Iron rearguard standing tall in Kitchee colors thr

Over the past six seasons, a lot of players, both local and foreign, have gone through the Kitchee dressing room doors. Even for the players themselves, little would have thought full-back Daniel Cancela, who first signed for the club back in 2010, would be a player who outlasts majority of the others. Age has never seemed to be a hindrance for the industrious left-back. In fact, while Father Time might have taken youth away from Cancela, he more than made up for it by gifted the Spanish defender with loads of valuable experience in return, allowing the player to emerge as one of the most dangerous left-backs in the local game. “Time flies,” that was how the articulate Cancela summarized his six years in Kitchee colors. Entering his seventh season with the Blues, the Spaniard could still recall his early days in Hong Kong with great clarity. “When I first arrived in Hong Kong, we were still training in Kowloon Tsai Park. A lot of players back then were not used to high intensity training and they were not ready to compete. However, the mindsets of Kitchee players have steadily progressed over the years. Everyone has now become more professional, fully understanding training should be competitive and should be taken seriously. This is the reason why Kitchee has improved. Local players such as (Lo) Kwan-yee and (Lam) Ka-wai are still with the side, and they are an important part of the club’s growth,” said the thirty-five year-old. Roberto Losada, Jorge Tarres and Fernando Recio all came to Kitchee at the same time with Cancela. The former has since retired and has joined the club’s coaching ranks, while the latter two have been loaned out this season. While Cancela might not generate as much publicity and fanfare as the other trio on the playing field, the left-back has nevertheless earned his stripes through some very steady performances at the backline. “It is not easy for foreign players to play in a strong side like Kitchee for seven years. It is especially tough when you are not a centre-back or a striker. I look around the premier league and I certainly do not see any other foreign full-back besides myself,” said the Kitchee rearguard. Cancela also mentioned how former head coach Josep Gombau introduced a playing style to Kitchee that would turn out to be instrumental to the left-back’s stay with the Blues. “Gombau insisted the two full-backs had to support the midfield. We would take on a more important role especially when the team had the ball in possession. In my humble assessment, I think only a handful of players have this capability in their arsenal throughout the league and maybe that is why I am able to play in Hong Kong for so long.” Despite boasting a playing style that fits naturally with Kitchee, Daniel Cancela is never one to rest on his laurels. As a matter of fact, the Kitchee defender tries his best to maintain a healthy lifestyle, trains hard and pays attention to his own diet, as well as supplementing all of the above by going through a rigorous exercise routine nightly before his bedtime to ensure blood circulates freely inside his tree trunk-size legs. “A retired Spanish keeper once said, when you reach the age of thirty, you need to lose one kilo every year afterwards. I am now six or seven kilos lighter than when I first arrived. It is true that I do feel more tired after games than when I was younger. But all in all, my body is still feeling pretty good.” Noting that legendary compatriot Juan Carlos Valeron played in the La Liga until forty year-old, Daniel Cancela is a firm believer that age is merely a number. “Football is all about running and thinking. If your mind works faster than the others, then age is not an issue at all,” said Cancela. “Match experience has allowed me to know myself better as a player and my reading of the game has also remained on a high level, which I think are both very important for all players.” However, Cancela’s time with Kitchee is far from plain sailing, as the left-back has found himself buried in the picking order, especially in regional competitions such as the AFC Champions League or the AFC Cup. Yet this is the exact moment which the player’s ultimate professionalism shines on its fullest. “Over the years, Kitchee has had a lot of great players in my position, such as Cheung Kin-fung to name a few. There is no point for the team to select me and use up a foreigner quota in regional competitions. I fully understand what the coaches were thinking. We all fight for the same goal and I need to think from a wider perspective. Moaning and sulking will not be good for anyone – including myself and the team. Teammates such as Sham Kwok-keung and Tong Kin-man all work very hard in training and while they might not play as much as they would have liked, they never complain about their lack of playing time. In fact, they just keep working hard and pushing the others to reach a higher level on the training pitch. Solid teammates like them definitely contribute to Kitchee’s greatness.” Cancela came to Hong Kong with wife Maria back in 2010 and over the years, the family has welcomed Iago and Roque to the fold. The Kitchee rearguard is grateful that his profession has given him valuable time to witness the growth of his young children. “If I am working a nine-to-six job, I do not think I will have as much time for my family as I am having now. My family means a lot to me and their happiness completes my life.” “When your wife decides to follow you and support your career, you need to do your best to sort things out for her. When we took up the Kitchee invitation years ago, we just wanted to sample the lifestyle in Asia and to broaden our horizon. Luckily, things went better than we expected and now, we are treating Hong Kong as our home. I can be a permanent resident after the end of this season and if I stay in Hong Kong, I will be able eligible to apply for the Hong Kong passport. If that is the case, then why not take up that option and potentially give the Hong Kong representative team a go?” Kitchee fans have nothing to worry about. It certainly looks like Daniel Cancela and his number three jersey will still have a very important role to play in Kitchee’s foreseeable future