Toti | Swap rugby for football to live the Premier League dream

At the age of 16, Toti decided to swap a rugby ball for a soccer ball, a decision he wouldn’t have thought possible in his hometown of Cascais, 30km west of Lisbon, Portugal.

His chance came in the regular Europa League qualifiers GD Estoril Praia and then, as the club have great faith in him to give him a contract until 2027, his pride is immeasurable.

“I really appreciate the trust that Wolves has shown in me,” he said. “From now on I have to keep working hard to return the trust they gave me.”

Born in Portuguese-speaking Guinea-Bissau, Toti admits moving to Europe at a young age meant opportunities to succeed in a sporting background were easier to pursue.

His passion for rugby was evident and found a club side, Escolinha de Rugby de Galiza, east of Cascais and only 20 minutes from there, where he eventually blossomed in a football setting in Estoril.

His physical traits were also an unmistakable strength and he cited his speed as a key ability that could be transferred to football, but pinning down his position wasn’t quite that simple.

“I always watched football, I always wanted to play, my idols were Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi,” Toti added.

“When I started playing football I wasn’t a defender, I was a winger and a striker. But over the years I came down and found my true position.”

Wolves team-mate Chiquinho also found his way to Estoril, a hotbed of young Portuguese talent just outside the capital.

“We’ve known each other since school, the U19s in Portugal and the first team in Estoril,” Toti added.

Having a Portuguese core at Molineux has certainly helped Toti settle down and continuing the game under a Portuguese boss at Estoril, Grasshoppers in Switzerland and now Bruno Lage has ensured a free-flowing football path.

Toti continues: “You integrated me very well, Ruben [Neves] I never played my debut, but he texted me after the game and congratulated me.

“It helped me alot. Anything I needed, they were already here. Communication is easier for me and the group is really together.”

The head coach has been instrumental in his progression and Toti has welcomed his relationship since returning to the squad in the absence of Romain Saiss, who captained Morocco to the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals.

“I wasn’t waiting to play and he’s a really calm coach. He said: ‘Do what you do on the training ground’, that’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t nervous on my debut.”

With a will to succeed and a willingness to learn, Toti makes it clear that he sees the other central defenders at Wolves as tutors and not the competition at this stage.

“I’m learning and improving with the ball every day,” he added. “I’m trying to learn more from Saiss, Boly, even on the training ground so I can do the same when it’s my time.”

Having made his debut for Wolves since January in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, having faith in Toti to step up when needed is a luxury some clubs don’t have.

There is no doubt that more is to come from the 23-year-old, the future is bright and Toti will be the first to thank Wolves for that confidence and an opportunity only a fraction will get to experience.

By Josh Evans

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