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Luis Robles goes from MLS player to World Cup travel manager

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Felix Brambilla (left), the CEO of Overseas Network, and Luis Robles, World Cup project manager, during one of their trips to Qatar as they prepare for the 2022 World Cup

Felix Brambilla (left), the CEO of Overseas Network, and Luis Robles, World Cup project manager, during one of their trips to Qatar as they prepare for the 2022 World Cup

Luis Robles

Former Inter Miami goalkeeper and captain Luis Robles dreamed of playing in a World Cup from his days as a youth soccer player in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to his early pro years in Germany until Jan. 6, 2021, when he announced his retirement after a career-ending arm fracture.

He will finally fulfill his dream – with a twist.

Robles, 37, will be managing visitor hospitality at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which runs from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18.

He landed the dream job last May after several months trying to figure out what to do post-retirement. He considered graduate school. He explored front office jobs with Inter Miami and other MLS clubs. He even delivered groceries for Instacart for a brief period because he was tired of sitting around his Parkland home.

Then, a phone call with former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati led Robles to Felix Brambilla, CEO of Coral Gables-based Overseas Network, the official U.S. agent for MATCH hospitality at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Overseas is in a joint venture with Premier Partnership and Elevate Sports Ventures and their mission is to provide World Cup visitors with tickets, lodging and unique cultural experiences.

As it happens, Robles’ new office is directly across the street from Inter Miami’s business office.

Robles joined Overseas on May 1, 2021, and has since made multiple trips to Qatar, including a three-week stay during the recent Arab Cup, a test event for the World Cup.

“I always thought as a teenager and professional soccer player that I’d go to the World Cup as a player and instead I am going as a manager in event hospitality,” Robles said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Although he knew nothing about the hospitality industry, Robles earned a Finance degree from the University of Portland and got some business acumen as a longtime executive of the MLS Players Association.

“Even though I was probably underqualified, Felix let me into his ecosystem and has mentored me, corrected me, rebuked me at times, and educated me to reinvent who I am. Now, when I meet people, I don’t introduce myself as Luis Robles former professional soccer player. I introduce myself as Luis Robles, manager of the World Cup project for Overseas.”

Brambilla has been involved in the past seven World Cups. Like many soccer fans around the world, when he heard about Qatar, he had doubts.

“When this opportunity first came up, I was one of the people wondering what was the logic of hosting the World Cup in Qatar,” Brambilla said. “I wouldn’t say I was skeptical, but I wanted answers. It took our first trip last June to get answers.”

Brambilla and Robles are well aware of the ongoing concerns about the Cup host’s human rights history and other humanitarian issues such as anti-homosexuality laws. But they both said their perceptions of the gulf nation changed having spent extended time there.

“Football is going to be able to fill its missions like never before,” Brambilla said. “We’re going to bring together populations that don’t understand each other, that are full of cliches towards each other. When Luis met me there in June, being from a family with military background he was arriving with those apprehensions. Will I be welcome there? Will I be understood?”

The answer is yes, Robles and Brambilla said.

“I was pleasantly surprised because you have preconceived notions about what a place is like,” Robles said. “My brother served in Iraq and Afghanistan. My Dad has this incredibly proud tradition and heritage of military perspective. So that’s where I was coming from.

“So many of us have little exposure to the Middle East and the one thing that really sticks out after being there is the hospitality. They are warm and genuine and that catches you off guard because you’re already formulated this idea of who these people are. The World Cup allows us to share experiences and learn from each other.”

Brambilla added: “We found a country that was more open-minded from what we expected. They want to be a bridge between the Middle East and the rest of the world. This is not propaganda in any way. This is not something that has been fed to us by FIFA or anybody else. This is a human feeling you get when you go there, when you find yourself with Qatari families and ex-pats who are over there.”

They found out that Qatari families like to camp in the desert on weekends and visit sand dunes, so they are incorporating those activities into their travel packages. They are building two Bedouin-inspired camps, one in the southern dunes area and a larger one in the desert that will include entertainment venues and a lighted soccer field. They are offering ATV rides, camel rides and falcon handling experiences.

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Visitors to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be treated to traditional Bedouin meals in campgrounds. Luis Robles

After attending the Arab Cup they both firmly believe the World Cup fan experience will be better than what skeptics fear. The stadiums were full of enthusiastic fans – men, women and children. The eight stadiums are all within driving distance of each other, so fans will be able to see multiple games in a day if they want. And, yes, fans will be allowed to celebrate with alcohol.

