As a five-year-old playing soccer with the Balcatta Football Club, Alessandro La Verghetta never dreamt that he would be playing soccer on the world stage. Fast forward 10 years and that is exactly what has happened to this talented teenager who has represented his country at the highest level by playing for the Pararoos.
Alessandro, who has Cerebral Palsy (CP), was encouraged to play soccer by his Dad who is a huge soccer fan and wanted his son to take part in sport and thought soccer would also be good therapy. After playing at Balcatta for 8 years, Alessandro (Sandro to his family and friends) moved to Noranda City Football Club which is where he currently plays.
Sandro explains, “About two years ago dad received an email from Football West about Paralympic football and all abilities pathway, asking if I was interested in playing Paralympic football. I went down to train with them and the coach said I had the potential to play for Australia. They sent a video of me to the head coach of the Australian team and I was invited to a training camp in Sydney. The next thing I knew I was making my debut for the Pararoos in Denmark, playing against Iran!”
The team qualified for the International Federation for Cerebral Palsy Football (IFCPF) World Championships, and Sandro was one of the youngest ever players to wear the green and gold for the Pararoos. He was immensely proud.
“I was scared and very nervous that day, but singing the Australian national anthem helped me push through. I hadn’t been to nationals and had never played Paralympic football but representing my country was an amazing opportunity.”
Now, Sandro juggles Year 11 with a hectic schedule that involves fitting in homework with training five to six days a week, as well as drumming! He plays for his club team, WA State team and dreams of qualifying for the 2020 Paralympics in Japan.
Speaking about Sandro, Former WA coach and Assistant Coach of the Australian Paralympic Football Team, Goran Stajic, said: “Sandro is a football nut. He has a lot of passion but also an incredible work ethic – he gives everything 100%. I have no doubt he’ll do well, regardless of whether he makes the team for the World Championships or not.
“Paralympic football shows that you can achieve anything you want when you’re focussed and driven. You can take part in the world game, represent your country and play at the highest level.
“It also helps connect people and provides people with disability the opportunity to see first-hand what can be achieved. Sandro has made friends from across the world and is learning life lessons as well as developing his football skills.”
Sandro concurs: “I love playing football, having fun, and meeting a lot of different people. Playing Paralympic football has inspired me to be more positive about my disability, and talk about it to others more.”
“I want to win gold or at least a trophy in a tournament. It’s something I’d like to show my kids in later life, plus I want to inspire young kids with Cerebral Palsy and show them there are pathways to sport. None of this would have been possible without the WA Paralympic programme.”
Sandro’s journey to football success has been supported by the team at Ability Centre, who have worked with Sandro and his family since he was 8 months old. Sandro says: “They’ve helped me with the movement of my arms and the physio has helped me with my legs, giving me exercises that I can do at home. It loosens up my ankle and the botox therapy releases my muscles. It’s certainly helped my sport.”
Sandro’s mum, Josephine adds: “We’ve had fantastic support from the Ability Centre since Sandro was young,they are always there if we need help and we’re very grateful to them. We’re also grateful also to be part of CP football as its given Sandro a different view on his disability and given him more confidence. Anybody with CP that enjoys playing soccer should give Paralympic football a try.”
Michael Chan is a physiotherapist with Ability Centre and he works with Sandro to improve the weakness in his left leg, which has made a massive difference to his football ability, as well as everyday life.
“Sandro couldn’t stand on his left leg at all when I started working with him 3 years ago, but the exercises we’ve developed for him have helped strengthen the leg. Initially he always said “I can’t”. Now he can jump well and even hop on his left leg in order for the right leg to reach the ball and kick,” explains Michael.
“The exercises are geared to his needs in soccer, which has greatly motivated him and he understands why the exercises are so important. Together with his family, Sandro has put a huge effort into his training and he has set a good example for every young person, showing what hard work can achieve.”
Another member of Sandro’s Ability Centre team is Andrea Ross, an Occupational Therapist. Andrea began working with Sandro earlier this year and, like Michael, links his therapy to his soccer.
Andrea said: “As an OT, I’m interested in understanding someone’s motivation and incorporating that into their therapy, which is soccer for Sandro!
“My focus has been on helping Sandro to improve the function in his arm. Following botox therapy (which relaxes the high tone in his muscles), we work together on strengthening weak muscles, improving functional use and sensory awareness of his left arm. This helps provide the balance he needs when kicking the ball, and potentially gives him the ability and confidence to do a sideline throw.
“Sandro is also a typical teenager who really wants to get his driver’s licence, so we’ve also linked his therapy to achieving that goal. By building strength in his arm, he’ll be able to use a hand brake safely and pass the test.”
Like most sports people, Sandro’s success can be attributed to his hard work and dedication but it’s also due to the support of the team he has around him.
If you’ve got big dreams like Sandro, get in touch with Ability Centre to discuss how we could help make these happen.
If you are interested in Paralympic football, contact:
WA Paralympic Football
P: 6110 5926