It’s all right there in front of him now and Tony Mikhael is more than ready to wrap his fingers around the opportunity and run with it. Valour FC announced Friday they had signed Mikhael for the 2021 Canadian Premier League season. What’s is now immediately ahead for the 21-year-old Ottawa product and second-round pick in the CPL’s U-SPORTS Draft this year is the opportunity to flash his skills alongside the league’s best when the season opens later this month. "It means everything to me," said Mikhael in a chat with CanPL.ca. "I’ve been working really hard the last three-four years with this goal in mind and to find out I’m realizing it has just been unbelievable. "I’m very grateful for it." The contract is the latest in a series of positive developments for Mikhael dating back to the winter. First he was drafted by Valour and in March he was selected to the U-23 Lebanese national team camp, making an appearance in a game against Bahrain. That was followed by his invitation to Valour camp and now his contract for the ’21 season has been signed. The CPL-U SPORTS agreement will allow him to play professionally during the summer and then still have the option to return to the Carleton Ravens in the fall when the university season begins. "It’s really great that our league is set up this way," Mikhael said. "Canada’s unique in trying to promote both the professional life and the education route."
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Valour FC head coach Rob Gale has long been intrigued by Mikhael dating back to his conversations with the Ravens coaching staff before the draft. And what he saw on tape and knew of the prospect was only confirmed when Valour FC opened camp. "Once we got to work with him and see him up close, we could see he’s got tools," said Gale. "He’s young and we don’t want to put too much pressure on him because this is obviously a step up in the level of play. But each week that he’s come in he’s shown he’s got great 1 v 1 defending qualities. He’s physically strong, he’s good in the air and he just likes to play. There are tools for us to work with there. "Like we said last year from being in the bubble we know there’s going to be injuries and we’re going to need to rotate people in there. Last year we had so many defensive injuries. It’s going to be important for us to be strong through the spine and a player like Tony can play in different structures throughout the back. He’s got good versatility and a good football brain that allows him to adapt to what we need to do. "He’s a nice piece for us," added Gale. "We’re definitely going to need him, we’re definitely going to utilize him and we’re looking forward to him taking that next step. Now we’ve got to put him in games and trust in the quality we’ve seen and help him learn and develop in gameplay." Mikhael said his game has already benefitted during Valour camp, especially working alongside a veteran like centre back Andrew Jean-Baptiste. "Someone like Andrew who is so experienced, he shares those experiences with me all the time," said Mikhael. "He’ll come up to me in the training sessions and share things he knows because he has played at such a high professional level for so long. "It’s been nice to be like his little brother at training and to have him show me the ropes. That’s definitely helped me out already in just a short period of time. "I’ve always been confident in myself, so I was ready for whatever they threw at me. I never felt doubt. I always felt like I would be able to come into this environment right away and adjust. "I look back at the last few months… Draft night was definitely a high, but there was still that uncertainty. There was still a lot of work that had to be put in to earn a spot. Now that we’re here and that’s happened… I can’t tell you how amazing that feels."