Northern Ireland

Armagh teen lives Brazilian football dream

Ronaldinho
Image caption Porto Alegre FC is owned by Ronaldinho's brother

"We're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland, but it's all the same to me" is the chant of choice for football fans of the Northern Ireland international team.

It is a song that will soon have particular resonance for County Armagh teenager Ciaran Ryan.

The 18-year-old is poised to sign for the Brazilian team Porto Alegre FC which is owned by AC Milan superstar Ronaldinho's brother Roberto de Assis Moreira.

It is an unprecedented move for a Northern Irish footballer, let alone a youth team player with only four months' experience at a club in the country's second division, championship side Loughgall FC.

Porto Alegre participates in the football league of the Rio Grande do Sul state in Brazil, which includes Gremio, the double winners of South America's most prestigious club competition - the Copa Libertadores.

Ciaran's coach at Loughgall FC, Stephen Hatfield, explained the background to the transfer which he said was already causing "excitement" in the country famed for its footballing skills.

He said it had resulted from the club's relationship with the Marcet Foundation, an international football development programme aimed at improving individual technique and education.

"It is a global foundation with networks around the world and set-ups in the likes of Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Italy etc," he said.

"It is an association that selects kids and places them in different environments in the world to develop their football.

"Earlier this year, we took 11 players from places such as Brazil, Spain, the USA and New Zealand, they played for Loughgall's under-18s and reserves initially.

"The manager of the Marcet Foundation programme in Northern Ireland is Thiago Denardin, he has links with football in Brazil and is very friendly with Ronaldinho's brother Roberto de Assis Moreira.

"He went back to Brazil in October to start structuring the move to Porto Alegre after watching Ciaran for two to three weeks at Loughgall with the programme.

"Thiago says Ciaran will be the first Northern Ireland player ever to play professional football in Brazil and it is causing a lot of excitement."

Duncan Ferguson

The coach said he had spotted the player's potential when he refereed a friendly game in June involving his former club Tandragee Rovers.

"He was playing central midfield, I asked him where he had come from and at the end of the game we exchanged phone numbers," he said.

He avoided comparisons with Brazilian football legends such as Pele or Zico when assessing his protege's capabilities and said his style was akin to former Scotland international Duncan Ferguson.

Image caption Ciaran Ryan is currently with Loughgall FC

"He is not a fantastically tall kid but his aerial strength is phenomenal for his height," he said.

"I would compare him to his great idol Duncan Ferguson, the former Everton forward.

"His strength on and off the ball is absolutely terrific and I think that has been a huge part in why they think he would fit into the Brazilian style, because while everyone likes to associate it with the glamorous samba style techniques, world football requires a certain amount of strength which Ciaran has in abundance."

Mr Hatfield said Ciaran had been expected to link up with Porto Alegre on 5 November, but this date was put back after he "picked up a knock at the end of October".

The Craigavon youngster, who can play as a midfielder or striker, will now jet out to Brazil at the end of the month.

"He was initially going to work with the youth team but after speaking to Thiago, they are keen for him to start training with the senior squad at Porto Alegre," Steven added.

"Thiago has enough belief in him.

"He can't sign the one-year contract until he gets over there, but it is a pretty good package he is getting for an 18-year-old.

"Loughgall FC has waived any fee in terms of the transfer, if we can get him into full-time football, we are happy to do that."

Attractions

Financial reward is not on Ciaran's mind either as he prepares to embark on his footballing odyssey.

"The only thing I am interested in is getting over and fitting in with the team and playing," he said.

Friends and family will be hoping that he remains true to the motto of former club Tandragee Rovers amid the heady attractions of footballing life in South America.

"Disponendo me, non mutando me" roughly translates as, "You may displace me but you cannot change me."

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