IT IS perhaps fitting, given the name of the clinic he has attended to be treated for gambling addiction, but Michael Chopra insists he is simply grateful Alloa Athletic have given him a sporting chance of adding silverware to a career that has also been coloured by controversy.
Once he graced the Champions League and shared a team with the likes of Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Patrick Kluivert, but the 31-year-old will tomorrow line up for the part-time Clackmannanshire outfit in the Petrofac Training Cup final against Livingston. After transfers totalling £9 million, it is no stretch to describe Scottish football as being shocked by the former Newcastle United, Sunderland and Cardiff City striker’s decision to wend his way to the Indodrill Stadium to see out the season.
The player himself sees things from the opposite viewpoint, however, and is thankful that Alloa chanced their arm and made the phone call that Chopra claims resulted in him instantly “jumping in a car” to travel north to sign for the Wasps.
“It was just a football decision really,” he explains. “I hadn’t played in Scotland before. The team want to stay in the league and win a trophy as well, so there’s a couple of challenges there. I’m up for any challenges and I’m just pleased to be here.”
Returning from a spell with David James’ Kerala Blasters in India, his father’s homeland, Chopra was keen to find a club back in Britain to see out the campaign and had been training with Port Vale, but he admits his unexpected move to Scotland represented both something new and an opportunity to leave behind something old.
In 2008 and again in 2011, the Geordie checked into the Sporting Chance clinic, a facility set up by former England and Arsenal defender Tony Adams, to be treated for gambling addiction, whilst he has spoken openly about loan sharks chasing him for money and making threats to his family when playing for Ipswich Town. It is a past he is desperate to leave behind but fears others cannot.
“I just want to keep my head down, work hard and hopefully show people what I can do,” he added. “Obviously things have happened in the past but I don’t look back at what I’ve done – I prefer to look forward to a bright future.
“I feel I do have a point to prove. Some people will doubt me because of the gambling and things like that. And some managers won’t want to touch me because they’ll say my head’s not at it and all that stuff.
“But that’s just an excuse really, and it’s great that Alloa have given me a chance to show what I can do. It’s refreshing to get away from that old reputation. Me coming to a part-time club has probably raised eyebrows.”
That is a response likely to greet his son, Sebastian, in the coming weeks after the seven-year-old, who lives in Newcastle, asked his dad to bring him back an Alloa strip. The black and gold would be an odd sight on the streets of the north-east of England tomorrow when, almost simultaneously with Alloa’s cup final, Chopra’s former clubs Newcastle and Sunderland face off in one of football’s fiercest rivalries. However, Chopra is adamant the Tyne-Wear derby will have to take a back seat for both him and at least a handful of new Alloa fans south of the border.
“Any goal means the same to me, whether it’s Newcastle v Sunderland or Alloa v Livingston,” he said. “Hitting the back of the net means so much and it’s the best feeling in the world, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a tap-in or a shot from 25 yards. I still get the same buzz out of scoring, whether it’s for Newcastle or Alloa. My boy might come and watch me on Sunday, but I’m not sure, with me not being with his mum any more. I’m on the phone to him every day and, if he can’t get up here, he’ll be watching the cup final on TV rather than Newcastle v Sunderland.”
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