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Stadiums were full for the 2021 Arab Cup in Qatar, a test event for the 2022 World Cup Luis Robles

“A lot of people are asking, `Will I be able to celebrate in a Muslim country?’ Yes, you will,” Brambilla said. “The Qatari culture doesn’t involve alcohol, but they are welcoming Western visitors and saying `You can celebrate in the manner you enjoy, but let’s respect each other.’’’

Fans interested in traveling to the Qatar World Cup can get information at https://usa.match-hospitality.com/

IF YOU WANT TO GO…

2022 World Cup

Where: Qatar

When: Nov. 21-Dec. 18, 2022

Teams: 32

Venues: Eight air-conditioned outdoor stadiums

For tickets, lodging, tourist packages: https://usa.match-hospitality.com/

This story was originally published January 14, 2022 8:50 PM.

Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman has covered 14 Olympics, six World Cups, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, NBA Playoffs, Super Bowls and has been the soccer writer and University of Miami basketball beat writer for 25 years. She was born in Frederick, Md., and grew up in Miami.





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Blaise Matuidi released on FREE transfer by Inter Miami to pave way for David Beckham to sign another big star

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DAVID BECKHAM has received a huge Inter Miami transfer boost after finally offloading high-earning French World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi on a free transfer.

Sporting director Chris Henderson refused to give much away on Monday about the 34 year-old’s future and would only say talks with his agent remain on-going.

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Blaise Matuidi has been released from his contract by MLS side Inter MiamiCredit: Getty
Davis Beckham's Miami side aim to lure another high-profile star to south Florida

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Davis Beckham’s Miami side aim to lure another high-profile star to south FloridaCredit: Getty

But SunSport understands former Juventus midfielder Matuidi will leave the MLS club shortly and crucially open up a slot for another big hitter to come to south Florida.

While Miami sources have denied Luis Suarez could arrive this summer after his deal at Atletico Madrid expires at the end of the season, with Matuidi gone at least Becks has space in the squad to do some more business. 

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi remain targets even if the former England skipper will have to wait his turn.

Clubs here can only have three top earners – Designated Players (DP’s) – and although Mexican international Rodlofo Pizarro was sent back to Monterrey recently, because his loan free and wages aren’t being taken on fully, Neville was unable to replace him with a new superstar. 

Yet with Matuidi cutting ties with Miami for good, Nev and Becks can now get to work and bring in a big name to try and improve on last season’s disappointing campaign.

The former Juventus man was a disaster in MLS – his transfer in the summer of 2020 contravened strict League financial guidelines which saw the club whacked with debilitating transfer sanctions for the next two years.

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A disastrous deal hatched under the watch of former sporting director Paul McDonough saw Miami pay Matuidi well over the odds for a non-DP player.

That led to a lengthy probe by furious MLS bosses who not only banned McDonough but also fined the club a whopping $2million [£1.47m].

Co-owner Jorge Mas was also hit with a $250,000 [£183k] penalty.

Transfer chief Henderson, however, has worked wonders by cutting the squad dramatically in recent weeks with the likes of Scottish winger Lewis Morgan, Argentine defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Pizarro all leaving.

Ryan Shawcross, the former Stoke defender, is also off the books after being told he wasn’t part of Neville’s plans.

But Nev, who has already brought in a raft of young, hungry players including son Harvey and Brazilian playmaker Jean Mota, has been desperate to get rid of Matuidi.

Matuidi failed to replicate the form which saw him start the World Cup final against Croatia in 2018 and will now work on further bolstering a fresh, new-look team ahead of the season opener next month.

 Read our Transfer News Live blog for the very latest rumours, gossip and done deals





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Inter Miami opened camp with new roster for 2022 MLS season

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Inter Miami CF forward Gonzalo Higuain, left and defender Aimé Mabika run after the ball during the team’s first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022.

Inter Miami CF forward Gonzalo Higuain, left and defender Aimé Mabika run after the ball during the team’s first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022.

Special for the Miami Herald

Inter Miami should have added names to the practice jerseys as the team kicked off training camp Monday. There were so many new players reporters had to rely on boot colors and hairstyles to distinguish among them.

More than half of last year’s starting lineup is gone for Season 3, including designated player Rodolfo Pizarro, 2020 MVP Lewis Morgan, defenders Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Christian Makoun, all of whom were traded or loaned. French World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi and Argentine defender Nico Figal are also on their way out.

Replacing them is a collection of young, hungry, speedy players hand-picked by chief soccer officer Chris Henderson and coach Phil Neville. After inheriting much of the club’s original roster when they took over in 2021 and not reaching the playoffs, Henderson and Neville were determined to put their imprint on the team.

They also had to reduce the payroll to compensate for MLS fines for roster rules violations in 2020.

