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HIBS supporters have a lot to thank a man in Canada for. He is the person who 'discovered' Russel Latapy and was the instigator of a move to Portugal which saw the midfielder's career take off in Europe before making a timely landing in Edinburgh.


The reason the man from Canada is not identified has nothing whatsoever to do with a wish to remain anonymous; it is simply because his protege can't remember his name.

To be fair to the Trinidadian, though, it was a long time ago and many other agents and footballing people who have been equally, if not more, important to his career have since crossed his path. The full story of his discovery is the kind of stuff fairytales are made of. During a kickabout with some footballing friends in Toronto whom he was visiting, he was approached by the owner - the unknown previously referred to - of a local team who asked him if he wanted to play in Portugal. Two months later he was on a plane bound for a trial at Porto's Estadio das Antas. When he arrived in Portugal, Latapy may have been as anonymous to the footballing locals as the man who got him there is to him now, but he left with a league winner's medal, a cup winner's medal, and a reputation richer. Anonymity, however, is not something that the magical midfielder is afforded back in his homeland. Having played at every age level for his country - he is a 100 times-capped internationalist - he is just about the best known sportsman back home. In an effort to give something back to the game, he set up a sports and educational foundation in Trinidad four years ago. Such is his popularity that a page exists on the internet where you can bid for a baseball emblazoned with the midfielder's name; all proceeds go to the foundation. Anyone wishing to purchase a cap would have been required to bid in excess of £30. "It was actually my Mum's idea," explained the 30-year-old. "She brought it up and we sat down and talked about it. It's a good opportunity for me to give something back to the game, and it seems to be doing well. The foundation helps to take kids off the streets and provide opportunities for them to go to school. It also raises money for school books and equipment." It's not too difficult then to work out just why, in Trinidad, Latapy is, in every sense of the word, a legend. However, he's not the only one: among his circle of childhood friends are Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, who recently described Latapy as the "most naturally talented footballer I've ever seen", and West Indian cricketer Brian Lara, who Latapy rates "the best batsmen in the world". The trio are still close today, but it seems that before Lara was lost to the world of cricket at 14, the trio played football together at under-12 level, with Latapy in midfield providing service for Lara and Yorke up front. A mischievous grin lights up the Hibs man's face when he describes Lara as a 'tricky' striker, but he concedes that his decision to concentrate on playing with a bat and ball was more a tremendous gain to the world of cricket than a loss to football. On a worldwide scale, Latapy may be the least known of the three, but back home it is he who receives the greatest adulation. So much so that when news of his signing reached Trinidad it prompted a local to e-mail one of the capital's newspapers claiming that it was the happiest day of his life, adding that Hibs had "just added the most important and exciting piece of their cham-pionship". The words proved prophetic. Not only did Latapy, whose style of play has been likened to that of Brian Laudrup, play a major role in Alex McLeish's side clinching the First Division title, but he is in contention for the division's Player of the Year award, courtesy of mass recognition from his fellow professionals outwith Easter Road. Having tasted widescale domestic success in Portugal, at Porto with Bobby Robson, whom he describes as one of the best managers he's ever played under, and then Boavista, European football has been a regular feature of Latapy's career thus far. As recently as last season he scored, albeit after coming off the bench, in a Cup- Winners' Cup tie against Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. The only cup competitions he can contemplate in the immediate future are the League and Scottish Cups, yet he refutes the suggestion that Hibernian is a strange choice of club for someone who admits he had tempting offers from Spain as well as a brief flirtation with Aston Villa in the English Premiership, where the flair and vision he has displayed during his six months in Scotland wouldn't be out of place. "At Boavista, because I had won everything there {in Portugal}, I don't think I was as motivated to play," he explained. "I was on a free transfer from Boavista and had some fantastic offers from Spain, but Spain is the same as Portugal and I really needed a new challenge. "I had always wanted to play in the English Premiership. As a kid there was a programme called Road to Wembley which they'd show every Saturday and Sunday and I would watch it and dream about playing in the English Premiership, so I said to myself that maybe before I finish playing I'll give it a go. "I came over to England and played two reserve games with Aston Villa, while Dwight was there. I went to Seville with the team and played for about 15 minutes, but I never came to an agreement with them. "Then I was speaking to my friend Tony Rougier on the phone and he basically sold Hibs to me. They're a very ambitious club; there was no way they would be staying in the First Division and I needed a challenge. "I have always said that I need to be honest with myself to be honest to everyone else, and I would love to play in the English Premiership. But I'm happy here, I'm enjoying life, and enjoying playing football again which I wasn't in Portugal." Dreams of playing in the Premiership aside, the next milestone in Latapy's career will be Saturday, May 8, when Hibernian are presented with their First Division winners' medals. It will, he says, give him as much pleasure to receive the medal as have much more prestigious honours he collected earlier in his career. Hibs, however, could end up the losers in the long term. They may have given him back his appetite for the game, but when he unleashes that desire next season on those who consider themselves the cream of Scottish football, all the country, including the scouts in the English Premiership, will surely be watching closely. Trinidadian internationalist Russel Latapy has long been revered in his homeland and is now achieving similar status among the Hibernian fans