© Elvis Zaldaris
A Luxembourgish footballer will be involved in this weekend's Lithuanian Cup final, without many football followers in the country having heard of him. So who exactly is the ambitious striker lighting up competitions in Europe, with links to the Grand Duchy?
Cup finals – and any real chance of winning silverware abroad – for Luxembourgish players in the world of football are few and far between, so when they happen, there is usually sufficient media coverage of the player in question ahead of the big occasion.
It was undoubtedly different this time around in the case of Henrique Devens, although not entirely unreasonably so. Devens was born in 1997 in Aracruz, a municipality in the state of Espírito Santo in the southeast of Brazil, roughly 8,900 kilometres from the Luxembourgish border.
Although his parents are of Brazilian origin, one of his great grandmothers was Luxembourgish. Thus, he has the citizenship himself, and is eligible to represent Luxembourg at international level. He did not forget about his roots, which is apparent upon talking to him.
"Once I had the opportunity to get my citizenship I suddenly thought about representing the country in football", starts Devens as he elaborates on his thoughts on playing for Luxembourg one day. The prolific striker keeps an eye on the national team already, and is fairly impressed with what he has seen, saying "Luxembourg's national team has been developing a lot for the last few years and it's nice to see that".
He is under no illusion about his chances to get a call-up by any means, but he is determined to take every step required. First of all – and this could prove quite important – is he's getting the goals. His career in Lithuania started in 2020 after his college soccer career in the United States came to an end at the age of 23 after graduating in marketing.
He was quick to make a name for himself in his new surroundings, scoring 14 goals and assisting a further three in his first 7 matches for Babrungas in the second division. This was enough to earn him a move further up the food chain, as Dainava Alytus of the top flight came calling. 3 goals and an assist in the second half of the season showed he could acclimatise to a higher standard of football as much as can be expected in a team that battled against relegation throughout the campaign.
His next season back in the second division yielded another goal contribution return of more than one per game, with 7 goals and 7 assists in 5 games for the club. There is no doubt he would have been near the top scorers' list had he not been signed by Bulgarian club Krumovgrad in the summer. (Lithuania operates in a summer league system, meaning competitions run from the spring to autumn, in contrary to the way it is in Luxembourg, where games start in late summer.)
The Bulgarian Vtora Liga proved too new and too different for the young striker, who was never given a consistent run of games to prove his worth, and he was soon poised for a return to the Baltic country where he had flourished, seeing as he couldn’t make any tangible contribution to Krumovgrad’s promotion run.
© Elvis Zaldaris
His transfer finally materialised in the March of this year, as ambitious second-division newcomers TransInvest have taken a chance on him after his contradictory spell in the Balkans. The gamble more than paid off. Devens currently has 22 goals and 8 assists in 22 games for the club, they are leading the league by 14 points, comfortably outscoring everyone else in the league, and while on the verge of promotion, they have also written history by becoming the first-ever lower-division club to qualify for a Lithuanian Cup final.
The Brazilian-Luxembourgish dual citizen has been named as Player of the Month in his league four times, besides leading the scoring charts and probably firing his team to the first division sooner rather than later.
However, he is keen to emphasise the need he feels to prove himself at a higher level in due time. "I do believe I'm capable of representing the Luxembourg national team. For that to happen, I know I need to be playing in a higher division, perhaps in a different country which is more football-oriented and be doing the same that I'm doing at the moment, but this is just a matter of time."
As TransInvest are likely to be playing in a higher league next season, and European qualification still on the cards if they beat Siauliai in Sunday's cup final, maybe a transfer isn't necessary for him to start making some headlines and gaining a name among the Grand Duchy's keen football observers before long.
Despite this, his future is still up in the air as his current contract expires in December. Of course, the club’s board of directors have been delighted with his progress and would want to reward it with a new contract once promotion is sealed, but Henrique is focused on taking only one step at a time.
"Yes, they have started conversations with my agent, but at the moment, I'm focusing on the final and focusing on doing well in the league, to keep scoring goals, and we’ll see how things will be."
He's already available for clubs abroad to be picked up on a free transfer given his contract’s expiry date looming large. After such an remarkable season, it is easy to see why he might be considering options away from TransInvest, too. As much as his team look destined to success now, Lithuania is far from the limelight footballers dream of being in, and his grand aim of making it to the Rout Léiwen's squad for an international game will be unquestionably better-served if he plies his trade in a bigger league, in front of more watching eyes.
As Luxembourg's striker problem at national level has been well-documented over the last few years, they often play unproven players up top, supported by some domestic alternatives, who have mostly been lacking any real goal threat, reducing Luxembourg’s creative qualities and opportunities to a select few attack-minded players, which can only get the nation so far.
Level-headed as he is, he gives a patient and realistic answer when asked about whether the FLF has contacted his camp so far. "Not yet. I believe in the right moment, the contact will happen, it's just a matter of time. I just need to keep doing my thing, helping my team reach the objectives [and] so this will happen."
His fluent English was conspicuous during our conversation, which, along with his mother tongue of Portuguese, would likely already help him accommodate in the national training camp when the day comes. However, he's as diligent, humble and hard-working off the pitch as he is on it. He's not leaving anything to chance. "Yeah, I am studying French with Luxembourg in mind."
Whether he ends up walking out of the tunnels of Stade de Luxembourg for the tune of Ons Heemecht, or ever gets a chance to play in front of a Luxembourgish crowd either at club or international level – as Devens said many times during the interview -, remains to be seen. For now though, a first trophy in his career would be enough to satisfy him.