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Marcos loving the game of life


Sitting in the Buenos Aires airport about to fly to Moscow in 2018, soccer star Marcos Flores was a broken man. He had just received the call no child wants – his beloved father Hugo had died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 62.

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His father, who was a doctor in Reconquista, Argentina, was a major influence on his life, having passed on his obsession for the world game and nurtured his son’s obvious talents in the sport. Hugo encouraged the young Marcos to dream big but at the same time kept him grounded, reminding him to ‘never forget where you come from because that is the most important thing you have’.

When Marcos started his professional career with Union de Santa Fe in Argentina his biggest – and proudest – fan was his dad. In the years that followed, as Marcos traversed the globe to play for clubs in Chile, Australia, China, USA and Indonesia, the flamboyant footballer always knew he could count on the support of his dad.

So when that crushing call came, Marcos said it felt as though soccer was no longer important.

“I got lost a little bit…when my father passed away my football career died with him,” Marcos told The Southern Cross during a break in his training commitments as head coach of Gleeson College’s World Football Program.

“My life changed, my journey changed…I needed to heal myself.

“I can’t live without smiling. If I don’t connect with my soul and find a purpose, it’s not worth it.”

Desperate to make some meaning of what had happened, he embarked on a soul-searching journey through the Middle East and Africa. Now back living in Adelaide, the 35-year-old revealed that while the emotions of his father’s death are still raw, he has been able to move forward and is living his faith through his actions.

He has established his own soccer academy and is heavily involved in the new Adelaide Atletico Football Club at Paradise, which has inclusion as its cornerstone and is open to young and old from all walks of life.

Most importantly, Marcos has discovered the joy of parenthood, with partner Marina Burnysheva giving birth to son Roman in November. Now he is able to be a doting dad like Hugo was to him.

All of this has brought the smile back to his face, but he admits it took the backpacking trip through Greece, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar for him to find his purpose in life.

Reflecting on those six months he said it was during that time he learned to love soccer again and appreciate being able to help those less fortunate than himself.

Whether it was kicking the ball with kids in Israel or on the other side of the wall in Palestine, teaching some drills to young men in a Madagascar prison, or enjoying the freedom of playing barefoot with students in Tanzania – the experience rejuvenated and enriched him.

“Someone asked me, do you think you changed their life and I said no, but they changed mine,” he said. “They healed me. I have to thank them for giving me the opportunity to heal myself.”

Raised Catholic, Marcos said his faith has always been important and he has a good relationship with God.

“When I am stepping in and walking and embracing life and building my pillars with the values I learned with my family, I know that someone bigger than anything is looking after me until my last day. And I hope they understand that my way of showing love is through my actions.

“I feel that every time I make my steps that God is there. When people are bad to me (and it happened through my entire career) the only person that I thought could make me cool was God.”

Admitting it would have been easy to continue on his backpacking odyssey indefinitely, Marcos said a phone call he received in Tanzania changed the direction of his life. Someone from the Adelaide City Soccer Club was asking if he would like to come back and play for them and “help the community”.

While he believed his playing days were over – in fact he ended up spending only one season with City – the opportunity to help underprivileged kids in the community had him hooked.

He returned to Adelaide with mixed emotions of his time here in 2010/11. That season his exciting soccer skills thrilled the fans at Hindmarsh stadium, and his talent was acknowledged with the Johnny Warren Medal for the best player in the national competition.

Despite his success on the field, Marcos said he was struggling on a personal level: “I was happy here. It was beautiful, yes; I have fun on the field, yes; people saw this, yes; things were smooth inside, no.

“I was connected and because of the people around me I was able to play with freedom…but that year was the only year I didn’t speak to my dad. I was crying. I was missing it. At home I was suffering.”

Revealing the cause of the stand-off was a disagreement between his sister and his father, Marcos said when the issue was resolved he happily went back to his ritual of calling his dad every day and telling him “I love you”.

With his dad no longer there, Marcos is moving forward in the city he calls home. His face lights up when he talks about the new Atletico Club, which boasts junior and senior teams and the Inclusion Academy for players with special needs.

“I’m really excited!

“We have people who have never played soccer. There are no trials. Our standards are that you come and love the game. Our three pillars are clear – respect, fairness and embracing the community. We train hard, but with a lot of love.”

As technical director of the juniors, Marcos said his job is to empower the coaches to embrace the “human part” of the game, adding his focus is on being able to “help, stimulate and empower the weakest player”.

“I want to make that kid feel competitive. I believe in the underdog and I want to see them smiling,” he said.

“If we don’t teach the youth to help the weakest player or weakest team mate, what are we teaching? What type of life are we living?”

And through his role at Gleeson he impresses on young minds the importance of inclusion, on and off the field.

“When I came to Gleeson the first thing I ask them to do is open their heart, their mind to be challenged. The kid who is in the bottom half is in my mind constantly. Talent is not enough.”



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