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From LinkedIn to the AFCON
Playmaker

From LinkedIn to the AFCON

From LinkedIn to the AFCON

In 2018, Roberto Lopes ignored a message on social media thinking it could be spam. That error almost cost him a chance to play at the African Cup of Nations.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today, the footballer who learnt his lesson on why you should always check your LinkedIn messages. 

***

“Good afternoon Roberto – can you imagine how different your life might have been if you hadn’t replied to that message in the end?”

“Every day, I’m just grateful Rui Aguas had time and patience with me and responded to me again…”

Sky Sports

If you’re anything like me, your LinkedIn inbox is probably full of messages that go something like this:

Hey Andrew, great to connect! Apologies to be so forward, but I’d love to show you a new product we’ve just launched – I really think it could help supercharge your business. Warmest regards…

Most of the time it’s inconsequential, very ignorable stuff. 

But for one footballer, ignoring his LinkedIn messages almost led to him missing out on the chance of a lifetime.

Roberto Lopes is a defender for the League of Ireland’s Premier Division champions Shamrock Rovers.

He grew up in South-West Dublin, and started his professional career at Rovers’ arch-rivals Bohemians. 

But, last Sunday, Lopes stepped onto the pitch at the African Cup of Nations to help Cape Verde beat Ethiopia in their opening game of the tournament. 

“Down the left again, it’s a similar tactic, ball hanging in the air and that’s the opening goal! 1-0…”

Sky Sports

It could have all been so different for Lopes.

Back in May 2016, his Bohemians team-mate Ayman Ben Mohamed got a surprise call-up to play for Tunisia. 

Lopes joked to a journalist at the time that he could also get called up to play internationally too – after all, his father was from Cape Verde. He worked as a chef on the ferries that served the archipelago going from the island nation to the Republic of Ireland. He and his wife eventually settled in Dublin. 

A journalist took those words on a bit, and contacted someone at the Cape Verde football federation to alert them to the fact there was a talented defender playing in Ireland’s top division.

It all went quiet for a couple of years.

Enter the then Cape Verde national football team manager, Rui Aguas.

Aguas’ only method of getting in touch with Lopes was to send a message on LinkedIn – the profile of which Lopes had only set up while he was at college.

The message, however, was in Portuguese – a language Lopes doesn’t speak, and, crucially, it was a message Lopes thought may be spam, or, as I mentioned earlier, a standard greeting message.

He ignored it. 

It was only nine months later that Aguas got in touch with Lopes again – this time through the slightly more personal method of a text message in English – that Lopes realised he had almost made a huge mistake.

“A few weeks before the squad was announced, he wrote to me again in English asking me if I’d thought about the last message, and I was like, ‘What’s going on here…?’ So I translated it, and turns out they were looking at getting new people in the squad, and would I be interested in declaring. So I went back, tail between my legs, apologised, said I’m sorry I don’t understand Portuguese, I just translated the message there, I’d love to be involved if it’s not too late.” 

Off The Ball

Since 2019, it’s been a remarkable journey for Lopes. 

He made his debut for his country in a friendly against French Ligue Un side Marseille, and played every minute of Cape Verde’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers, where they narrowly missed out on reaching the tournament.

Lopes’ story may be a slightly bizarre one, but it’s far from unusual for the Cape Verde national team.

Despite having a population of less than half a million, the island nation has qualified for three of the past five African Cup of Nations, by utilising its wide diaspora to encourage players to declare their international eligibility for them.

Many come from the Netherlands, France or Portugal – but Roberto Lopes stands out on his own. 

So the next time you get a LinkedIn message from an unfamiliar name, or in a foreign language – you never know, it could be your ticket to an international tournament.  

Today’s story was written by me, Andrew Butler, and produced by Xavier Greenwood.