The language minders

Andrew Baker looks at the Mr Fixit role of the foreign footballer's interpreter
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The Independent Online
When West Ham and Liverpool take to the field at Upton Park this afternoon, two important figures will be watching - and, more to the point, listening - from the bench. Next to their respective managers, Amadeu and Boris will sit poised to relay information. Theirs is a relatively new profession in Britain, one that has developed along with the Premier League's hunger for foreign footballers. Amadeu and Boris are football interpreters.

Both are known at their clubs only by their first names, not just because everyone gets on with them but because, ironically, given their business, their second names are unpronounceable: Boris's is Krcmar, and no one at West Ham even tries with Amadeu's. Boris works with Patrik Berger, Amadeu mainly with Paulo Futre, but also with Florin Raducioiu, Ilie Dumitrescu, Slaven Bilic and anyone else at the club who fancies a natter.

Visit Upton Park in company with Amadeu and you are among friends. At the Coca-Cola Cup game against Barnet last week, Mark Bowen ensured that he had the tickets he needed, Julian Dicks offered him a cigarette, Slaven Bilic slapped his back, which would have flattened anyone less solidly built than the stocky Portuguese. And all the time he kept up a constant patter: "Ah, my friend, how's the wife/car/house/hamstring?"

Amadeu speaks Spanish or Italian to the Eastern European players, depending on their last continental club, and the language of their motherland to Futre, in whose home town, Montijo, he was born 44 years ago. Amadeu was a businessman in Portugal until an unfortunate reversal forced him to seek his fortune elsewhere. Now he is a chauffeur, shuttling businessmen all over the country. His work for West Ham - and there is quite a bit of it - is, he insists, a labour of love.

"These things I do for the players," he said, as he watched them against Barnet. "I do as a friend. You understand? As a friend." These things: taking them shopping, suggesting a restaurant, finding and delivering the things they need for their new homes, seem innocuous enough. But Amadeu knows how confusing and difficult such tasks can be for a young man who has never set foot in Britain before.

"People think that because they have so much money everything is very easy for them. But it is not. When they arrive here they do not understand how this country works, how to do the simplest things. I can help them out with that."

No football club wants its players to have problems, especially not its most expensive stars. By taking care of mundane matters, Amadeu ensures that West Ham's finest can concentrate on the important things in life. "I say to Paulo: 'Worry about nothing off the pitch. That is my concern. Just think about your game'."

At Anfield, Boris similarly tries to reduce the weight on Patrik Berger's young shoulders. A 68-year-old businessman in the leather trade, Boris honed his football translation skills on Everton's forays into Europe in the Eighties, and really came into his own at Euro 96. When Berger signed, Liverpool sent for Boris.

"It's a very nice job," he said after watching his charge score against MyPa-47 last week. "I didn't know Patrik before he came here, but he and his wife have become quite good friends of mine now."

Like Amadeu, Boris offers practical help as well as straightforward interpretation: the other day he took Mr and Mrs Berger shopping in Southport, where Boris lives and where they are staying.

But to begin with Boris was concerned with flat back-fours rather than flat-pack furniture. "I sat in on team meetings when Patrik first arrived," Boris said. "It was very interesting for me, but it wasn't too long before Patrik could understand almost everything. In football, most meanings are pretty clear to everybody."

Such privileged access is not granted lightly, as West Ham's Amadeu was keen to point out. "They do not just walk up to somebody on the street and ask them to be an interpreter," he said. "It is a big trust thing, because right from the start you are in on all the meetings, and you don't sit on the bench with Mr Harry Redknapp unless he trusts you."

Like Boris, Amadeu is quite happy to advise his players' wives too. "Life can be hard for them as well," he said, "they arrive with no friends and nothing to do. It is important to find some focus for them." Mrs Dumitrescu sat next to Amadeu in the grandstand on Wednesday night. A friendly, smartly dressed brunette, she followed her husband's every move with great animation, yelling demurely when team-mates failed to spot him making incisive runs. Amadeu suggested to her - in Italian, their shared language - that she make enquiries about cultural studies at City University to help fill the empty hours while Ilie is training. Mrs Dumitrescu wanted to know how she could come by tickets for a London Fashion Week Gala.

After the Hammers had completed their somewhat perfunctory defeat of the north London minnows, Amadeu headed for the players' lounge, where he rejoined his chums Bowen and Dicks. The Welsh international was hugely amused by the chauffeur's tales of a recent visit to the Principality, which he had not realised had a language of its own.

Everyone wanted to know when Amadeu's "lad" - Paulo Futre - would be returning from Portugal, where he was undergoing treatment for his hamstring injury. "And he may not be alone," Amadeu hinted, not for the first time. But, like the loyal and trustful club servant that he is, he would not be drawn on the identity of Futre's mystery accomplice.

The next day the secret was out: Hugo Porfirio was joining the club from Sporting Lisbon. Another exciting addition to Redknapp's collection of continental stars. Another friend in need, who will find Amadeu a friend indeed.

Lost in the translation: How to speak fluent football

"O meu tendao ainda nao est capaz, chefe; e melhor dar-me mais l semana de descanso."

Portuguese for: "My hamstring is still a bit dodgy, boss; better rest me for another week."

"Wigan es un sitio maravilloso, pero me gustan mucho mas las tapas que los callos."

Spanish for: "Wigan is a wonderful town, but on the whole I prefer tapas to tripe."

"Bolestan sam kao papiga."

Croatian for: "I am sick as a parrot."

"Skift dine kontaktlinser ud, dommer, det har aldrig vret et straffe!"

Danish for: "Change your contact lenses, ref, that was never a penalty!"

Mijn jongens hebben vandaag 100 procent gegeven en hadden pech dat ze 3 doelpunten hebben moeten weggeven. Wacht maar tot ik weer op het veld terug ben!"

Dutch for: "My boys gave 100 per cent today and were unlucky to give away three goals. Just wait until I'm back on the field with them!"

"Al di sopra della luna."

Italian for: "I am over the moon."

"La sfarsitul zilei tipul va fi dezamagit de acel efort."

Romanian for: "At the end of the day, the lad will be disappointed with that effort."

"Evidemment, Brian, c'est un jeu a deux mi-temps."

French for: "Obviously, Brian, it's a game of two halves."