SPORTS scientist Julian Ward faces an exciting year ahead in 2010 when he heads off to the World Cup in South Africa with Portugal's star-studded national squad.

For Julian, aged 28, from Greenodd near Ulverston, meeting up with household names such as Ronaldo, Deco and Carvalho, is part of his regular working routine during an international campaign.

But he's not star-struck: "They are great professionals, but many of these players started out in lower leagues like everyone else and they got their break to move to top clubs such as Porto, Real Madrid and Chelsea.

“They know what it is like to work abroad, they know how to make you feel welcome and feel part of the team.

Julian landed his dream job as part of a four-strong scouting team in July last year when Portugal manager Carlos Quieroz, the former Manchester United coach, signed him up last year after his appointment.

"It can be a small world in football, "explains Julian.

"Someone I worked with for the England FA was appointed to a job at Manchester United and Mr Quieroz got to know about me when he was looking for a person familiar with the software and the technical programmes they used."

It's a long way to his job based in Lisbon from playing for Coniston Juniors as a teenager in the Kent Valley League.

And at one time Julian had hoped to make it as a professional footballer in his own right.

He played as a midfielder with Morecambe and Southport in the North-West and other clubs, which helped subsidise him as a student... until work got in the way.

"I miss playing football and still get that feeling when seeing the Portugal guys even training, but I am lucky to be able to work in the sport at this level."

Julian graduated with a Sports Science degree from John Moores University in Liverpool, where there was a strong connection with Premier League clubs developing computer-based tools used to analyse match data and performance.

Many of the students spent time at clubs such as Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City as part of a mutually beneficial relationship and from Julian went to work with the England FA youth set-up.

He also worked with Prozone for a year as their match analyst for Preston North End before he moved to Belfast - where he still lives - to study for a Phd at the University of Ulster, while also continuing to play for Larne and Lisburn Distillery in the Irish Premier League.

Then he got the break to join Portugal and it's the World Cup in South Africa next stop.

"I went to the World Cup in Germany with my brother Dominic but we camped out over there and it will be a very different to see it from the inside.

"Being part of a professional set-up, you are learning so much every day and for me it's about being a sponge and soaking up as much knowledge and experience as possible.

"Mr Queiroz is a very open-minded manager and you are always encourage to try to be creative and go above and beyond what is expected. Your input is always respected and treated seriously.

He expalined: “I work with a team of four scouts and we use a performance analysis took to observe future opponents as a team and individually and we also feedback on our own team’s performance at half-time, full time and post-game.”

Julian is based with his team with the squad relaying the scouts’ information to the squad - and even put snippets about the opponents on the team’s iPod and iPhones.

"When the manager came in he had just a friendly and we were straight into World Cup qualifying and we had a depleted squad.

“With the likes of Christiano (Ronaldo) and Ricardo Carvalho out injured for the first few qualifiers, it's was difficult, but with some of the well-known faces back it's no coincidence that we have become more consistent to earn a play-off place.

“The 1-0 play-off wins home and away against Bosnia made it six wins out of seven which is the kind of form we want to be in going to South African in the summer.

“We are capable of improving all the time, and with Portugal being such a football-mad nation expectations are high. Qualifying was our first job and now our players and coaching team are excited about competing against the World's top teams at next summer's finals”

Julian will return to Lisbon from Belfast before the World Cup finals draw on December 4 where the group-stage opponents will be decided, and then spend Christmas back home in Greenodd with parents’ Terry and Susan.