Michael Weir still remembers how he felt when he first embarked on playing football abroad.
“I was a bit anxious seeing that I was moving to a country which I did not know the language or the culture,” says the defender.
“However I was more focused than anything as at that point I was willing to move anywhere to make it into the professional game and also felt Portuguese style of football suited my game a lot better due to its more technical nature.”
Weir, a full back from Jersey, was just 17 when he was offered a two-year scholarship by top-flight Portuguese side CD Nacional, based on the island of Madiera. The youngster had previously spent two years with Southampton’s academy before being offered the chance to trial at Nacional by a Portuguese coach and referee who now lived in Jersey.
Having spent the start of 2008 training with the club’s youth team, Weir was offered a deal to make his stay in Portugal a permanent one and he made the bold decision to leave his studies behind and accepted the offer and moved to the island. It would be the start of a five-year career abroad which also took him to Cyprus and later to Spain.
“I moved by myself,” he says. “I settled in fairly well as a close friend of my dad’s lived there which helped me settle in a lot better. He was also the same guy who got me the link with Nacional so he always was around the club a lot so this definitely helped the move.
“I actually dropped my second year of A levels which was a big decision and I went over there on a full time basic so was it purely football out there for me.”
After a year of his scholarship, Weir headed to the Finnish island of Åland to join up with the Jersey side competing in the 2009 Island Games. He played three times as his side went on to beat the hosts in the final and win the gold medal. However, as his teammates returned to the Channel Island, the full back went back to Portugal to complete his second year with Nacional.
Having impressed in the youth ranks, Weir was offered a deal to stay longer having settled in and adjusted well to his new surroundings.
“Portugal definitely suited my game. It’s a lot more technical and they appreciate taking care of the football way more than in England where it’s all just 100 miles an hour.
“Physically there was a huge difference, it was much less, and technically there was too [a huge difference], especially when you played against the likes of Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto who produce some of the best players in the world.”
Having now spent over two years with Nacional, the club decided it best for him to continue his development out on loan so he joined third-tier side Camacha, also based on Madeira, to make his first steps into senior football. The side had finished only a few spots above the relegation spaces the previous season so were looking for Weir to help solidify them at the back as well as offering a threat going forward.
In his first season, the Jersey international was a regular for Camacha, helping them secure a respectable ninth place finish in what was his first season in senior football.
“Technically, I felt I was more than comfortable as that was always my strongest part of my game but the first few games of men’s football is a lot different to youth football just in terms of experience,” he says. “You need to know how to manage and play the game, especially when you play against players who have ten to fifteen years of experience over you.
“However all in all I started to become one of the best performers in my team, even though I was one of the younger ones.”
Having done well out on loan, the defender was hoping there would be opportunities back at his parent club Nacional but despite initial promise, he would spend the following campaign back out on loan with Camacha.
“Yeah I was disappointed [not to be given a chance at Nacional]. After my first season at Camacha I went back to Nacional for pre-season where they had offered me a contract at the end of the last season, which I would sign in the summer. However, due to politics and getting messed around with the club I didn’t end up signing anything and went back on loan to Camacha.”
Weir made a further 27 appearances, missing just three league games all season, but was unable to help his side avoid relegation as they missed out on safety by four points. It was at this stage that he decided to look for a new opportunity after four years in Portugal.
“I had had another full season with Camacha playing almost every game but had no interest coming from Nacional so that’s when another player told me he had an agent interested in taking me to Cyprus, which I took with no real hesitation.
“The agent was one of the top agents over there and got in contact with me and offered me a contract with Doxa in the top-flight. I went over for a few days in the off-season to meet the agent in Cyprus and see the place and signed the contract.”
Weir agreed a deal to sign for Doxa, a club based in a village not far west from the capital Nicosia. The club had won the second division the previous season and were set to play back in the top-flight for the first time in five years.
Despite the former Saints youngster noticing a step-up, it was to be a successful season for him and his Doxa team as they finished seventh in their first season back in the big time.
“It was definitely a huge step up. The game was a lot faster and the players were a lot more technical. Also playing teams who play in the Champions League and Europa League was a big challenge as they had some top players.”
Still only 22, Weird was making an impression in the top flight of a European league but after just one season with Doxa, disaster struck Cyprus putting a halt to the progress he was making.
“I returned to the England – not out of choice but due to the financial crisis in Cyprus which hit all the clubs hard and resulted in many late payments of salaries. I was also getting messed around with my agent.
“If these things had not happened, I would have looked to stay in Cyprus hopefully get regular football with a look to hopefully getting picked up by one of the bigger clubs as I was still only 21/22 at the time.”
After that, Weir returned to the UK and played in non-league with Bognor Regis and Dulwich Hamlet and also later had a spell with Ontinyent in the fourth-tier of Spanish football. Now 28, he has since returned to Jersey where he runs his own business and coaches at a soccer school. He still plays for a local side and with Jersey now forming a new ConIFA side, there will be more chances for him to compete internationally in the future. He made his debut for Parishes of Jersey last October when they defeated Yorkshire 2-1.
It was a brave move for Weir to make the move to Portugal at a young age but it paid off with several years of professional football and experiences he could not have achieved back home. Now he has the chance to pass on those experiences to the younger generation and continue to represent his hometown.
Follow Michael on Instagram here.