Canadian-born soccer phenom – defensive midfielder to be precise – outgrows the competition on these shores as a teenager and heads for Germany, the Bundesliga, and the big time.
But Samuel Piette is certainly not about to compare himself to Owen Hargreaves – the Calgary native who went on to fame and fortune with England, Bayern Munich and Manchester United – but rather to someone a little closer to home.
“I talk with Julian de Guzman because he went to France and afterwards Germany, so maybe you can compare me to him,” the Repentigny, Que., native said of his fellow Canadian national team midfielder.
There’s little doubt the bilingual 17-year-old is following in the footsteps of the Toronto FC stalwart.
De Guzman’s European adventure started with Olympique Marseille; Piette has spent the last two years a little further inland at Metz. De Guzman moved to FC Saarbrucken; Piette is a mere signature away from signing with Fortuna Dusseldorf, promoted to Germany’s top flight last month.
Growing up a single child, Piette started playing soccer at 4, after seeing his cousin do the same and, surprisingly for a kid from Montreal, hasn’t wavered.
“It never interested me,” he said of playing hockey. “I was in soccer and never wanted to try anything else … and also the budget, we didn’t have the money for two sports.”
From an early age, Piette had his sights set on Europe – Barcelona is his favourite team – and though Canadian soccer continues to grow, now boasting three of the 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, signing there was never an option.
“Not really, because I knew that Europe is the best place to develop myself, to improve my game,” he said. “So I always wanted to be in Europe, to play there when I was young and maybe after, when I’ve been in the first team [for a while]maybe I’ll go to MLS.”
But that’s a long way off. For now, he’s waiting on his agent to deliver his new contract in the next week or so to signify he is now the property of Dusseldorf – bringing the challenge of raising his game to make the first team and play in front of 54,000 fans every week, as well as a whole new language barrier.
“Not good yet,” Piette described his ability to interact with his new teammates. “I’m going to have a couple of classes every week to learn German, but the best thing will be guys in the locker room and also on the pitch, but I’ve got to learn fast.”
With the new Bundesliga season not starting until the fall, he’s got a little time – although he also has to finish high school before then – but for now his focus is squarely on the Canadian national team after being added to Stephen Hart’s squad for just the second time last month.
Having starred for both the Canadian under-20 squad as well as the under-23 team that fell one game short of the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Piette is understandably keen to make his first appearance for the senior team – with Sunday’s exhibition against the United States and upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Cuba and Honduras all offering tantalizing possibilities to get on the pitch.
The 2014 World Cup is an enticing carrot for the youngster, and though he feels the current squad is good enough to get the job done, like many others, he knows the team would be enriched with the inclusions of fence-sitters like de Guzman’s brother, Jonathan, who has previously played for the Netherlands at youth level, and Blackburn Rovers striker David (Junior) Hoilett, who, like Hargreaves before them, are weighing their international options.
But Piette – who was only eligible to play for Canada – understands their reticence, to a point.
“For sure I think anyone would choose Brazil over Canada, you know?” he said. “So that’s just their choice, but all the players here are kind of disappointed they’re not playing for us because they’re really good players that we need in the team.
“At the end of the day, this is their choice, it’s their career so they can choose whatever they want.”