Sorbara's passion and fitness pay dividend for Weston

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The Independent Football

It could never have happened with Gianfranco Zola or Paolo Di Canio. A call to Giuseppe Sorbara prompts a warm invitation to join Weston-super-Mare's Italian striker after his shift in the kitchen of Da Luciano's trattoria in the tiny Somerset city of Wells. "If I'm not there," he added, "I'll be across the street in Raso's fish 'n' chip shop."

The fragrance of pizza, freshly baked by his aunt, Celestina, and served by his cousin, Silvio, fills the restaurant. Sorbara, a 23-year-old who shared in Team Bath's historic run to the first round of the FA Cup this time last year, sits down to eat and ponder whether Weston, the Dr Martens Premier Division club playing in the second round for the first time, can cook up an upset at Northampton Town today.

His story is at once unique and yet typical of the Cup's endless capacity to conjure romance in unlikely settings. As a teenager he worked his way through the ranks at Como, who flit between the top three divisions in Italy. These days he is a well-known figure on the West Country non-League circuit and keen to feature on Match of the Day just as he did in Gazzetta dello Sport last season.

The famous paper came to see Sorbara when Team Bath became the first student side to reach the competition proper for 122 years. He was pictured dribbling a ball in The Crescent under a headline that read: Le strada per il gloria. The road to glory, however, has been paved with setbacks more often than with fleeting fame.

He was born and raised near Monza in northern Italy, though his parents come from Sicily and Calabria. In those places, he reflects, "people must fight to survive". Which may be why, despite being soft-spoken, bright and friendly, he can be volatile on the pitch. "Like Zola and Di Canio, I play from the heart. I've been sent off twice this season, at Dover and Welling. One unlucky, one deserved."

As a boy he adored the Juventus of Michel Platini, Michael Laudrup and Roberto Baggio, and he still dreams of partnering Alessandro Del Piero. The player he has come to admire most, though, is Diego Maradona. "I used to dislike him because my heart loved Juve and he was Napoli. Now I think he was the greatest. I try to play like him."

At nine Sorbara was spotted by a Como scout. He was associated with them for nine years, playing against fellow hopefuls from Lazio, Internazionale, Milan and Torino without making the final breakthrough. "Things went wrong for me," he admits. "I wasn't mature enough.

"I didn't eat properly. Always it was pasta and steak. It was only when I came to England that my auntie put me right on the importance of nutrition and diet. Now I eat vegetables and fruit which I never did at home. I make porridge and honey for my breakfast."

As his football career in Italy faltered, Celestina and her husband, Mike, suggested he come over, helping out in the pizzeria and chip shop while looking for a club. "I played for Wells City in the Somerset County League and scored inside three minutes on my debut," Sorbara recalls. "Other clubs took note of that."

He joined Street, then Frome, and trained with Yeovil before Bristol Rovers offered him a trial. A change of manager dashed hopes of a contract, but Team Bath, whose university training ground Rovers used, stepped in to sign him. "I did a course there called Coach Education & Sport Performance; also an evening class to improve my English."

Silvio reminds him that the only words he knew when he arrived were "Manchester United". Sorbara found a novel way to learn. "I played the Beatles all the time. 'Hey Jude', 'Let It Be', 'Can't Buy Me Love' and 'Imagine' - those songs really helped me with the language."

He swiftly proved himself fluent in football as Team Bath earned a first-round home tie against Mansfield, who came from five divisions higher. "We lost 4-2 but the occasion showed how important the FA Cup is, much more so than the Coppa Italia. I feel emotional just to talk about it. The media were all over us. We were like stars."

Changes at management level led him to spells with Clevedon and Mangotsfield, where he caught the eye of Weston-super-Mare's Geordie manager, Frank Gregan. On being told he was not fit enough by Yeovil, Sorbara had started a regime of running and swimming. It is paying off; despite suspensions, he is now Weston's top scorer.

The little seaside club, 17th in their league just as Northampton are in the Third Division, will be underdogs this afternoon. But as the player newly nicknamed "Gino" reasons, showing that he has absorbed the vocabulary of the English dressing-room as well as Lennon and McCartney, "it's 11 against 11 - in the FA Cup, anything can happen on the day."

A Weston colleague, Stuart Slater, played in the semi-finals for West Ham. "He told me he had to get 50 tickets for his relations," Sorbara says. "The biggest stadium I've played in is probably Livorno in an Under-15 tournament. But if we were drawn away to, say, Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea, I'd need 100 tickets."

Amid the heavenly aromas of Celestina's kitchen, it is certainly food for thought.