“This is a reset button for the organization,” Neville said. “We knew we had to make big decisions and be brave, and we were willing to do that.”

Neville stressed the amount of research and vetting that Henderson and the scouting team did.

“We’re now not just signing players just because a friend of a friend knows someone who’s good or an agent is close to someone,” he said. “We’re signing someone because they’ve been watched 20, 30, 40 times by five or six people. We know about their family history. We’re not signing players on a whim. We’re signing players that fit with our team. I’ve had input. There are no excuses now.”

The season begins with a long list of questions.

How does Gonzalo Higuain look?

The Argentine forward and team’s highest-paid player came into camp fitter than last year and highly motivated. Higuain, 34, said Monday his mother’s death and other issues distracted him last season but now he has a clear head and is determined to lead the team to a playoff run. He vowed to be a more vocal leader and maintain a positive attitude.

He also hinted that he’ll assume more of a playmaker role and joked that he’d let the younger, faster players do more of the running.

“If last year at less than 100 percent I was able to score 12 goals and have seven assists, I think this year being focused I can improve my numbers and help the team reach the playoffs,” Higuain said. “A lot of my friends and teammates have left. A big change. With my age and experience I have to be a leader for these young guys.”

Neville and Higuain spoke every day of the offseason.

“We spoke about his legacy in this club,” Neville said. “He wants to be remembered as a winner. You look at how he was training (Monday) and the shape he’s in, that’s someone who has massive motivation. These players when they come in, the first player they want to meet is Gonzalo Higuain. He is the face of this organization on the pitch.”

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Inter Miami CF forward Gonzalo Higuain talks to reporters during a press conference after the team’s first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022. SAM NAVARRO Special for the Miami Herald

What can fans expect from the new players?

“Youth, energy, speed, and hunger,” Neville said. “We brought in a certain type of player with great character who wants to be part of a team. Last year I felt there were individuals who felt they were more important than the team. The best players don’t always make the best team. I’m in a miles better mindset and more confident than I was a year ago when I sat here and not knowing the players that I was coming in to manage.”

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Inter Miami CF player Ariel Lassiter kicks the ball during the team’s first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022. SAM NAVARRO Special for the Miami Herald

What’s the latest on Blaise Matuidi and Nico Figal?

Matuidi, 34, has a year left on his contract but is not in the team’s plan for this season. The club is in talks with him and his representatives about a buyout or other solution. Henderson said a statement is expected soon. Figal is being wooed by multiple clubs, Henderson said, and his future should be determined in the coming days.

What can fans expect from Robbie Robinson?

The young forward hopes to stay injury free after battling hamstring problems last season.

“I want to make my stamp this year,” he said. “This could be a really big year for me individually and for this young team, which looks very dynamic, fast, and powerful. We never lived up to what we thought we could do. We want to show what we’re capable of.”

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Inter Miami CF forward Robbie Robinson talks to reporters during the first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022. SAM NAVARRO Special for the Miami Herald

Did anyone stand out at the first training session?

“(Christopher) McVey’s come in and hasn’t said that much but just does his talking on the football field, which is the type of player I like,” Neville said. “No frills. No histrionics. No drama. Comes into work, does his job, is part of a team. You can say the same for Mo Adams, Ariel Lassiter, (Jairo) Quinteros, (Leonardo) Campana, Emerson (Rodriguez), all the new players.”

Is Inter Miami done wheeling and dealing?

No. Henderson and Neville both said there are a couple of pieces left to complete the team puzzle. They want to add a playmaker, and have been in talks with a few prospects, including Raphael Veiga of Brazilian club Palmeiras. Henderson hopes to get at least one deal done before the season opener Feb. 26, but a player or two could be added later.

This story was originally published January 17, 2022 5:49 PM.

Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman has covered 14 Olympics, six World Cups, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, NBA Playoffs, Super Bowls and has been the soccer writer and University of Miami basketball beat writer for 25 years. She was born in Frederick, Md., and grew up in Miami.





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A matter of legacy: Christine Sinclair has defined greatness in her sport

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PORTLAND, Ore. — On January 29, 2020, Christine Sinclair cemented her place among her sport’s greatest. She’d earned that place long before.

But one year ago, the world truly took notice. With her 23rd-minute goal against St. Kitts and Nevis, Canada’s captain passed Abby Wambach, claimed a record long-held by Mia Hamm, and became the greatest scorer in international soccer history. Since then, the world has been catching up, but with that 185th international goal, Sinclair gained more access to a conversation she should be defining: Is she the greatest of all time?

