He already has an offer from a German club on the table, but it’s the German who sat beside him at the lunch on Wednesday that really left Caniggia ‘Ginola’ Elva in a state of awe.
“Mesut Ozil sat beside him at lunch — Caniggia told me he could barely eat his food,” said Ramon Mifflin, director of operations for Calgary’s South West United Soccer Club.
“He was completely star struck.”
You’d have to follow English soccer to understand Elva’s excitement — but what’s easy to grasp is that the 17-year-old from Calgary is currently in England, trying out for one of the world’s top soccer sides, Arsenal F.C.
Even landing a tryout with the Premiership’s second-place team, known to fans as the Gunners, is a stunning achievement for the youth, who moved to Calgary from the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia at the age of 12.
His team trumpeted the news over Twitter last week, stating: “OH MY – SWU Striker Caniggia Elva off to London, England for trial Monday with Arsenal FC. Thanks to all who helped him get there!”
Those watching the futball phenom’s development say Arsenal’s decision to fly Elva first-class to London on Monday shows they’ve seen a glimmer of what coaches here have long believed — that Elva is the most skilled soccer player Canada has ever produced.
“I think Caniggia at this moment, his skillset is better than Owen Hargreaves at the same age,” said Mifflin.
That’s a huge statement, given Hargreaves’ vaunted position as the most successful Canadian soccer player ever, with a career that took him from Calgary to Bayern Munich and Manchester United, as well as a controversial decision to join England’s international squad.
But Mifflin says Elva is the better player, at this point.
“He’s better, but we don’t know what’s going to happen — Hargreaves had the drive and determination to make it,” said Mifflin.
Hargreaves also chose to play for his father’s birthplace when the time came to choose an international side, and critics say the choice of England deprived Canadian kids of a valuable role model representing the maple leaf.
Mifflin says that won’t be repeated in Elva’s case.
Though his father, Titus ‘Titi’ Elva, was a St Lucian international, the younger Elva has already expressed a desire to play for Canada — once his long-awaited immigration papers are settled.
“He wants to play for Canada,” said Mifflin.
But first things first — and for now, Elva is focused on impressing a team full of stars like Mesut Ozil.
A video of the Calgarian showing off his skills hasn’t hurt — and it’s said that footage helped convince the Arsenal bosses to give Elva a shot.
“I am extremely grateful and humbled by this opportunity. I am a lifelong Thierry Henry fan, and it’s a dream come true to be at this great club!!” wrote Elva via an email from England.
He was also quick to praise his Calgary club for getting his a shot at the big leagues.
“If it wasn’t for my family, teammates from Southwest United 96-97’s, my coaches, and SWU the best club in Calgary, this opportunity would have never happened” he wrote.
The tryout for Arsenal follows a trial and offers to play professionally in Stuttgart, Germany — but there has also been interest from Barcelona, and Benfica, who want a look at the Calgary forward.
The news has made the sport press in Europe, where one outlet described him as an “energetic youngster, who has pace and an eye for goal and can play out wide or in a more advanced attacking role.”
In Calgary, Elva’s uncle — with whom the future pro lives — says the whole family is overwhelmed with nervous joy.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Oliver Elva. ([email protected])
PHOTO -: Caniggia Elva with Arsène Wenger (swusoccer.com)