ALSO ON SLAM!
Friday, June 9, 2000
No more red mist for Peschisolido
WINNIPEG -- Sent off and suspended, Paul Peschisolido was the bad boy the last time Canada tried to qualify for the World Cup.
There's still an element of Dennis the Menace in the pint-sized forward, but that didn't stop head coach Holger Osieck from making Peschisolido captain in a recent friendly against Trinidad and Tobago.
Osieck, whose every move is scripted, wanted Peschisolido to take on a leadership role in the absence of regular skipper Jason deVos. And he strategically chose Toronto, adjacent to Peschisolido's home town of Pickering, to make the point.
"I don't think I've ever been captain before in my life," said Peschisolido, whose parents were in the stands that day. "I was very pleased, it shows that he's got some trust in me."
It also showed that perhaps Peschisolido has been able to put a spotty disciplinary reputation with the national team behind him.
Sent off -- "a few times," he corrects an interviewer -- during the final round of qualifying in the leadup to France 98, Peschisolido's lack of control seemed to mirror that of the team as it spiralled out of contention.
There was a red card in Panama, completely unwarranted by all accounts. But Peschisolido was guilty as charged when he was ejected against El Salvador in a game in Vancouver.
Upset at a foul, Peschisolido flipped the corner flag into the face of an El Salvadorean defender, who went down like he had been dropped from 50 storeys. FIFA later added to the automatic one-game suspension.
Peschisolido (pronounced Pesk-e-so-lido) notes that his record with the Canadian team had been pretty solid prior to those incidents. But he knows that the red cards took a toll on his reputation back home.
"I was embarassed and ashamed," he said Friday at the team hotel, where the Canadians await Sunday's game against Cuba. "But you've got to learn not to snap like that.
"I just think it was a buildup of a whole bunch of things. You travel to these countries and you're not treated the best. Spitting and hair-pulling isn't uncommon when you play against this kind of opposition."
Generously listed at 5-8 and 160, Peschisolido also takes a huge amount of abuse when he plays. Unable to control his speed, many defenders just hammer him to the turf. He is a marked man on the field with the bruises to prove it.
As far as he can recall, Peschisolido hasn't got a caution while playing for Canada since then and last season at Fulham he received just four yellow cards.
"I guess I've matured in the pitch," he said. "I'm 29 years old. I guess it takes me a lot more to get riled nowadays."
Of course there was that incident off-camera at the final of the Gold Cup when Peschisolido, on the sidelines due to a groin injury, taunted a Colombian player for taking a dive near the Canadian bench.
The Colombian reportedly responded by grabbing the injured portion of Peschisolido's anatomy.
That drew an irate Osieck off the bench, earning him an ejection in his own right.
(Osieck's ejection cost him his place on the bench for last Sunday's game in Havana. The coach sat in the stands, relaying messages to assistant Bruce Twamley via third-string goalie Lars Hirschfeld).
Peschisolido may not be in line for the Nobel Peace Prize yet, but he is becoming a key figure again in the Canadian picture.
Imagine the national team as a gang and Peschisolido is one of the ring-leaders.
He admits in the event of mischief, "more than likely" he's involved.
"All harmless stuff," he adds. "Just having a bit of fun."
The occasional red mist aside, Peschisolido is a fun-loving individual.
During practice, with socks rolled down around his ankle and wearing baggy shorts that look like they've been borrowed from an NBA player, Peschisolido needles, jokes and clowns as he deftly whips the ball around.
Teams need light moments. Especially cooped up in hotels, where life revolves around meals and practice -- neither of which is the stuff of memories.
When he returns to training with Fulham of the English First Division on June 26, he isn't sure what awaits. New manager Jean Tigana just spent 2.1 million pounds on 21-year-old French striker Louis Saha and more forwards are rumoured on the way.
Tigana has also apparently decreed no more days off, cutting down Peschisolido's chances to get back to the Midlands to see his wife Karren Brady, who is managing director of First Division Birmingham City, and his two- and four-year-old kids.
Peschisolido, a fan favourite at Fulham, has two more years on his contract there but says he wants first-team football and will look elsewhere if he doesn't get it under Tigana.
Notes: Defender Paul Fenwick has signed a two-year deal with Hibernian in Edinburgh. Fenwick finished the season with Raith Rovers in the Scottish First Division when things turned sour with Greenock Morton.