Carlos Miranda didn’t plan to stay in Northern Ireland for too long when he arrived here from Barcelona in 2001, but fast forward 13 years and he’s still here after playing a ‘love match’ with a difference.
He took up a coaching post at Hawarden in east Belfast more than a decade ago and found himself sitting beside a fluent Spanish speaker at the club’s annual dinner.
But it was no chance encounter as the organisers deliberately chose to sit Miranda beside Linda Callaghan, a Spanish teacher at Methodist College, to make him feel at home.
One thing led to another, love was soon in the air and to cut a long story short, the couple are now happily married and have an 18-month old baby boy named, Luca.
If he decides to follow in his dad’s footsteps and play tennis then Luca will have a hard act to follow when he is old enough to be told about his father’s career in the sport, which was cut short by injury when he was looking like he could go on to play professionally.
Miranda was number two at under 14 and Under 16 level in Spain where he played alongside two of the country’s greats – Alex Corretja and Albert Costa.
Both went on to help Spain lift the Davis Cup for the first time in 2000, Costa won the French Open in 2002 while Corretja was runner up in same event on two occasions.
Corretja won over $10 million in the course of his career and, at one stage in 2008, coached Andy Murray, who went on to become Wimbledon champion after striking gold at the London Olympics.
Miranda accepts he won’t make even one million out of tennis but he says he enjoys life in Northern Ireland where he combines coaching with playing at the Belfast Boat Club.
He has also represented the Ulster senior team in which he has been ever-present since shortly after his arrival in the province.
“I came over initially to improve my English, which was rubbish at the time, and a Spanish friend of mine, Neus Avila, lived and played here and recommended that I come over and see what I thought.” Miranda recalled.
“I teamed up with Michael Ferguson at CIYMS where I coached for a while before returning home to Lleida which is a city of similar size to Belfast, 100 kilometres from Barcelona.
“I was then offered a job coaching at Hawarden and that’s how I came to meet my wife although we didn’t get married for around five years.”
Miranda says he has no regrets that his serious playing career was ended at such a young age although he did have aspirations of playing professionally when he was a teenager.
“Yes, that was the plan but I injured my arm when I was playing at Under 16 level and that put an end to any hopes I had of making it as a pro although there was no guarantee that I would have made it anyway.” he explained.
“So I started coaching when I was 20 and I haven’t looked back so I have no regrets and if I could do it all over again I would choose the same path.”
Miranda does miss certain aspects of life in his homeland and he suggests that tennis here could do worse than take a leaf out of the Spanish coaching manual.
“I miss the weather, of course, and I find it funny over here that people rush to get the shorts on when it hits 15 degrees whereas in Spain we’re well wrapped up until it reaches 20 or more!” he laughed.
“The weather in Spain is also conducive to an al fresco lifestyle and that helps sport there as well especially outdoor ones like tennis.
“My own club in Lleida has 17 outdoor courts and an Olympic sized swimming pool and it’s fantastic for kids and families.
“In Ireland the weather doesn’t help and if you look around the clubs almost all of them have artificial grass courts whereas most tennis is not played on that surface.
“Players train at a more intense level in Spain and even club players play three or four times a week to improve themselves.
“Over here you tend to end up playing the same people over and over again in tournaments and I would urge kids to travel more and see the reality in other countries.
“At the age of 16 in Spain the better players take part in $10,000 (total prize money) tournaments which are usually 128 draws so with that number playing the chances are you’ll not meet the same opponent too often.
“I also miss Spanish tapas (snacks) and my family and friends, of course, but it’s not as if Northern Ireland is Australia and I do get home several times a year.”
As a Barcelona fanatic Miranda also misses trips to the Nou Camp to see his heroes in action but he does watch as many matches as he can on television.
Tonight he will be hoping that Barca can end their poor recent run of form when they take on arch rivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final.
“I have quite a few friends from Spain over here and we usually go to each other’s houses to watch the ‘clasicos’ which is great fun as I know fans of both clubs.” Miranda added.
It sounds like Carlos and family won’t be saying ‘adios’ to our wee country for some time yet!