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Budding Woodbridge soccer star has shot at the pros

Ontario League 1 U19 player Gianluca Raia picked by FIFA scout Nicolas Rognoni to go to Dubai for tryouts

Ontario League 1 U19 Woodbridge player, Gianluca Raia, recently returned from a trip to Dubai after being picked up by FIFA scout Nicolas Rognoni, during trials hosted by the Bradford Wolves at the Bradford Sports Dome in December.

The 15-year-old had visited Bradford before to play with his own club, and while he always found it to be a nice place, he didn’t expect such a big opportunity to come from a small town.

“It felt great,” he said of being selected by Rognoni to go tryout overseas. “I do want to make it pro. That’s always been my dream. That’s always been my goal, and I do want to make it come true, so knowing that I have the opportunity to play in Dubai for a little bit and try out for the pro series was amazing.”

Gianluca’s father, Anthony Raia, called Bradford “fantastic” and emphasized the benefit for parents of having the opportunity to understand the selection process and meet the FIFA scout at the trial, who selected just two of about 130 players who participated.

“It’s a remarkable feeling as a parent to know that your child is able to achieve the goals that he’s been striving for since he was a little kid,” Anthony said, adding that Gianluca has been playing soccer since he was five.

That led Gianluca to spend a little more than one week in Dubai in January, which he described as “beautiful,” and much hotter than Ontario.

While there, Gianluca trained with two clubs, Dubai City and Khor Fakkan — the latter featuring training and coaching from Italian retired professional player Andrea Icardi, who currently acts as the club’s director of football.

“The level of soccer there is just different. You can’t compare it to over here in Canada. Over there, even just under 19, they take it to a whole different level,” he said. “The training is just phenomenal.”

In addition to training each day — sometimes multiple times — Gianluca was also kept busy trying to stay on top of school work, but he had plenty of support from his father, who also flew over to be with his son, and if all goes well, could be moving to Dubai to stay with him.

Despite the difficulty of leaving behind his wife and two other children, Anthony emphasizes the importance of the opportunity, noting that if Gianluca is signed to the pro league, the United Arab Emirates is also offering Anthony a work visa.

“This is the new channel,” he said. “For those individuals like my son who want to make this a career, this is the way to go.”

That support hasn’t gone unnoticed by Gianluca, who said he is “very thankful” to both his parents who seem “willing to do anything” to help him and his siblings.

“They’re very hard working and they’re my inspiration,” Gianluca said, adding that knowing his father is willing to give up his current job and move across the world “means a lot.”

“It shows that he really wants my dreams to come true as much as I want them to come true,” he said.

Gianluca has been invited back in July, as part of a group of players who have been offered and will be competing for potential contracts prior to the beginning of the season in September.

“In July, I’m going to Dubai with the mindset of I’m going to make it,” he said. “I’m going for a reason and I do have passion to play in Dubai.”

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Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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