Training in Canada is nothing new for goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. He spent six formative years in the city of Edmonton, Alberta, and they helped shape the man and the player he is today. Our new signing reminisces with the official Chelsea website…
When did you live in Canada?
Between 10 to 16 years old, so very important years and I have some great memories from the sporting side and made a lot of friends at school in that time. I still keep in touch with a few and that is nice.
Does Montreal remind you of Edmonton where you grew up?
It is nice to be back in Canada, I spent a good chunk of my life here and I have been to Montreal a couple of times so to be back and watch familiar TV and just see things like Tim Horton’s coffee shops, they remind me of my time in Canada and it is always nice to be back.
How did you come to spend those years in Canada?
Through a family decision. I was born in Bosnia and spent four years there but we were forced to move because of the war and we spent six years in Germany. Then my parents thought it was a good opportunity to move to Canada having learned from the experiences of other people who we were close with, and I think it was the right decision, we had a great time in Canada. My whole family has moved back to Europe since and I came to play football but it was a good period of time we spent there and I enjoyed it.
Is Edmonton where you learned English?
I knew a little bit of English, I learned some in school in Germany so I knew the basics, but it is definitely where I picked up the language more. You have to learn pretty quickly, especially when you start going to school.
Were you already on the path to being a football player when you lived in Germany?
Absolutely. My dream from a very young age when I started playing was to be a footballer and it didn’t change when I came to Canada. Football wasn’t the main sport like it is in Europe but it is what I wanted to do and what I stuck to, and thankfully I got a couple of lucky breaks and things worked out.
So no chance you might have changed to ice hockey?
I used to play a lot of the other sports. In the long winters we didn’t get as many chances to play football and I used to play basketball and volleyball quite a bit. I never got quite so involved in ice hockey because of the physical nature of the game. I played it with friends in the local rinks but I never got involved in organised hockey. I am a big fan and an Edmonton Oilers fan but I never played at a serious level.
It is one of my favourite sports to watch, it is just so fast-paced. It is physical but it is really fun to watch, especially live. Sometimes on TV doesn’t do it justice so to watch it live is pretty cool and I still try to follow it as much as I can.
You have the height for basketball.
I got to really like basketball. I played it first of all in school and then I started to play in some spring leagues as well but I never wanted it to interfere with football, that was always my first sport. So I couldn’t do it too much in the summer but I picked up a lot of good basketball skills and really liked the sport and who knows, I could have gone even further but once the time came I decided to focus on football and that was that.
I had a couple of opportunities to maybe go to universities through basketball and I think it maybe even helped my football with certain physical attributes it takes to play basketball, the jumping and the fitness. Sometimes I still play it just for a bit of fun.
What about the soccer culture in Canada?
It has definitely grown over the last few years. When I was growing up it was a sport that was very high in participation but getting the right qualified coaches was always difficult. I fell into the right hands at an early age, my dad was still a coach and I found a couple of local people from Edmonton who really took me under their wing and I was thankful for them. When I was playing we never had the next step whereas now you have three MLS teams in Canada and a couple more teams in the league below. When I came through my main option was to go to Europe and you couldn’t really play in Europe unless you had a European passport
Now they have their professional teams in Canada and their academies, we can get young players into better environments as soon as possible.
Having played for Canada Under-20s, you got very close to being a full Canadian international.
I did, I was in a couple of squads and even for World Cup qualifiers but I was never capped. Then I had the opportunity to play for Bosnia, my home country, and it is where my family feel closest to. For me it was a very tough decision at the time but I don’t regret it. I really love playing for Bosnia and I have huge affection for there. It wasn’t that I wasn’t close to Canada, it was just that for me I thought it was the overall best option.
Indeed you got to play in the World Cup for a start.
It has all worked out really well having played 40-odd games with some in the World Cups. Bosnia are top 25 to top 30 in the world rankings, matching ourselves against the best and Canada are around 100th place in the world, so it was different challenges and different levels.
Chelsea have had a Canadian goalkeeper in the past when Craig Forrest came on loan.
Really? Was he on loan from Ipswich or West Ham?
From Ipswich. He played three games in the 1996/97 season.
Craig is a good guy, I ran into him a few times back in my Canada days.
Finally, after your first three days with the Chelsea squad, how does it feel?
The experience has been fantastic. Great to be part of this group of guys and this team and they have all been really welcoming which I have enjoyed. Everyone from the coaching staff has been brilliant and the training has been great, so it is definitely a step up and the level is really high here. It is very demanding and I am loving the challenge and it is good to be a part of it.