Sandro was a midfielder for the Montreal Impact, he was born in 1977 in Montreal. He began his pro career by playing for close to ten years in Italy before he came back home to play in Montreal. He helped the team win the championship in 2004. At that time he also had the opportunity to join the Canadian national team. In 2005 he was transfered in Norway and later returned to Montreal after serious knee problems. He played a major role in the exceptionnal CONCACAF Champions League run. Later that year Following an incident with Mauro Biello he was fired and he went back to Europe to finish his career in Lithuania. He is now technical director of the Club de Soccer les Étoiles de l'Est in Laval.
Optimum Soccer: Hello Sandro, with the little snow falling this morning I was wondering if before there was Sandro the soccer player Was there a Sandro playing hockey like most young Quebecers in the early 80?
Sandro Grande: No, no, never, soccer has always been my favorite sport.
OS: When you you started your career in Italy there was also some interest from the Montreal impact, I was wondering if it would not have been easier to stay here in Montreal?
SG: No, it was not an option for me. My dream was to play in Europe.
OS: What kind of environment did you experienced in the lower divisions in Italy?
SG: Generally the conditions were good. In the first division stadiums are much bigger then here in Montreal, when you go down in the other divisions, sure there are still some beautiful stadiums, but there are also some that are'nt beautiful. There are many places that when there is a match on Sunday there are lot's of people in the stadium, it's a bit of a religion for them.
OS: During your time there you moved around a lot, you changed team nearly every season, I guess it's not easy to evolve as a player in such conditions?
SG: I think that it's the kind of thing that helps you become more mature. It always gives you new experiences and new challenges. To be successful, you have to do the job each year just as the coach expects you to and if you can do well it means that you can adapt well to the environment around you.
OS: In 2001 you signed a contract with a first division club, Brescia. How did this opportunity present itself?
SG: In 2000 I was with Frosinone in the fourth division, at the beginning of the championship I played very well. After a few games there were rumors in the newspapers about me. The president of the team knew many people in big clubs and during the season he told me the rumirs were true. There were several teams interested in addition of Brescia, there was also Udinese, Perugia, Ascoli, Pescara... He told me I had to continue to play as best as I could until January and I would probably have a good offer at that moment. I continued to play well and I did not let all the rumors affect me. Then in January Brescia paid a good amount for my transfer.
OS: Once there, you did not really have the chance to see the field, you played a single match in Intertoto Cup, how did it go?
SG: It was very nice. When I was bought by Brescia in January, I arrived at the club along with Andrea Pirlo who was on loan from Inter. Then when I went to training for the first time with my agent the first person I met was Roberto Baggio. He was my idol since I was little, I grew up watching him on TV. In the locker room everyone was nice, there was no "primadonna" no big heads.
OS: In 2004 you joined the Impact, was it you who decided to return to Canada or is it the club that contacted you?
SG: I had a little trouble in Italy with the payment of my salary with some of the clubs with whom I played, I lost around $ 100 000. Then in 2003-2004 I went back to the fourth division with Albalonga and I played very well, I worked hard, I could not believe that two years before I was with a first division club. I did well until January and then the third division team that was in first place wanted to buy me. I met with them and they told me they were really interested. I went to see the people at my club, when I signed with them a few months earlier I was told that if I had an offer in January they would let me leave. Unfortunately it was not written in my contract, with Albalonga we were in second place and it was the first time that this club was doing as well and they refused the transfer.
After that from January to March I did not play well, I was frustrated and disgusted. I talked with my parents and my family and I decided to come home. I left soccer, I was thinking about retiring. My plan was to join the Impact and sign up for university. Once back in Montreal I started playing with the Impact something in me changed, I think being at home with your family in difficult times is a good thing. My form came back, I was in a good mood and I had missed the deadline for registration at the university in the fall so I tought I'd register for January.
This is where everything changed. With Montreal I had done really well, we won the championship, I ended up with the national team. I played a match in Costa Rica where there were English scouts who noticed me. So I told myself that I would not go to university and that I would try my luck again, but in a country other than Italy. In November of that year, I went to England, I made a trial with Ipswich Town. I had done well, but the club did not want a central midfielder like me, but more a winger. After that I went to trial in Norway and I liked the country. In 2005 I returned with the Impact and I also played with Canada, after the Gold Cup I returned to Europe where I signed with Viking of the Norwegian first division.
