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HIS ENGLISH CHANNEL : Former Titan Hopes to Play in Britain With Help of Soccer Star Fashanu

March 19, 1988|CHRIS FOSTER | Times Staff Writer

Bob Ammann was casually deflecting soccer balls away from the goal. So effortlessly, in fact, that he had time to chat with Justin Fashanu, who was directing an impromptu workout earlier this week.

"Did you put any air in these balls?" Ammann asked.

Fashanu smiled.

"I filled them up this morning," he said. "They're hard."

\o7 Thud.\f7

A shot hit Ammann in the chest. He cradled the ball in his arms. Now it was his turn to smile.

Fashanu just shook his head. "I've never seen a goalie that likes a (soccer) ball that hard."

And Fashanu has seen plenty of goalies. At 16, he turned professional in England, playing Division I soccer, the highest level in that country. Some might say in the world.

Yet, with all his experience, Fashanu, 27, can't help but be impressed with Ammann.

"I've seen most of the best goalkeepers in England," Fashanu said. "I've played against them and I've played on their teams. Bob is as good as any of them."

But Ammann knows that being "as good" may not be good enough. At least, not for his plans.

Ammann is attempting to go beyond the limitations of his country, where outdoor soccer has never caught on as a professional sport. He wants to play at the highest level and that, in his mind, means England.

"If you can play soccer there, you can play anywhere in the world," said Ammann, 23, who played for Mater Dei High School and Cal State Fullerton.

To play overseas has been Ammann's ambition since he was 6. That dream was narrowed down to England when he met Fashanu last summer.

The two have worked out almost constantly for the last four weeks: three times per week individually at Pomona Pitzer College and another three times with the Los Angeles Heat, a semi-pro team that Fashanu coaches and Ammann plays for.

Both hope to go to England this summer. Fashanu plans to pick up a career that was put on hold by a knee injury. And Ammann--well, he just wants s a shot at playing.

Ammann knows the odds against such a venture. Few Americans get tryouts with English teams. Fewer still are signed.

The competition is fierce, and fans regard foreign players as taking jobs away from their countrymen. And if you do make it, you still have to prove yourself in every game.

"The feeling is, why get a kid from America--with all the problems of adjustments and work permits--when he's no better than what you've already got?" Fashanu said.

So to make it, you need talent, dedication and a bit of luck.

The talent and dedication Ammann has always had. The luck? Well, that depends on how you look at it.

Last summer, Ammann was playing for Autobahn, a semi-pro team in Los Angeles, and was receiving some interest from a few French professional teams. On Aug. 13, he reaggravated a groin injury while making a save.

"The next morning, I woke up and could barely get out of bed," Ammann said.

The French lost interest.

Just before the injury, Fashanu arrived on the scene. He had been rehabilitating a knee injury at the Kerlan and Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Santa Monica.

Before the injury, he was considered to be one of the best players in England and once was traded from his hometown team of Norwich to Nottingham Forest for approximately $2 million.

After being cleated during a game, Fashanu developed a knee infection, and he came to Kerlan and Jobe for surgery in December of 1986.

While rehabilitating during the summer, he asked one of the trainers where he could play some soccer to help get back into shape. The trainer happened also to work with Autobahn.

"I came to practice one day and there was Justin," Ammann said. "It was amazing. This guy was a big star in England. I even had a poster of him in my room."

Besides working out with Autobahn, Fashanu also helped out with the coaching. Ammann's talent was evident, though it was raw.

Still, Fashanu saw the potential.

"I could tell that he hadn't had a lot of coaching," Fashanu said. "But that can be good. A coach can coach good talent right out of a player sometimes."

He knew that Ammann was receiving interest from some French teams, so he helped with his training and gave him clues about playing overseas.

But Fashanu didn't think France was the right place for Ammann. He felt that Ammann's size (6-feet 3-inches, 195 pounds) and aggressiveness were better suited for a more physical game.

Such as England's.

"The French play a much different game, more finesse," Fashanu said. "In England, it's a more brutal game. You play under difficult weather conditions, and the shots come at you straight on. "

When Ammann was injured, that point was moot.

"Looking back, it was probably better that I didn't go (to France)," said Ammann, who led Fullerton to its first Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. championship in 1986. "I don't really think I was ready. While I was hurt, I was able to work on my upper-body strength and began developing a more professional attitude."

Ammann began rehabilitation of his groin injury at Kerlan and Jobe. He frequently would meet Fashanu there, and the two became friends. After eight months of rehabilitation, Amman was able to train again.

By that time, Fashanu had been asked to coach the Heat of the Western Soccer Alliance. He accepted and knew right where to find a goalie.

The two have accelerated their workouts, always with an eye cast toward England. Fashanu plans to return this summer, and Ammann hopes to follow.

"Justin is my coach and my training partner," Ammann said. "But, more importantly, he's my friend. That's been the best part of it."

In August, the Heat will travel overseas to play a series of exhibition matches in England and Scotland. About the same time, the English professional soccer teams will be preparing for their season.

Coincidence?

"Let's just say that Bob's ticket to England is already bought," Fashanu said. "The rest is up to him."

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