It was 2010 when Leonardo da Silva Lopes finally bowed to his mother’s wishes and made the big move from Portugal to England.
He had initially resisted for 12 months, preferring to stay with family members in his home city of Lisbon. A fresh start in Peterborough did not appeal for a youngster only familiar with the very basics of English.
A new life in Cambridgeshire was worlds apart from the one Da Silva Lopes had known in Portugal’s capital but almost a decade later there is no cause to look back on the move with regret.
England is home for Hull City ’s midfielder now and time spent in his company fails to offer the faintest hint of his background. The accent, in fact, is more London than Lisbon.
It is on these shores where a promising young career has been launched, with over 100 appearances already amassed during spells with Peterborough United, Wigan Athletic, Gillingham and now City.
The story, though, could have been very different.
“My mum came to England on holiday initially,” explained Da Silva Lopes. “She knew a friend and came to visit her. She liked it and decided to move here. I didn’t want to move at first so I stayed in Portugal for another year.
“I finally moved when I was 12. It was tough for me because I didn’t know English and I had no friends.
“But it had been tough being in Portugal away from my mum so I had to move really.
“Football was how I made friends. When I first came to England at the age of 12 I didn’t really play football for a year.
“A couple of people at school saw me playing in PE lessons and said ‘You’re good’ so I went and joined a team. That’s how I ended up settling in.”
Da Silva Lopes might have needed cajoling back into football but it was always in the blood. He grew up a fan of Sporting Lisbon and has since looked up to international stars, such as Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. The latter, he says, is who he attempts to model his game on.
“He’s everywhere on the pitch and just keeps it simple,” he added. “He’s been scoring a few goals of late so that’s what I need to add to my game.”
If Kante stands out as his continued inspiration, Da Silva Lopes’ career has been moulded first-hand by Grant McCann.
City’s head coach first watched the midfielder at the age of 14 when the end of his playing career brought the first steps into coach with Peterborough United’s academy.
McCann saw enough in Da Silva Lopes’ development to make him a regular in League One during his teenage years and still believes the youngster can be “whatever he wants to be” in the coming years.
“It was massive for me to have the manager here,” said Da Silva Lopes. “I’ve worked with him since I was 14. As soon as I knew Hull were interested it was a no brainer.
“The first time I met him I was probably playing for Peterborough’s under-14s and he was just starting to do his coaching.
“Then I played in Peterborough’s reserves under him a few times and then the first team.
“I made my debut under Dave Robertson but then Grant took over. For him it’s always been a case of if you’re ready you’ll play. Your age doesn’t matter. He felt I was ready and I felt I was ready when I was at Peterborough.”
A Peterborough first-team debut aged 16 means that Da Silva Lopes already has 132 senior appearances to his name. For a young man who only turned 21 last month, it is a record that ensures he is not the wide-eyed rookie still finding his feet in senior football.
“I was talking to my agent the other day and I think I’m close to 150 games now. That’s a lot but I’m glad,” he said.
“I still feel I’ve got a lot to learn. The Championship right now is like a new level to me. I’ve never really played in it and now I’m getting a little taste.”
That was supposed to come last year. Three years as a first-team regular with Peterborough had convinced Wigan to pay £1.5m for his services but after just three appearances for the Latics and a loan spell with Gillingham, Da Silva Lopes was allowed to join City in August.
“Partly it was my fault,” he said. “I don’t think I was ready at the time. I found it tough moving away from home and I didn’t have friends other than the people I played with. It was a tough year.
“You’ve just got to learn from it. I went to Gillingham in the second half of the season on loan and I found that a lot easier. It’s just part of growing up. Here I’ve felt settled pretty much straight away.”
Da Silva Lopes is now a Championship regular and arguably City’s most influential midfielder on current form. Eleven starts will bring a 12th against Birmingham this afternoon and his hopes are that more is to come in the second half of a debut season at the KCOM Stadium.
“When I came in Kevin Stewart was playing and I had to be patient,” said Da Silva Lopes. “I played right-back a few times but I just kept hoping my chance would come. That’s come now and I’m in the team.
“I feel settled now. I’ve got my own place sorted and I’m playing. When you’re playing you feel good. It’s all been going great.
“Once you feel comfortable around the place, you get comfortable on the pitch.
“I don’t like to rush things. When I rush I play worse. That’s why people say I’m so laid back.”
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