Home Global Game Europe Tomer the Rover: Canadian keeper Chencinski opens up about his decision move to Ireland

Tomer the Rover: Canadian keeper Chencinski opens up about his decision move to Ireland

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Tomer Chencinski is one of the most lay-it-on-the-table, honest players in Canadian soccer. After his Helsingborgs side was relegated out of the Swedish top flight, he accepted an offer to make the move to Ireland, where he’ll feature this season for Shamrock Rovers.

Rovers is the most decorated side in the League of Ireland, and wants to get back to championship form. Chencinski, who has played for Toronto FC, in USL, in Sweden, Finland (including a short stint with, yup, FC Santa Claus) and Israel, offers the Irish side a veteran presence — a keeper who can not only stop shots, but is great with the ball at his feet.

But, a lot of personal and family reflection into making the move to Ireland.

In this extended interview, Chencinski talks about his much-travelled career, why he and his wife decided Ireland would be the place to be, and how he would love one day to return home to play in the Canadian Premier League. Thanks to Tomer for taking the time to speak at length. And, for those new to what we do, this gives insight into the kind of Canadian stories we like to tell with The 11 and Plastic Pitch.

On why he made the move to Ireland:

“I know there was interest when I was in Helsingborg, but I really didn’t want to leave. But, with everything that happened at the end of the season, with the relegation, it was really tough and the club was in a very difficult spot — financially. The club asked me if I could help out in a certain way, and we came to basically what was an amicable decision that I think was best for everybody — that was to for me to find a new opportunity and move on. So, I moved on to Shamrock. I spoke to the gaffer over here and he told me what his plans are and where he sees me in the system and he basically sold me on the idea. It’s the biggest club in Ireland. They’re the most successful historical club in the league and, over the last three or four years, they haven’t been as good as they’ve need to be, but, this year he’s basically changing a lot of things. The whole idea this year is to win it. He told me he sees me with my experience and my expertise and leadership, what he expects from me in terms of being one of the leaders and one of the captains and it’s something that really fits what I want to do right now.”’

This is what coach Stephen Bradley told the Rovers’ official website when Chencinski’s signing was made official: “We’re delighted to sign Tomer Chencinski, we’ve been working hard on this one for the past few weeks now, and he’s a player that we’ve been really keen to get. He (Tomer) has played in a lot of good leagues and he has a lot of experience which is something we’re delighted about. He’s an international goalkeeper and a very good goalkeeper all round. He’s very comfortable on the ball at his feet, which is good. He’s a really great addition and he’ll bring a calm influence to the back four.”

Helsingborgs, who have won seven Swedish titles, is regarded as one of that nation’s top clubs. Last year, managed by Swedish soccer legend Henrik Larsson, the club finished 14th, and lost a relegation playoff to Halmstad. Chencinski, though he played in 19 matches in the season, didn’t start in either of the playoff games — American Matt Pyzdrowski did. The reaction to the loss was severe. Larsson got threats. Fans attacked Jordan Larsson, Henrik’s son. How hard was it to deal with a relegation that not only shocked a nation?

“It was very dark. They were very tough time and, listen, at the end of the day, we’re all on the same page. We all want the same things. We all want success. We had a very good team but, unfortunately, sometimes things didn’t click. It was just a very tough scenario at the end, with how all the pieces fell. I think that it was tough for many players; players who grew up in the city, players who grew up with the club; and fans and the organization. It wasn’t something that anybody expected or anybody ever thought of in their worst nightmares. The fact that it happened was a real shock and it was shock to everybody — and people didn’t know just how to deal with it. Some people expressed it in the absolutely most terrible and tragic way, and that’s just unfortunate.”

The Irish league is known for a direct style; will the Canadian keeper — who has one career senior cap — have to adjust his game?

“In Sweden, it can also be very direct, though it is becoming more and more technical. In Ireland, just looking at my team, I know that in the League of Ireland it is direct, in terms of changing of how I am as a keeper, I don’t think I have to change very much. The gaffer brought me in here for a reason; they scouted me, they looked at me, they spoke to the coaches they saw my video and they know my style of play. For the team and what we want to do, they brought me in because of my skill set. I like to play high, I like to use my feet and I am very good with my distribution and with the control and playing almost as a sweeper-keeper — and being commanding, being a leader and being good in the air.”

