As FARPost continues to bring you closer to South African footballers playing abroad Prince Sobayeni caught up with Crystal Palace defender Nikola Tavares who is all the way in London to talk about his journey so far.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: Nik, thanks for joining us how has it been over there brother?.
NIKOLA TAVARES: “Hello Prince thanks for having me it’s been good I’ve settled in well since moving over all those years ago so I’m good thanks.”
PRINCE SOBAYENI: So how did the whole football journey begin bro how did you even end up at Palace?
NIKOLA TAVARES: “Its been a long journey that started in Cape Town in my early playing days before I moved over when I was 14. My family moved over with me which I’m very grateful for so yeah I’ve been pushing hard ever since and it’s been great I’m the captain of the U23s now – it’s been good I can’t complain. I started playing when I was four. I started off at AOB Football Club until I was 13 then I moved over to Old Mutual Academy before moving to my final club, Hellenic FC, before moving abroad. The funny thing is I wasn’t scouted playing for any of these clubs I was scouted in a schools tournament more like a samba tournament so a scout saw me there by luck and told me he would like me to come over to England for a trial. He then watched me for a few more games after that before deciding that he wanted me over which just shows you that the greatest gifts aren’t presented in such a straight forward way.”
“A few weeks from there we were in England with my dad who stayed with me in a hotel for a month as I had a trial with Reading FC where I would go train a couple of times a week. As time went on I had interest from two clubs Brentford and Crystal Palace so I had to take a decision on whether I sign for any of the clubs or go back home in South Africa so I decided to challenge myself and sign so here so here I am.”
PRINCE SOBAYENI: How did the process of you establishing yourself to even becoming a captain unfold?
NIKOLA TAVARES: “I’ve been here for a few years now so I started off steadily playing under a few senior players as a young member of the squad then a season later you find yourself as a senior player with players leaving, being promoted and sometimes being injured. I think they made me captain because of my work ethic and how I push everyone around me so I could say they saw me as quite a leader that’s what I think made them make that decision and I’ve never looked back since then.”
PRINCE SOBAYENI: How much of the SA game do you follow ?
NIKOLA TAVARES: “Not really but I keep up with my former coaches and teammates to see how they are doing and their progress but in terms of the local league it’s not so easy to follow when you are this side.”
PRINCE SOBAYENI: You are quite a big guy how tall are you bro?
NIKOLA TAVARES: ” I’m actually six foot one so I’m quite big that’s actually one of my strong attributes I’m big, strong and fast.”
PRINCE SOBAYENI: I understand internationally you qualify for three countries; South Africa, Portugal and Croatia so in terms of international representation what’s the story there?
NIKOLA TAVARES: ” Yeah I actually qualify for three countries my mom is Croatian, father Portuguese but I was born and raised in South Africa so yeah. I’ve actually played for Croatia with their U19 and their U20 sides which was a privilege for me – my family is there. For me I will grab whatever opportunity comes but I would love to play for South Africa if I’m called up.”
PRINCE SOBAYENI: What’s your thinking in terms of your chances in the first team of Palace?
NIKOLA TAVARES: “There are quite a few centre backs in the squad but I just have to work hard and in the next year I hope to be able to make my mark in the first team because I need to play first team football next season.”
PRINCE SOBAYENI: What’s the difference in structure and the professional set up that side compared to South Africa?
NIKOLA TAVARES: ” In England it’s more about the tactical part of the game where everyone knows their job whereas in South Africa it’s more about the flair and the skill so that’s the difference. They also emphasise on bulking up so you go to the gym a few times a week like myself personally I push myself more I know it will pay off in a few years from now .”
The 21-year-old centre back recently came back from an injury which took him out for a few months and made his come back in February for Crystal Palace U23. He was also named in South Africa’s 2019 AFCON squad by coach Stuart Baxter last year but he couldn’t come due to paperwork issues. The centre back has also been named in Coach David Notoane’s preliminary Olympics squad for the Tokyo Olympics which will now be held in July of 2021 after being moved due to the coronavirus.
By Prince Sobayeni