In the first of a new series called Luso Legends, exclusive to Senhor Cabo’s official website, former star player and coach Carlos Das Neves speaks about his career.
How old were you and when did you first pull on a Vasco jersey?
I first played for Vasco when I was in Matric. I was 17-years old.
What was it like growing up with two brothers who also became professional players?
It is a great way to grow up playing sport with your brothers, and no video games or TV. We grew up playing soccer, cricket, golf, table tennis, in the back yard, in the passage, in the park, or in the street.
It was always very competitive and definitely a reason why we did so well at sports. I think it was an achievement my parents can be very proud of.
Was your whole family involved in football and was it their influence that led you to Vasco?
The whole family was very involved, we all started as juniors at Holy Cross, in Bellville, at the age of six. The school offered soccer as a sport, and then we went to Edgemead and on to Vasco.
The Portuguese roots were the draw card at Vasco.
How did it happen that you left Vasco for greener pastures & starred for Hellenic in the top-flight?
After three-years at Vasco, where we won the league each year, the national club champs and I won some individual player awards, it was time to test myself at a higher level.
In those days Vasco was an amateur club and Hellenic were the professional team. I then spent the next 11 seasons at Hellenic.
Can you recall any Bafana Bafana call up memories?
I was called up to the second ever Bafana camp with Jeff Butler and it was held in early February, in summer, and I was not fit at all at that time of the year so I did not make an impression.
I then also went to Germany in 1997 but never actually got onto the pitch.
Many consider that you should have played more for the national team, how do you feel?
It will always be one of my biggest disappointments; that I never got onto the pitch but if I am honest with myself I should have trained harder and got myself a lot fitter and stronger.
That is what I needed to do, plus, possibly a move to a Johannesburg club would have helped, but I stayed in Cape Town. I went to University, started working fulltime from the age of 23 and so football was always a part time job for me.
Tell us a bit about your time overseas when you were at your peak…
In December 1986 I went to England to become a professional soccer player. I went to Blackpool (set up by Frank Lord) and Arsenal for two days (set up by Rob Moore) but I left after a few weeks to go back home as it was too cold and just too far from my family.
I then went to University in February 1987 and became a CA (Chartered Accountant). My home life was too comfy to work through the hardships required to become a pro footballer. Looking back one will always wonder if one had stuck it out.
What was the best piece of advice you ever got from a coach and who was he?
There are really too many too mention, but nothing beats pure hard work and determination, if you have talent the rest will follow
Pick the ultimate Carlos das Neves 5-a-side team for a training session, from all teams you played in?
Paulo Das Neves, Mario Das Neves, Carlos Das Neves, Johnny Da Sousa, Joe De Barros. Our sub: Ronald Faure.
Who would you consider as the three best players ever to play at Vasco da Gama?
For leadership, commitment and overall impact it would be Keenin Lesch. Then for career wise achievements: Andre Arendse and Shaun Bartlett.
Vasco have produced so many players who went on to become legends of the South African game, is this the legacy you always wanted Vasco to leave?
The one thing about Vasco is that it did not develop the players that became legends. These players had junior careers at other clubs before joining Vasco.
Vasco did play a big role in their careers, and mine as it was, using this to showcase that we were signed by the pro clubs. The quality players that did come through the youth were snapped up by Ajax and other pro clubs and thus it is difficult to grow players from the youth into the first team.
The one thing we do miss at Vasco is proper youth development which will always be difficult with Ajax and their facilities across the road.
You have been involved with Vasco for many years – from coaching to being on the Board of Directors – what makes this club so special & such a family club?
Special people make special clubs. It’s a close Portuguese community, with people who have been friends for many years.
This season has been quite a change for the club. They now have a new captain, after several years, in Robbie Santo, why will he be a success?
Yes, remember this Vasco (being professional) in its current guise is six-years old. It started in the Vodacom second division in 2006, went to the PSL in 2010 and back to the NFD in 2011.
So it really has been eventful times with many highs and lows. After the season in the PSL, we had an average year in the NFD last year and the shareholders voted for a change to the Board in June 2011 and with that KeeninLesch left the club.
My brother and I stepped down from the Board completely and Robbie Santo is taking over the captaincy. He has big shoes to fill but he has been at the club since the age of 6 or 7, so he is Vasco through and through. We wish him well.
What are your favourite memories with the club over the years?
As a player, we were League Champs three-years in a row and that was a great feeling every time.
As a coach of the team for 10 seasons, we won the league three times and we were involved in five promotion play offs, two for the NFD and three for the PSL.
The level of stress involved in these play offs is just huge, so when you win you are on top of the world and those memories will remain forever.
On the flip side I have lost two PSL play offs so I have also experienced the absolute lows that go with the game. I can truly say I have experienced all the highs and lows.