BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
ESMAEL GONCALVES insists his party animal days are a thing of the past after admitting it is “now or never” for him to realise his potential.
The 25-year-old is set to make his debut for the Jambos against Rangers tonight after arriving from Anorthosis Famagusta in a €200,000 deal.
He has penned a long-term deal until 2020 and links up with his old Rio Ave coach Ian Cathro and Austin MacPhee, who was assistant manager during his loan stint at St Mirren in 2013.
Goncalves’ reputation precedes him, with MacPhee previously noting: “When I was at St Mirren, I phoned Ian [Cathro] about players in general. He spoke of Isma and said he had someone who was really talented – but said ‘you will need to breathalyse him at training!’”
However, Goncalves is adamant he has grown up after settling down with wife, Lucia, and their one-year-old son, Santiago.
He said candidly: “I am very different. At that time [St Mirren] I was young. I didn’t care about how I lived my life. I played the football and then just left.
“Now I have a wife, I have a baby, it is a different life for me. Now it is just about the football. I am ready to settle and this is the right moment for me to achieve something.
“Why did I not settle before? I was a young guy. I didn’t think ‘I must do this thing right’ I just did the things I did.
“I didn’t think about the choices I made. Now it is different. I think about football, I think about my family and when I made this choice I spoke with them – and I made the right choice.
“The moment I met Lucia and then I had my baby boy, Santiago, I started to think that I must stop doing these crazy things and begin to think more like a man, not like a boy.”
It is a testament to Goncalves’ natural talent that, even while living a lifestyle hardly befitting a top-level athlete, he still enjoyed a memorable stint at St Mirren, scoring eight goals and helping the Buddies lift the League Cup by beating Hearts 3-2 in the final.
He has also turned out for Nice, APOEL Nicosia and Ettifaq FC in the Middle East.
However, it is only of late that he has truly started to excel, scoring eight goals in his last 12 games for a struggling Anorthosis side. After signing a deal in Gorgie until 2020, is visibly hungry to fulfil his potential.
He continued: “There is a moment when you think it’s now or never. You can have talent, you can be amazing and have everything you want, but if you don’t have your head in the right place then you will never achieve anything.
The presence of Hearts head coach Cathro and his number two MacPhee was also vital, with Goncalves adding: “A big reason is the people, Ian and Austin. I had an attractive talk with them.
“Ian was very good when we worked before together. He is intelligent. In Portugal it was Ian who worked on a lot of the tactics and took training as well. He was young but even then you could see he would go far.
“And I did well at St Mirren because Austin was with me and helped me a lot. Every day he would call and asked who I was and whether I needed anything. So a lot of what I did was down to Austin because he was always around me.”