YORK REGION – In the tough-tackling world of Scottish football, there’s no sympathy for a softer approach.
Those who survive the physical nature of the Scottish Premier League and stand among the battle-hardened who call it home must possess a certain disposition.
Strength, speed and quick-wittedness are, of course, staples of the game.
You’ll need all of those, in spades, to thrive in the SPL.
But, as Canadian defender Luca Gasparotto quickly learned, you’ll also need resilience to truly stake your claim in a starting lineup.
Such is the reality of life and of football in Scotland, where diving in particular is admonished heartedly and heatedly in the stands.
And, if the newly-signed York9 FC defender has his way, that mentality should be carried over into the Canadian game, too.
“They have a desire to win,” Gasparotto told CanPL.ca, when asked for his impressions about Scottish football, where he has played since 2011.
“For them, it was their life. They’re playing for win bonuses, or had other jobs to try and support their families, so the mentality was to go in every day and put in everything to get the win. I’d like to see that over here as well. I’m sure everyone wants to win, but that’s the biggest thing I want to pass on – that winning mentality.”
Around the time that his new head coach Jimmy Brennan was calling it a day on his career, Gasparotto was kick-starting his own with a move to fabled Scottish outfit Rangers coming together in 2011. Since then, he has gone on to play for a number of clubs in the U.K., including Falkirk, Greenock Morton, Airdrieonians and Stirling Albion.
He returns to his home in York Region to take part in the inaugural Canadian Premier League season, having experienced everything that Scottish football has to offer across multiple league levels.
And, with the winning mentality he outlined in mind, he affirmed that diving – the nefarious act of simulating a foul or flopping around on the ground in feigned discomfort – ought to have no place in the Canadian game.
“Diving is everywhere, and it’s a bad part of the game, one that shouldn’t be a part of it,” Gasparotto said, when asked for his thoughts on the topic. “Hopefully it won’t be too much of a problem over here.
“In Scotland,” he continued, “you get the coaches, and they’ll obviously defend the players to the press, but then they’ll have a quiet word with you on the side and say ‘look, you can’t be doing that.’ I think the majority of people know you don’t do that. Doesn’t mean that they’re not going to do it, but it’s something I wouldn’t like to see if one of my teammates were doing it.”
For Gasparotto, the issue is doubly problematic as his position at centreback often puts him face-to-face with tricky forwards who will look for any advantage they can get.
“It’s the little nippy guys (you have to watch out for),” Gasparotto said, with a laugh. “You get close to them and they go down. Hopefully we won’t see too much of that and it won’t be an issue, but I’m sure if it does happen, the league will stamp down on it.”
He added: “It would be fantastic (if Canada was known as a country where diving doesn’t happen). It would be ideal. Will it happen? We’ll wait and see. It’s been a part of the game for a long time, a bad part, but I’d like to think of Canadians as an honest bunch, so we’ll try to get that as our identity.”
Luckily, the Canadian soccer landscape has continued to grow and change in the seven years since Gasparotto departed to Scotland, lending itself to the idea that the country’s soccer identity is still being formed with each passing year.
While he has made regularly monthly visits in the summer back home in North York since making the move, his experiences in the Canadian soccer system have been limited to a few appearances at the Canadian youth national team ranks, as well as a call-up to the senior side in 2015.
However, the 23-year-old has already noticed a shift in the Canadian soccer scene since leaving for Scotland.
“There’s been a drastic change,” Gasparotto affirmed. “More and more people are getting involved, whether they’re playing or becoming interested in the sport, watching games and supporting the national team and their local CPL teams as well. With the league we have, it’s a huge jump forward into the right direction.
“With this league, it gives an opportunity to players like myself, coming home. There’s a lot of high-quality players that have had great professional careers as well. It’s very exciting to be a part of and Canada is definitely heading in the right direction for soccer.”
Whether that direction includes a no-nonsense policy on the dirtier aspects of the game remains to be seen.