By Ian Walker
Charles Gbeke has a global vision. He sees a world without poverty and drugs. A place free of disease and illiteracy. A planet where equality is available to all.
Now, before you start pounding your chest, saying ‘I want that too!’, there’s a big difference between the Vancouver Whitecap and the rest of us water-cooler do-gooders. Gbeke actually does something about it.
The Vancouver Whitecap striker has spent his past four off-seasons working with World Vision in southern Brazil, providing aid for impoverished children and youth with drug addictions. He speaks at schools and orphanages, hostels and community centres, but the 30-year-old’s donations aren’t limited to just his time. Every winter, he arrives in Laranjeiras do Sul — a poverty-stricken city of about 30,000 people — bearing soccer cleats, balls and other equipment collected from his teammates at the end of each season.
A native of the Ivory Coast who grew up in Montreal, Gbeke returned to the Whitecaps last week after his latest mission with World Vision. His efforts this time cut a little short to attend to a little matter known as the biggest day of his life. Gbeke married his longtime girlfriend, Juliane Alves Lima, in December. The two met at a church during Gbeke’s first trip with the Christian relief and development organization.
Juliane, a native of Laranjeiras do Sul, who only speaks Portuguese, will join her proud husband in Vancouver next month, once her paperwork is finalized.
“It was good summer — winning the championship and getting married,” said a beaming Gbeke, who was the MVP of the United Soccer Leagues First Division championship game with a pair of goals in the Whitecaps’ 2-1 victory over the Puerto Rico Islanders at Swangard Stadium. “It’s great, I can’t wait for her to get here. She’s excited about learning English. I had to do the same thing when I went to to Brazil, so I’m kind of preparing her for that.”
Burnaby Lake Sports Complex West is a long way from the slums of Brazil, but Gbeke’s engaging personality, confidence and on-field talents seem to resonate with his younger teammates. Kenold Versailles, Wes Knight, Tyrell Burgess, Ansu Toure, among others, all seemed to have one eye on what the elder statesman was doing at all times.
It’s a smart move.
Gbeke’s decade-long career includes time with European and North American clubs, international experience and a USL-1 scoring title as recently as two years ago. The guy’s got a lot to give. More importantly, he doesn’t mind sharing.
Like all healthy relationships, the love goes both ways. As good as Gbeke is for the younger players, they are a tonic for the old pro.
“He looks excited — I’m sure for the older guys to see all the talent we have brought in here is good,” said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, who now has his full roster in town. “There’s a lot of good tools here … the older guys seem to be enjoying it.”
There’s a lot of things Gbeke likes about his club — its decidedly quicker pace, its skill set from top to bottom, its youthful exuberance. But there is one thing the 6-2, 210 pounder is definitely not thrilled with … sprints, aka gassers. The lung-burning running exercise followed the team’s nearly two-hour training session.
“I don’t like it” said Gbeke, who along with fellow veteran Martin Nash, 33, didn’t come close to breaking any land-speed records. “And I don’t think my captain likes it.”
Leave it to Gbeke. Always thinking of his fellow man.
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