Tamworth's Veiga adds variety to Cup's Portuguese flavour

When Conference side Tamworth meet Norwich City in the FA Cup today, their Cape Verde goalkeeper will be firmly in the shop window, writes Phil Shaw
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The Independent Online

Tamworth's manager, Mark Cooper, is hoping that Norwich City's players will get off their luxury coach at the home of the Conference's bottom club, take one look at the less than palatial dressing-rooms, the tiny stands and sloping, muddy pitch and say: "What are we doing here?" Jose Veiga could be excused for asking the same question.

The former Benfica goalkeeper's presence in Tamworth's goal ensures that the strong Portuguese flavour in the weekend's FA Cup ties will extend beyond Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge to The Lamb ground in the Staffordshire town. As Cooper puts it, savouring the company his part-timers will be keeping, "Mourinho, Ronaldo and Veiga!"

Veiga, 30, was attached to the Lisbon giants from the age of nine to 21, reaching the first-team bench and playing for Portugal Under-18s before moving to Spain's Second Division. He has also appeared in World Cup qualifiers for Cape Verde, the former Portuguese islands off West Africa, who are coached by the Brazilian World Cup winner Ricardo Rocha and lie five rungs below Wales at 78th in Fifa's world rankings.

The Lamb, he says, is "a bit different from the Estadio da Luz", yet today's game with Norwich is potentially the biggest of his life. With the transfer window open, Veiga is in the shop window. His form has prompted enquiries from the Championship, leaving Cooper resigned to selling him. Heroics on Match of the Day Live may seal it. "It's a good opportunity," Veiga admits. "But my priority is to help Tamworth. If I do that, I'll be helping myself."

Chelsea have problems between the posts and a penchant for Portuguese. Veiga laughs modestly at the idea that he could end up there, even though Jose Mourinho must be aware of his pedigree. "I played twice against his Porto team for Estrela when they were the European champions," he recalls. "We lost 2-0 and drew 1-1."

Veiga's route to Tamworth took in trial periods at Forest Green, Bury and Walsall, who could not accommodate him but alerted their neighbours. Cooper's father, Terry, the former Leeds and England defender who is Southampton's European scout, endorsed the recommendation. His new colleagues asked what the biggest crowd he had played in front of was.

"One and a half," he said. They were surprised, 1,500 being just above Tamworth's average. Veiga explained he meant 150,000, for Cape Verde in the Congo, and had the mobile-phone pictures to prove it.

Last summer, he played for the islands - known as "Little Brazil" for their emphasis on footballing flair - against their colonial masters of 500 years in a pre-World Cup friendly. Portugal won 4-1, unsurprising given that their side included Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Pauleta and Ricardo Carvalho. His next match action would be with Tamworth.

The Conference campaign has not gone as Cooper would have liked, the Midlanders' position reflecting the fact that he manages on one of the League's smallest budgets. The Cup, in which they took Stoke City to extra time in a replay last January, is a different story, with Veiga playing brilliantly in the wins at Burton Albion and Rushden & Diamonds.

Afterwards it was back to his digs in Tamworth to phone home to Lisbon, where his wife Laida and daughters Daniella, 5, and Bruna, seven months, still live. He spent Christmas with them, returning to be sent off against Burton Albion on Boxing Day, but the chances of the family being reunited in England probably hinge on how he performs against Norwich.

"I don't know if I'm good enough for the Championship or Premiership," says Veiga. "But if you don't try, you'll never find out."

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