“Sweeper-keeper” is an interesting term. Saves are what make the highlight reels, but to be a successful keeper, a player has to do more than stop shots. A good keeper is an organizer, is good in the air and must be a good distributor of the ball. Unfortunately, those are the parts of the game that a lot of fans miss…

“In the modern game we have today, goalkeepers have to be playing almost like a last man. The style of play is different. The players are quicker. The players are stronger. The ball is different. Keepers have to get involved, because if all he does is play inside the 16-metre box, I think they need to get more use out of him. Take some of the best goalkeepers in the world, take Manuel Neuer, he’s like the epitome of the sweeper-keeper right now. In terms of ter Stegen at Barcelona, in terms of using his feet, he’s one of the best. I think it’s very important for goalkeepers, especially young goalkeepers, to know that the game is evolving. We as goalkeepers have to know we are playing in the modern game and are being modern players. We have to be involved in the game and not just react. There’s a difference between reacting and being involved. If you’re reacting, you’re basically already one step behind, where as if you can read the play, you’re one step ahead.

“But there’s a difference. In terms of a fan, all you do is look at the score. 5-4. Wow. Or a goalkeeper, maybe they lose 1-0, and it’s ‘oh, why did they give up that goal?’ But maybe they didn’t even watch the game and understand that the goalkeeper saved it from being a 4-0 match, a 6-0 match. That’s the difference between being a fan and actually being involved in the game and understanding what is the role of the goalkeeper. Of course, it’s ‘don’t let the ball into the back of the net’ but what about starting the game? What about being involved in the game? What about helping the team in terms of stopping that breakaway? Imagine there’s a through ball, the keeper needs to come out and if he doesn’t come out it’s a one-v-one. In a one-v-one situation, the player has the advantage. But if you’re a keeper playing a little higher up and you’re able to slide for the ball in that last metre, in order to poke that ball away, you just saved almost a sure goal. But maybe a fan isn’t going to remember that action versus a striker scoring a goal.

“I didn’t become a goalkeeper in order to get the praise. Then, I would have been a striker; because if you’re a striker, you get the goal, you’re the hero. When you win the game 1-0, most of the time it’s the striker who scored the goal that did amazing. When you lose the game, it’s ‘oh the goalkeeper could have done better.’

“It’s almost like double-edged sword. That’s where the coaches come in — proper coaching and proper scouting to look at goalkeepers. Do they do the right thing, like playing with their feet? Sure, we need to be good shot-stoppers, but there are so many keepers in the world who are great shot-stoppers. But the difficult things to find is ‘can you read the game properly?’ ‘Do you know when to come out of goal and when to stay?’ What if you run out like a chicken without its head, and the player says ‘thank you’ and just pushes it past you from 30 metres out and then he can tap the ball into the open net? It’s about reading the game, it’s not just about shot-stopping. Knowing when to involve yourself and knowing when to let the game come to you.”

Chencinski knew there was interest from Shamrock Rovers, but did he look at other options before making the move to Ireland? (Note, in following answer,  notice how many times he says “we” instead of “I” in referring to his family. A lot of times, fans don’t always think of the human/family factors that are involved in players’ decisions on whether or not they’ll move or extend their playing careers.)

“Honestly, I didn’t know exactly if it was going to be Ireland or not. The only think I was considering is that my wife is pregnant, so it something that her and I talked about and I wanted to make sure it was something that was comfortable and good for her. So, if there was if some interest in North America, we were thinking about that. And we were thinking about Ireland. So we were thinking maybe, OK, we do another year in Europe and see how it goes. At the end of the day, we do want to move back, we do want to live in Canada, and we do want to raise our family there. At some point, we need to say ‘OK, it’s time for us to move back’ but  I wasn’t ready to go back yet. So we wanted to stay in Europe and this was a very good opportunity. It’s the biggest club here, it’s a club that’s going for a championship, it’s a club that is going to play in European qualification matches. And it’s another adventure. Most of the footballers are not making millions of dollars where they are basically going to retire after the age of 35, so this is something ticked a lot of the boxes. Ireland – a place we’ve never been to, let’s give it a shot.”

