Gelson Fernandes is one of the rising stars in the Swiss squad. swissinfo met him at home in England, where he plays with Premier League team Manchester City.This content was published on March 14, 2008 - 13:31
Born 21 years ago in Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa, Fernandes arrived in Switzerland aged five and spent his entire football career at Sion before moving to England six months ago.
It's early evening in Manchester, and the Swiss player has just finished his evening meal with his teammates. Tomorrow they face top London team Arsenal and Fernandes's fellow national squad member, Philippe Senderos.
After his transfer to England last year, Fernandes has become a regular member of the City team. The club has even just helped find him a new apartment not far from the city centre.
Fernandes smiles a lot anyway, but he's had many reasons to do so since arriving in England.
"I wanted to play here, and I've made it. It's my kind of football, physically intense with lots of rapid acceleration," he told swissinfo. "I'm not ready to play in Italy or Spain. I'm right where I should be."
But the move from Switzerland to England wasn't simple.
"When you join a team where there are 30 players and 25 of them are in their national side, you have to fight to mark out your territory. You can't sit there thinking 'I'm the little Swiss guy' – otherwise you're dead."
There is no room for complainers or for those who give up too easily. For those who underperform, the sanction is immediate too.
It's a huge difference from Sion, where Fernandes was the cherished son and where his father still looks after stadium maintenance.
"When you arrive, you aren't even selected to play. And when you get a chance, you have to grab it with both hands and show the club it didn't make a mistake hiring you," he said.
For Fernandes, that chance came against Portsmouth and fortunately all went well. "Since then everything seems much simpler, even if I have to keep on fighting for my place."
The midfielder is starting to feel at home now and has found his comfort zone within the club and the city.
When he first arrived in Switzerland, it also took him six months to get used to the snow and the mountains. "I remember arriving in the train from Paris. That view left a deep impression on me."
He was just five at the time, leaving the sunshine of Cape Verde behind with his mother to be reunited with his father who had made the move a few years earlier. He managed to adapt quickly though.
"When you play with other children, everything goes quickly," he says. "After a few months I felt like one of the locals."
He doesn't remember much from his childhood on the islands. "I know I liked to run and kick a ball, and also play in the ocean. What I'm sure of is that those five years were very important for me as a person."
He travels back to Cape Verde regularly to recharge his batteries - and no doubt he will be there before the Euro championships.
"Over there, people are waiting for Gelson, not Fernandes who plays for Manchester City," he points out. "The big difference with Europe is that people on the islands are happy with what they've got."
The first African-born captain of the Swiss national junior team, Fernandes says he feels Swiss but he refuses to forget his origins.
"It's important for me. Look at the colour of my skin, you know where I come from. It's my culture, my roots. There isn't a single day I don't think about the islands. A bit of music from there and I can cut off the rest of the world," he says.
A bit of Africa, a bit of Switzerland, an unusual mix of mountains and ocean, the sun and the snow, audacity and thoughtfulness, pleasure and responsibility, rhythm and serenity. All this helps Fernandes move, although there is no knowing where it will take him.
swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux in Manchester
Born on September 2, 1986 in Cape Verde.
He spent all of his career at Sion before his move to England, playing 99 matches in the first and second divisions of the Swiss league from 2003.
His transfer to Manchester City in 2007 cost the English club SFr9.1 million ($9 million), the second-highest transfer fee for a Swiss player ever.
He has played eight times for the national squad, the first time against the Netherlands in August 2007.
Fernandes speaks seven languages at least partially, including French, Portuguese, German, English, Italian, Cape Verde Creole and some Spanish.
Manchester City was founded in 1887. Nicknamed The Citizens or The Blues, they have played in a 48,000-seat stadium since 2003.
The club has won the championship twice, in 1937 and 1968, as well as four FA Cups. It has never succeeded in European competitions.
The club's chairman is Thai businessman and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, its manager is the Swedish former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson.
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