The decision to attend Elon University for many current students stems from a desire to take the road less traveled and branch out from their previous lives. Sophomore midfielder Amir Berkane, on the men’s soccer team, was no exception. Berkane was born and raised in Kelvedon, England, which sits near the southeast coast of the United Kingdom with a population of 3,587 at nearly 4,000 miles from Elon.
Before coming to Elon, Berkane spent time playing professional soccer for Ipswich Town FC, and Chelmsford City FC, while also spending time with non-league side Brightlingsea Regent FC. Berkane joined Ipswich at the age of 12, where he played with current Elon teammate Jack Willbye, and made his first-team debut in July of 2013 in a friendly match that took place in Ireland.
While at Ipswich Town, Berkane and Willbye played alongside each other for years. Jack joined Ipswich at the age of nine and was able to watch Amir work his way up in the ranks and improve himself as a soccer player.
“At Ipswich a big thing for him was his physical size,” Willbye said. “Over here he has really improved . . . the general sides of his game, passing, tackling, everything like that has improved a bit, but the physical side has improved a lot.”
Berkane also spent some time playing what is known as non-league football, which saw him compete against the likes of grown men at just 18 years old. “It was men’s football, it wasn’t like college football or like young kids anymore — it was grown adult men,” Berkane said. “Thirty year olds could be playing, and I was about eighteen ... it’s just crazy playing against older men who have children and families to go home to.”
After years of soccer in England, Berkane decided to pursue an education to compliment his career as a football player. “One of my friends who is at [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] had a contact,” Berkane said. “An agent or such that got players from England over to the U.S ... so I spoke to this contact and he pretty much gave me a range of different schools to go to. Chris Little, the old coach, emailed me talking about Elon, and he seemed very interested. I looked at the website and everything, and I guess [Elon] seemed like the perfect place for me.”
Upon making the transition from the United Kingdom, Berkane was taken aback by the sheer size and diversity of the United States. “Everything here is so much bigger,” Berkane said. “It’s sort of like England on steroids.” The brit also found himself adjusting to the different style of soccer that is played here in the United States.
“It’s a lot more physical here,” Berkane said. “A lot more running and strength based stuff whereas in England it’s probably a lot more technical and tactical, that’s the big difference.”
Berkane played in all seventeen matches for the Phoenix this past season, adding a goal and two assists to his career statbook. He was very appreciative of all the program has helped him achieve during his first two years at Elon
“It’s made me a better person,” Berkane said. “Chris Little put Elon soccer in a great place. I can’t fully reflect on myself until I’ve finished college, but it’s made me a more well-rounded person and has given me a new sense of what kids go through out here compared to what they go through in England.”
On the pitch, Berkane’s freshman year saw Elon win a share of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) season championship as well as qualify for the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.
“I was fortunate enough to play in those games as a freshman,” Berkane said. “With our new head coach [Marc Reeves] I think we’re on par to that. We’re working hard every day in training, whether it’s on the pitch or in the gym. I know as a team we’re working very hard and I know we’ve got our eyes set on the tournament and the conference, and hopefully making a couple of appearances in the national tournament.”
Interestingly enough, Berkane’s time at Ipswich Town saw him make its team roster in FIFA 14. With an overall rating of 53 and growth potential of 65, according to fifaindex.com, Berkane explained that he played as himself once just to see what it’s like, but didn’t take much into it. “I told all my family and all that and they were super excited,” he said. “My ratings weren’t that good so I didn’t really use myself because I was pretty bad, but hopefully I’ll be on another one in the near future.”Off the pitch, Berkane plans to major in finance and is hoping to land an internship for next summer. Much like many Elon students in their first two years, he hasn’t quite decided what he will pursue after graduation. “I still haven’t decided whether I’ll go back to England and try to find a job there or try to stay out here or go pro.”
Willbye referred to himself and Berkane as “peas in a pod” when speaking of their close friendship, and also had some comical points to make about the fellow Englishman.
“I sort of know him as the idiot of the group,” Willbye said in a jesting manner about Berkane. “He makes stupid noises, like a class-clown kind of thing. He’s hilarious . . . and another thing is that he just complains so much, but it’s hilarious.”
Willbye also was not shy to call Berkane out on his tendency to give his teammates a hard time about the failures of their beloved English Premier League clubs.
“Amir is the worst fan,” Willbye said. “Whenever his team [Liverpool] is doing bad no one really says anything, but when your team is doing bad he’s the first person to give you a message and start having a go at you for it.”
All-in-all, Berkane has enjoyed his time here at Elon and has been nothing short of successful at making a name for himself around campus. When the season kicks off again in the fall, we’ll all be keeping an eye on the boy from Kelvedon.