Chencinski spoke about the pressures of balancing family, having to move from country to country, and his hopes that the proposed Canadian Premier League will come to fruition.

“If you’re not in the game, then you don’t understand. I’m not meaning that in a negative way, but it’s the truth. People say ‘why did you move?’ ‘I needed a new opportunity.’ ‘Why didn’t you just stay?’ Maybe I wanted to stay, maybe I didn’t. But, sometimes, you can’t stay. Or sometimes you have to move. I’ve moved to a lot of places in my career and, maybe some people look at that in a negative way, but if you go and speak to all my coaches and the clubs that I’ve played at, no one would say one negative thing about me. I’ve always moved forward. Whether it was that I signed for two years and then I transferred after one year, I always did it so I could move forward in my career. Whether it was in the football sense or the personal sense, I always did it try and get better. Sometimes, people don’t understand that. I make sure what is best for me and my family. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do.

“I would love to [return to Canada], maybe in terms of MLS or the Canadian Premier League. I know that league is starting in 2018, and that’s something that’s very interesting for me and my wife as well. She’d be ecstatic to move back home. We’ve been together, this is basically our fourth country together. She loves the experience and loves living in Europe but, at the same time, she misses her family just like I do. I left to the U.S. when I was 18, to go to school. It’s been almost 15 years since I lived at home. It’s difficult, being away from friends, being away from family. Being able to come back home is something I really want to do. Playing, and then at some point make my way to coaching or something with the academy. I’ve done some of the coaching licences, my badges.”

We all know Canadian players who haven’t been able to prolong their careers, as they can’t find work at U.S. teams, or contracts in lower leagues don’t pay enough when you have a wife and kids. Sometimes, players have to abandon their careers because real life comes calling, not because they’ve lost their competitive fire. Chencinski feels for many the many Canadians who haven’t been able to extend their careers.

“It’s a shame that we as Canadians don’t have opportunities like they have in other countries. Being a Canadian player and making my way to Europe, I wasn’t the most technically gifted goalkeeper or something like that. But if somebody said ‘no you’re not good enough’ I said ‘no problem.’ I moved them to the side, and thought — who is the next person who can help me? My mentality is to never give up, and that’s something I’ve been born with. But it’s difficult,for us as Canadian players, the comparison would be a skier from Nigeria. You want to be a professional skier and you come from Nigeria — how am I going to become one? The system in Canada right now is not helpful and it doesn’t assist players to become professional. It’s not like Europe, of course, but in the U.S. more and more you can get homegrown players. You can get into academies. It’s much easier for a player for the U.S. to go to Europe than it is from Canada.

“Think about the size of Canada. And, honestly, how many professional teams do we have in Canada? Just five? Six? Seven? (Ed. note: The fact that Chencinski is lamenting the soccer landscape by overestimating just how many teams we have in this country is a sad thing unto itself.)

“So how do you want to develop players, how do you want to develop the national team, if you have five professional teams in the country when you can take a small country like Iceland, which in the first division have 12 teams. In the second division they have another 12 teams. So, just in the top two divisions, they have 24 professional teams.  Take a look at another small country and compare it to all of North America. How many fully professional teams do we have in all of North America? Is it 50? If you take England, just the Premiership and the Championship you have that many teams. It’s a shame. It’s difficult to develop players. Jason (Jason deVos, Canada Soccer’s new director of development), I know that with his vision that’s going to help develop things. Victor (Montagliani) now being with CONCACAF is going to help. So the game is starting to pick up. But 20 to 25 years ago our national team was better than the U.S. national team.”

“There’s a lot of guys on the national team who, unfortunately, don’t have jobs, who get called in — and I’ve never seen that before. I’m not saying ‘oh why am I not getting called in?’ I’m not even thinking about that. I feel that we have guys who can play football and should have jobs, but don’t. Why?”

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