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Calgary-raised forward Caniggia Ginola Elva has the name and the game

Canadian national men's soccer team coach Octavio Zambrano walks off the pitch at a practice in Alliston, Ont., Wednesday, Oct.4, 2017. Canada plays an international friendly against El Salvador in Houston on Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson
October 04, 2017 - 3:34 PM

ALLISTON, Ont. - With brothers named Saviola and Riquelme, it's safe to say Caniggia Elva — whose middle name is Ginola — comes from a soccer family.

Born in St. Lucia and currently playing his club football for VfB Stuttgart's under-23 team in Germany, the 21-year-old forward has also come a long way to play for Canada.

Elva was 11 when he moved to Calgary to stay with his uncle Oliver Elva, who became his legal guardian. The hope was Canada would offer a better future.

"From the Caribbean to Canada you sacrifice a lot — you leave your parents behind and everything," Caniggia Elva said after training with the national team Wednesday in advance of Sunday's friendly in Houston against El Salvador. "But I know that I needed to move forward because there's not so much opportunity in St. Lucia."

The son of former St. Lucia international Titus Elva, Elva is named after former soccer stars Claudio Caniggia of Argentina and David Ginola of France.

"It's a unique name," he said of Caniggia. "You don't find many people with that name. It suits me, I think."

His brothers are named in honour of retired Argentina stars Javier Saviola and Juan Roman Riquelme.

It's Elva's first senior camp for Canada. While he impressed coach Octavio Zambrano at an under-23 camp in March in Qatar, this call-up was precipitated by the injury withdrawal of Montreal midfielder David Choiniere.

Zambrano has been impressed by Elva's commitment to the sport, as evidenced by his willingness to move around the globe.

"It would be very easy, like it is for a lot of guys, to just be in the kind of an environment that is very predictable and not so challenging," Zambrano said. "I'm happy for him, that he took that route, because he has improved since I saw him the first time in Qatar ... This bodes well for Canada."

Growing up in Calgary, Elva played for Calgary South West United. Ramon Mifflin, the team's technical director, recalls coaching a 13-year-old Elva.

He saw a special player in a small package.

"From the minute I saw him, he was ahead of his age," Mifflin said. "An exceptional talent, very technical, very athletic."

Mifflin and an agent-friend secured Elva a tryout with England's Arsenal at 17, a move that earned praise for the young player from the St. Lucia prime minister.

"His skill and hard work is taking him places no other St. Lucian has gone and has gained him recognition worldwide," then-PM Kenny Anthony said at the time.

After Arsenal elected not to keep him, Stuttgart was happy to take him. Elva was 17 when he first spent a month at Stuttgart in November 2013 and was invited back when he turned 18.

Elva, Zambrano notes, did not come to Canada Soccer's attention through "regular channels."

"When I got on board, I got phone calls about him," Zambrano said. "So I was glad to see him in Qatar.

"Basically someone spotted him, saw enough about him, called people in the CSA to get him into a national team. It didn't happen at the youth level."

Mifflin, whose father was a star footballer for Peru, helped lead the word in spreading the word on Elva.

Positive reviews from his coach in Germany also helped open the national team door.

Elva says thanks to the camp in Qatar, he already feels familiarity with what Zambrano wants.

The young forward is already older than his years, having called three countries home. He lives by himself in Stuttgart and says his German is pretty good.

"I love Stuttgart, the city, the culture," he said.

And he is enjoying his football, playing regularly for the under-23 team. His eye is on the first squad, against whom he often gets to play in scrimmages.

Technology helps staying in contact with his family.

"Throughout the day I'm with them, so it doesn't really make me feel alone," he said.

Bringing his best friend over from the Caribbean helps at times, as do annual trips back to Calgary and St. Lucia.

Follow @NeilDavidson on Twitter

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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