Q & A With Catalin Lichioiu

Written by Admin on . Posted in Features & Interviews, News & Features

Catalin Lichioiu Kingston, Ont. Thursday, October 31st, 2013 – To watch Catalin Lichioiu play soccer in a Kingston FC uniform today is a privilege, and not just because of his talent. He’s traveled from Moldova to Spain and back again, and his career as a soccer journeyman was nearly cut short several times. Despite setbacks, not to mention the demands of continuously standing out amongst millions of talented players in Europe, Lichioiu has played professional soccer since he was 17 years old.

Kingston FC‘s Peter Morrow caught up with the man who was recently nominated alongside Kingston FC teammates Guillaume Surot and Jason Massie for the CSL’s 2013 season MVP Award. Since his arrival in Canada this past spring, Lichioiu has provided a veteran presence on a mostly younger Kingston FC side. He is also gaining acclaim as one of the most talented set piece specialists to ever play in the CSL. Prior to arriving in Canada, his time spent in “the jungle” of Eastern Europe’s professional soccer scene was rewarding, but by no means easy.

Morrow: How did you spend your first years as a soccer professional?

Lichioiu: In my hometown of Brasov, Romania. When I was 17, I started for the Third Division team, quickly moved up to the Second Division and played there for two more years. It was pretty cool, they know their football there. They see you in practice and games from the age of 13 and 14, and they give a lot of chances to young players. But eventually I had some issues with the President – I wanted to leave and he didn’t want me to.

I remember I was 18, trembling and shaking at practices because he was so hard on me. But he still believed in me, he played me in games and after that I got some offers. So I decided I wanted to go, but I was still under contract. He basically said, if you leave, your football career will end and you will be sorry.

Morrow: How did that get resolved?

Lichioiu: In a way, I was ready to quit football, but I still knew I didn’t want to. I didn’t play for around eight months. But soon I went to Moldova, a neighbour country with Romania. I started practicing with a team, and I saw there was possibility there. So I went back to Romania and told them I found a team. The level was relatively low but it didn’t matter, I really wanted to go.

And they said, ‘OK, but you understand we need some money to release you.’ When I asked how much, they told me 5,000 Euros. So, I borrowed some money and I paid it because I was young and I wanted to play. I borrowed it and I didn’t know how I would pay it back, but I knew I was capable of playing good football. I took a shot. I paid the money, they gave me the documents and I started playing in Moldova – played there for three and a half years.

Morrow: You made a few more team – and country – changes afterwards?

Lichioiu: Yes, I played in Ukraine for three years. It was great, we played in the European Cup, but eventually a point arrived when I knew I had to move on. Again I was a top scorer but there was a coaching change and my place in the team wasn’t the same. Basically, once my contract ended I moved to a team in Kazakhstan and played a year over there as well.

Morrow: You suffered a devastating injury at some point – when did that happen?

Lichioiu: It’s an interesting story. After Kazakhstan I came home to Romania during the off-season. Kind of funny, looking back – I was just playing indoors with some friends, something happened and suddenly I tore some ligaments.

At first I didn’t think it was serious. My agent sent me to Antalya in Turkey – a pre-season camp for players. I was there with a team, and I was supposed to sign a contract. My knee was in bad condition but I tried to push through it. The first game we played, I couldn’t do it. One bad move and it was broken. I put some injections in my knee and I tried to tell myself it would work – but it did nothing. So I went home, and I was destroyed. I tried an MRI, went to three doctors. One of them told me that I needed surgery badly, but two of them, including the best in Romania, told me I was fine and didn’t need surgery. The cruciatel ligaments, they explained, weren’t broken but just damaged.

Morrow: How did you recover from that?

Lichioiu: I worked hard. I went to the gym and ran every day for months, it was crazy. After seven months I took a ball to juggle, and I felt the exact same pain. After that I made a lot of calls, I invested a lot of money and I searched for a good doctor in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. This one doctor, after two minutes examined my ankle and told me it was broken. So I got surgery and went to Spain to recover, because they have good facilities, and spent eight months there. All the money from my own pocket that I worked four years for was all spent towards this recovery.

But I didn’t want to quit. It’s been all football for me since I was four years old. I told myself it wasn’t time, I’m too young and it’s too early to quit. I needed to play. But this kind of surgery was 50/50, in other words half the players who receive this surgery quit and the other half plays. And even if they play they’re playing only at 50 percent. Ligaments are the worst kind of injury for football players.

So I recovered, made some calls to Moldova because they’re willing to help me there. They had a spot for me there, they know me and respect me, and were willing to help me. First two months, I went to pre-camp in Antalya (Turkey) with the team. We had sprints and jumps in the sand… my god, I wanted to quit. Three practices per day. Normally I’m tough, I don’t care about a few bumps and bruises. But at one moment I left, I went to my room, I put ice on my ankle and I said, “Please don’t tell me this is the end.” I didn’t want to admit it was over, but the pain was unbelievable.

But I kept going, I ended up pushing through it. At one point, I was depressed when I thought about quitting football. It was my dream to play since I was four years old. I couldn’t sleep at night after the surgery, before and after. I thought, ‘OK, so I’m 28 and quitting football… What am I going to do? No school, no university, no nothing. No experience, nothing.’ My resume was just clubs and trophies.

Morrow: What was your next move?

Lichioiu: I wished to get out of Romania, so step by step I started to play. The coach trusted me, and I played for that team for six months and then another Moldovan team bought me. There I played with Vitaliy Sidorov who played for Kingston FC last year, and that’s where we first met. We made a connection and after that he left, because he wanted to play somewhere else. He sent some resumes to different agencies. I stayed here in Moldova, but we kept in touch. He came to Canada, told me about Kingston, and he was like “it’s okay here, you should try it out.”

I spoke to Lorne Abugov of Kingston FC, gave him a call and gave him my resume. I wanted to be in this part of the world – I travel a lot, I’ve been to Asia and all over Europe but I really wanted to see North America. I didn’t know anything about Canada, or about the CSL.

Morrow: Now that you’re here, how would you rate your experience with Kingston FC?

Lichioiu: It’s cool, I enjoy it here. At first I had to observe things, figure things out and see what’s happening, and then I’d make decisions. Now, I see the team and all the players are all amazing, especially outside of football. It’s so important to have that on a team, and we have that here.

Morrow: Since you’ve arrived, what have been the biggest differences in the way the game is played? What does Canada need to work on?

Lichioiu: It all starts in the youth, with kids, and the coaching here is much different. When I was 10, every single day it was about getting a feel for the ball. Juggling, passing almost every single day. Football is about discipline and you can learn a lot of things from it. How not to be selfish, how to eat, how to dress, even from that age. There are a lot of things, and it goes beyond just practice.

In Europe, there are so many talented kids it’s unbelievable. But it’s all about the brain, how you’re going to teach them to use the talent, because the talent can vanish in an instant if you’re not smart about it. So here, they need to learn the concept of football, why you need to make certain runs. Coaches need to be able to stop the training session and say, ‘OK here’s what you do.’

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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