OS: When you were looking to go back in Europe did you ever have the intention of returning to Italy?
SG: No. I did all that I could there. Certainly today I would tell you that I want to go back, perhaps to manage a team there. Not immediately, but one day I would like that. I really like Italy it's a country I have in me. I love everything there, the life, the food, the sea, the mountains, there's everything you need to be able to live well in Italy. But then there is the monetary aspect, it is always difficult to find a job in soccer and get paid. Many countries such as Greece, Spain or Portugal, they're beautiful country, but it is not like in Canada or Germany. If someone says he will give you ten dollars here, you know you'll get your ten dollars, while there you will have four. Then the government is not there to help people. There is a little too much corruption.
O S: In 2004 with the Impact you won the championship what was it that was special about that team?
SG: I think it was a question of chemistry. We were fourteen or fifteen players from Montreal. Since then things have changed, and the fans know about that. This summer it was easy to see, and I think it's why there was not as many fans in the stadium last season. When you looked at the games you could always see empty seats, there is always an excuse, rain, wind, cold ... In the past there was no excuse, between 2004 and 2007 there were still a dozen players who came from Montreal and it created a link between supporters and the club. I agree that you must bring players from outside, but they must be better than the player you have here in Montreal. That's not happening with the Impact right now, in Italy if I was not able to be better then a local I would not get a contract.
If you look at Edmonton this year they had over ten players that we had not really seen anywhere before, it was their first professional year and they still have done well. In 2004 there was a truly exceptional team spirit, if we went to a disco club we were all going out together. When we had a match on the weekend, Wednesday or Thursday before we went out together. After that we trained and then we rested after that on the field we were ready to fight for each other. Since that time it has changed and we see what happen on the ground. For me it's sad because it's a club that is always in my heart and to see how they treat the local players is a bit sad.
OS: When you were called to the national team for the first time was it a surprise or were you expecting it?
SG: It was not entirely a surprise, the first time I was called to replace an injured player if I remember correctly . We went to Costa Rica and I was surprised when after training the coach told me that I would play as a starter. I had butterflies in my stomach, but despite all I played well and I enjoyed the experience. After the game I said to myself "Look, this is your place, your place is not to study, your place is on the soccer field because you are capable"
OS: After that in 2005 you were called to national team for the Gold Cup with several of your teammates, you don't see that very often here, I guess it must have been pleasant and that there was a special atmosphere in the dressing room?
SG: Yes, it was really nice, in addition to me there was Greg Sutton, Adam Braz, Gabriel Gervais, Ali Gerba, and Patrick Leduc. On top of that there were Patrice Bernier and Olivier Occean who were also from Montreal. In the past there were rarely guys from Quebec in the National Team, since that time things have changed. This fall there were Patrice and Olivier in addition to André Hainault and Jonthan Beaulieu Bourgeault with Canada. It's good to see that players from Quebec can take their place. In 2005 the Impact must have been proud to see six of his players selected. Currently there is no Impact players who are called and you have to ask yourself some questions. You must not think only of the Impact, you must think about the whole country, the Impact is my club, but Canada is my country. A club must develop local players to be represented in the national team.
OS: When you went to Norway in 2005 there were already a lot of Canadian players in this country, why Norway, is it because the playing style in Canada fits well with soccer being played in Scandinavia?
SG: For me it was the opposite, it was not my style. Except that in smaller countries like that it's not like here in North America. Here there is the MLS and they do a lot of scouting in the NCAA. In Europe everything is closet, in two hours by plane scouts from AC Milan can be at your game, scouts from Manchester United can be in your stadium. All countries are close to each other and that's the key. Sometimes when I think about my career I think it was good to go in Italy and I was fortunate to have a chance with a first division club, but maybe that level was slightly too high at the time. If I had been in Norway or even in Lithuania like last year it would've been ten times better. I look at my season last year, I was really fit and I've had the best season of my career. I think it's special that at 32 years old I find myself in the country I should've gone to when I was 22. If I had done that, I would have ended up with a big club in a smaller lesgue that could've played in the Europa League, also Lithuania was a perfect fit for my style of play.
Second Part: http://tinyurl.com/7uo79nc