The whys and how comes of that conversation are too many for this post. They’re also too complex. This space is more about today, today’s honor, and the fact Sinclair is finally getting the attention she deserves. Honored by FIFA during a gala in Zurich, Sinclair was recognized before the soccer world for the pedestal she’s claimed – one that stands next to Cristiano Ronaldo’s, the men’s game’s top scorer, yet slightly above for her total. Sinclair now has 188 goals. Ronaldo has 115.

“Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to experience many successes,” Sinclair shared in a Portland Thorns FC’s statement, “from winning trophies internationally and at club level and accepting individual awards. What matters are all the moments that I have shared and the connections that I have made.

“Being the first female to win this award is an incredible honor,” she said. “I hope it inspires young girls around the world to chase their dreams and lets them know that anything is possible.”

Increasingly, that perspective has become part of Sinclair’s legacy. If you ask her about her achievements with Canada, she’ll note the gold medal and the new levels the program has reached during her 22 years as a senior international. But she’ll also talk about the generation that’s arrived, and how players like Lyon’s Kadeisha Buchanan, Paris Saint-Germain’s Ashley Lawrence, and Chelsea’s Jesse Fleming represent a new level for the program. She’ll talk about an environment in her home country that’s set to grow the game even more, with players like PSG’s Jordyn Huitema representing the next surge of Canadian talent. She’ll talk about what the inspiration has led to, not what the inspiration was.

It may be reductive to say that goals are inspirational — it feeds into a primacy of goals that overshadows other parts of the game — but there’s an undeniable passion that blooms from that end result. We know how hard it is to score goals, let alone 188 of them. The relief, the accomplishment, the glory – it’s a feeling that may be unmatched by another moment in sport. Yet Sinclair has been experiencing those moments at the highest levels since she was 16 years old. She scored her first senior-level goal for Canada in March 2000; a first as a professional in 2009. For over two decades, she has produced at the peak of her sport, amassing a resume that may be unparalleled.

“To say I’m proud of Christine is an understatement,” Thorns general manager Karina LeBlanc said in the team’s announcement. For 16years, she was a teammate of Sinclair’s on the Canadian national team.

“[Sinclair] continues to make her mark,” LeBlanc said, “and I am happy that the football world recognizes her for the greatness we have always seen in her.”

Goalscoring is only one part of that greatness. Sinclair has shown as much over her last few seasons as a Thorn, forgoing her natural striker’s role for a place in attacking midfield. On rare occasions, she’s even dropped deeper, into a central role. She’s not just a goalscorer. She’s a soccer player, an all-around one, and although she can be valued without dwelling on goals, her scoring gives her access to the ultimate conversation.

Nothing we can say here will answer whether she’s women’s soccer’s greatest, and there’s no single opinion that should convince anyone. Ultimately, it’s not even that important. The more important thing is the respect that comes with consideration. Sinclair is undoubtedly worthy of this conversation, and she has been for some time. But since there is no settling any greatest-ever debates, having a place in the discussion is the pinnacle. Nobody can deny her place among the game’s elite, and within that group, nobody has done more to cement their spot.

“There are not enough honors and awards in the world for Christine Sinclair …,” Merritt Paulson, owner of the Thorns for Sinclair’s nine seasons in the National Women’s Soccer League, said in his club’s statement. “There never has been a more unassuming superstar. It is a privilege to call her a Thorn, and we are blessed to have her at this club.”

Today, FIFA got in on some of that privilege: the privilege of being connected to Sinclair’s legacy. She authored it herself, but when it comes to giving that legacy its due, Paulson has a responsibility, as does LeBlanc. I share that responsibility, and if you’re at all involved in the women’s soccer world — from casual conversations in bars and living rooms, to your tweets, posts and stories — you share in that responsibility, too. So much of how greatness is measured in sports is about how athletes were perceived in their moment.

In that sense, history isn’t just about hindsight. It’s about the artifacts that capture moments, and for too long, there have been too few moments devoted to Sinclair’s greatness. Now’s the time to set history right. It’s time to ensure those who’ll never see Sinclair play know how much she gave to the sport.

She is as good as we’ve ever seen, and she’s been at this level for years. She has four first-division club titles, two college championships, a gold medal, three Olympic honors and, as of today, the full recognition of the soccer world. She has the respect of those who play the game, and as of one year ago, she has her sport’s most famous mark.

She has become a reason for young players to chase their dreams and, to continue echoing Sinclair’s words, proof that anything is possible. Between Portland, Canada, and the world, she has created a legacy that’s reframed legacies in her sport. She’s taken the game to a new level.

“She is a truly humble human being, a great team leader, a phenomenal player,” LeBlanc said, “and most importantly an incredible person whose legacy has already made a long-lasting impact in Portland.”





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