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Football: Evans targets Wales after his taste of SA.

Byline: Gareth Griffiths

ONE of South Africa's top young footballers is hoping to catch the eye of Wales manager Mark Hughes when he arrives in Europe next month.

Cardiff-born Philip Evans has just broken into the national squad after an excellent season with one of the country's top clubs, Supersport Utd, but says he would be as proud to represent the land of his birth at the highest level.

The 22-year-old is considered a hot property in the South African game and is travelling to Holland for a trial with Dutch giants Feyenoord in February.

While there, Evans, who can play right-back or in midfield, says he would like to discuss the future with Hughes.

``I feel a lot of loyalty to Wales because this is where all my family live,'' he said.

``I have visited a few times and love the place.

``I even had a Welsh dragon tattooed on my back last year.

``Moving to Europe could also hamper any international ambitions I may have with South Africa.

``Players like Lucas Radebe and Mark Fish have drifted away from the international scene because of the amount of times they have been called up.

``It is a long way to travel back and forth, and it is the clubs that pay their wages after all.''

Evans was born in Cardiff in 1980, and left Wales three years later to live in South Africa with his family, but he says he'd like to make his mark in the capital city.

``It would be a dream come true to play for Cardiff,'' he said.

``All my family are from the city and my grandfather was a big fan of the club.

``The Premiership is watched in South Africa by a lot of fans, and it would be a superb experience to play in it and follow the likes of Radebe, Fish and Shaun Bartlett, especially if it was with Cardiff.

``I have heard great things about them, and how well they are doing, so you never know.''

Evans developed a keen interest in football at a young age and his progress has been swift.

He started playing for Pretorian side Arcadia Shepherds, before signing for SuperSport United, who currently top the domestic league.

One of his previous coaches at the club was former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar.

``He was a very colourful character,'' said Evans.

``He had no set training regime and could be very unorthodox at times.

``But he was a really nice guy and I learned a lot from him.''

With South Africa just losing out to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, Evans hopes they are successful in their bid to host the following tournament.

``At the moment South Africa are favourites to host the 2010 competition,'' he said.

``It would be a massive boost for the country and the worldwide exposure would develop the game .''

Evans concedes there is a gulf between the standards in South Africa and Europe.

``The level of football in South Africa is definitely improving, but we have a long way to go before we can start competing regularly with the European countries.

``There is a much lower tempo to the game out here and it needs to develop.

``To play for a host country in the World Cup would be great - but I haven't given up hope on Wales yet!''

Evans, whose nickname is `Lekgowa' - meaning the `White Boy'-- says there is a tradition in South Africa which means about 85-90 per cent of top South African players are black.

``I think very few white players are coming through the ranks these days as a result of upbringing,'' he said.

``There has been a school of thought that football is mainly for blacks and rugby is for whites. ``This way of thinking has proved to be wrong in many cases.

``I grew up with a passion for soccer from the age of six, so when I had the opportunity to become a professional I didn't hesitate.''

Philip's mother, Madeline, returned to Cardiff with his stepfather Roy last January, and they now live in the Penylan area of the city.

She says the whole family are proud of Philip's achievements and they would love to see him turning out for the Bluebirds at some point in his career.

``Football was in his blood from a young age,'' she said.

``With two brothers to guide him along, he has excelled himself in South Africa and his strength and determination has seen him through to the national squad.

``He is welcome whereever he goes and the African fans adore him.

``We are all so proud of him and would love to see him playing one day over here - possibly even for Cardiff City and Wales.''

Evans would be following in illustrious footsteps if he pulled on the Cardiff City jersey.

Another South African player, Steve `Kalamazoo' Mokone, played for Cardiff in the 1950s, scoring on his debut against Liverpool, and is considered one of the country's first footballing superstars.

CAPTION(S):

IN DEMAND Cardiff-born, South African-based Phil Evans is being targeted by a number of top clubs.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jan 11, 2003
Words:852
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