO ROCHA
Mon 21 May 2007, 12:00|Tottenham Hotspur
A small scar just south of Ricardo Rocha's left eye will most likely provide a permanent reminder of his introduction to English football.
A small scar just south of Ricardo Rocha's left eye will most likely provide a permanent reminder of his introduction to English football.The souvenir of his welcome to the game in this country came in the first half of the Portuguese international's first outing in a Spurs shirt against Southend United in the FA Cup towards the end of January at the Lane.
Ricardo carried with him an uncompromising reputation from his time at former club Benfica that suggested he was no stranger to the physical combat that is not uncommon, particularly in cup football, within these shores. So it was perhaps to be expected that the 28-year-old was pretty much unfazed by the flailing arm that caused his welcome wound.
The central defender actually seemed more concerned by the ribbing suffered by the club doctor due to the fact that evidence of his speedy needlework is still visible today.
"He had to insert the stitches in two minutes to get me back into the game so he couldn't do anything about it."
Ricardo suspected he had done his homework on what he could anticipate in coping with the nature and intensity of encounters of the Premiership kind. A fluent English speaker, he was a keen student of our football via television coverage in his homeland.
However, he pointed out, perception and reality are perhaps a long-distance Robbo clearance apart.
"It is so different! From what we see on television we think football in England is amazing but when you come here on play it is much more amazing than you imagine.
"The two teams fight for the ball all the time and always go all out for victory in games, the game is so fast and everyone gives everything to get the ball.
"It could be called a shock, but in a positive way."
Off the pitch, positive appears to the word that would best describe his settling-in process. Ricardo did not hang about in finding a home for his family, who were able to quickly join him and he seems pretty content with life in his new environment.
"First of all I am feeling okay, my family is enjoying living here, so that is the beginning of everything going well. I've played a few games, things are getting good for me and for the team, and all is fine.
"I think having my family settled is the most important thing. Lots of people here at Tottenham helped me with that and after only two days I found a house and bought them over.
"Then I was able to focus completely on training well, playing well and trying to help the club.
"Everything is normal for me here and I have been lucky because the weather has been fantastic since I arrived - it has been like Lisbon! I have no problem driving out and going everywhere, I also go to the park with my kids and it is fantastic here.
"The traffic is amazing, but in a bad way! It is okay though, everyone has to get to their jobs and get around."
The fact that he joined up in January, Ricardo considers an advantage from which he will benefit next season. It has enabled him to bed in and familiarise himself with everything ahead of his first full campaign, as well as also enjoying a fair bit of playing time due to the defensive injuries suffered this term.
"I think so because everyone tells me that players who come from other countries take six months to one year to adapt. I came in January and because of some injuries I had to play and learn quickly about the game and get to know my teammates.
"It made me learn fast about the way we play, the way we speak to each other and the way things are in England. So it was good to get playing quickly."
Of course, playing towards the end of the season meant switching to the relatively alien territory of the left flank, where he has been on patrol at full-back in the absence of Lee Young-Pyo and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
It is a position he occupied for a spell in an emergency at Benfica and was happy to do so again, but he admits he does not possess the natural attributes of a wide player.
"It is not easy," he conceded. "I played there a few years ago for Benfica when we had a similar situation to here with the left-backs being injured and I played there for almost a year - but it was a few years ago!
"When the manager said he would put me there, I said 'no problem' but it is very different from playing centre half. I do it for the club and it is fine with me," he continued, adding that a defend-first policy had to come into play.
"It is difficult to push on because I don't have the skills to do that. My partners defend well so I can do it sometimes, but the main thing is to do my best."