Thursday, May 13, 2010

How Thomas kicked his way out of poverty

Richard Sydenham

Reuters/Wigan, England

With his four-wheel drive BMW in the car park, his four-bedroom house nearby, fashionable training shoes and clothes, Hendry Thomas has come a long way from a childhood where money, if not food, was in short supply.

It is clear, from spending a few moments in his company, that his background was a long, long way from his current position of wealth and fame.

Now Wigan's defensive midfielder will represent Honduras in their first World Cup for 28 years in South Africa next month with group games against Chile, Switzerland and European champions Spain.

Thomas, with mature features that belie his 25 years, has arrived on the world stage following eight years at local club Olimpia, where he made his debut as a 16-year-old. He did not offer detail, but his childhood was clearly tough.

"We had a certain level of poverty but we always had food and never starved," said Thomas in Spanish, via an interpreter at the training ground of his English team Wigan, while sitting next to his club and Honduras team mate Maynor Figueroa.

"I didn't play football as a way out (of the poverty). I played football first and foremost because I loved the game and enjoyed the opportunity to play as a kid.

"Although I wouldn't go as far to say I am a millionaire, yes, football has given my family a better existence."

Asked what material effect his new-found financial rewards have afforded his family back home like expensive cars or a bigger house, Thomas either sidestepped the inquiry or the question was literally lost in translation.

But he did acknowledge: "It's nice to be able to look after my family now."

The Honduran people have had a rough time in recent years, with floods that caused destruction in 2008.

The Central American country of less than 8 million people is said to have half of its population below the poverty line but a rare World Cup appearance will no doubt bring some pride and cheer.

Honduras met Spain in their World Cup debut and managed a 1-1 draw against the 1982 tournament hosts but finished last in their group.

Thomas, whose game mirrors that of former France World Cup winner Claude Makelele -- famous for breaking up opposition attacks and starting new ones for his own team -- is upbeat about the challenge.

The Group H clash against Spain in Johannesburg on June 21 will be especially meaningful for its cultural significance.

Thomas admitted there is still a Spanish feel about Honduras, which was under Spanish rule for over 300 years.

"We are probably one of the less fancied teams in that group but it doesn't mean to say that we don't fancy ourselves (to win). We think we have a chance.

"It's not that we don't respect our opponents but we don't fear them.

"I suppose the main objective first of all against Spain is to stop them from playing and put a break on their tactics but that doesn't mean we cannot make a nuisance of ourselves and hurt them on the counter."

Thomas is hoping that one of Spain's most dangerous players, striker Fernando Torres, is fully fit for the tournament after undergoing knee surgery. There was an honest feel to the answer -- even if it was delivered with a wide smile.

Honduras will boast a big name of their own in Wilson Palacios, who was sold from Wigan to Tottenham last year for about 12 million pounds ($17.93 million), though Thomas says the team's main strength is their togetherness.

Expect panache also.

Thomas's first World Cup memories are of Romario, Dunga and the free-flowing Brazilians when they won the World Cup in 1994. Honduras, it seems, are seeking a similar method.

"What you will notice about us is that we play football in an entertaining way, we like to entertain the fans and I think we play a skilful brand of football.

"No matter who we play against you will see that we do try to enjoy our game. Tactically we might differ depending on the opposition but the main ethic is to go out and entertain."

GetRTR 3.00 -- MAY 13, 2010 13:16:34

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