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Where are they now: Vincent Pericard

4 October 2012

Moving to a new country can be a difficult experience for anyone, let alone a young footballer looking to make their name in the game.

Learning a new language and adapting to a new culture can take time, as a growing number of foreign players moving to the npower Football League could testify.

Even for young home-grown players, moving away at a young age when joining a new club or dealing with the trappings of fame and fortune can be precarious.

Which is why Vincent Pericard, who moved from Italy to England in 2003 and represented Portsmouth, Sheffield United, Plymouth Argyle, Millwall, Carlisle United and Swindon Town during a 13-year career, is now trying to help footballers off the field.

Pericard admits he found moving to Italy from France as a teenager - and then England - a tough experience and says he would like to help players avoid similar difficulties.

"For new players that arrive in a country, there are a lot of problems - new cultures and a new language - that can prevent them from performing to his maximum," Pericard explains.

"I want to use my experience and knowledge from the problems I encountered to help players arriving in the country to settle. That's why I've set up a welfare service, to help players reach their maximum. We will help players so all they'll need to focus on is playing the game. I think that's very important.

"I never had that service offered to me when I was young and now I see young players struggling with the same things I did and they don't know where to turn."

Pericard recently hung up his boots after a brief spell at Havant and Waterlooville in the Blue Square Bet South and he's now fully committed on making his new project a roaring success.

And with more and more players, past and present, admitting to mental health and other off-field problems, Pericard believes now is the right time to deal with some of football's biggest issues.

"Football fans don't see the other side of life for a footballer," Pericard explains. "When you arrive you're just expected to turn up and play and perform miracles.

"Yet without any support it's not always easy to do it - you can't just click your fingers and expect a player to be happy in strange surroundings. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I've read that out of 10 players who might move abroad, only one of them will go on to succeed straight away.

"My move to Italy was a surprise," he continues. "Back home in France, I was just doing my thing, living with my parents. I never believed Juventus would be interested in me at that stage!

"But one day, when I was playing with France under-16s, I got a call from an agent saying they were interested. When Juventus come knocking on your door, you don't think twice. Things moved very quickly.

"When I arrived in Italy I had no friends and couldn't speak the language, I didn't even know how to get to training. It was my first time away from home. To go from living with your parents at home to a new country, it's a huge responsibility.

"On the pitch I was welcomed to the club as a first-team player. Zidane was a good friend. He gave me his number early on and said to call him any time. I would go round Edgar Davids' house to eat and chat, we'd swap stories on the bus to and from games and I often roomed with Lilian Thuram."

Pericard played a handful of games for the Old Lady before moving to England, which he says he found tough at first.

Despite Harry Redknapp expressing his doubts over Pericard's talents, the striker was part of the Portsmouth side that won promotion from the npower Championship in his first season and his nine goals in 32 games were a major contribution.

"It was the highlight of my career," he enthuses.

"That felt like such an achievement. The players were happy and singing after we secured our promotion, I was happy, my family were proud. At that stage I was so excited about the future."

After winning promotion with Pompey, Pericard's progress was thwarted by injury.

He then moved on to Stoke City but more injuries and a short spell in prison - for speeding - followed, before a series of loan spells.

"I suffered a lot as a result of the timing of my injuries. Most of your friends revolve around a football club and when they're training, playing and happy and you're not, it makes it very hard.

"You lose your routine. You go to training earlier than others to receive treatment, you go to the gym on your own and then you go home. It's frustrating. You miss the Saturdays and when you return you're so eager to please you do silly things and get more niggles."

Pericard moved to Millwall, then Plymouth Argyle, but finally returned to his best at Carlisle United.

He scored five goals in 11 games and was an instant crowd favourite. Not surprisingly, it's a spell he remembers with find memories.

"It was an amazing time. The fans gave me a lot of love and I really enjoyed myself. I was enjoying my football again, enjoying my life for the first time since when I was playing for Stoke.

"I felt fit, I was scoring goals and that's all I wanted. I felt fulfilled, relaxed and happy. Instead of fearing the next day I looked forward to it."

Pericard's run of form prompted Swindon Town boss Danny Wilson to bring Pericard to Wiltshire.

Unfortunately, bad luck followed the Frenchman on his journey south.

"I arrived in Swindon with a minor hamstring pull from an FA Cup game against Everton. I was so desperate to impress there that I played a bit earlier than I should have done and was set back a couple of weeks.

"I could see and hear fans getting frustrated with me and at the same time, Charlie Austin and Billy Paynter couldn't stop scoring. The manager was never going to change a winning team so I had to bide my time on the bench.

"It's tough. You want nothing more than for the fans to say, 'yeah, he was part of the reason we were successful'. The manager knows what you're capable of, but fans don't see you in training. You just want to be loved."

Pericard was released from the County Ground in 2011 and the Frenchman hoped a short spell at Havant would help him find another Football League club.

It didn't, and he has now decided to focus all his attentions to helping others.

"I don't have regrets as such, but I believe with the right people around me I wouldn't have had the injuries I've suffered and I certainly wouldn't have gone to prison. I believe I would have achieved more and might even still be playing at a higher level.

"Now, the most important thing is to leave a legacy and do something I can be proud of. It would mean a lot to have players be able to come up to me and say: 'Yes Vincent, you really helped us and helped us achieve'.

"I'm a people person, I love caring for others and I would feel extremely touched if, in five years' time, even one player could come up to me and tell me I helped them with advice. That's my main objective."

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