PLAYMAKERSTRAINERS

ArabicChinese (Simplified)EnglishFrenchGermanIndonesianItalianRussianSpanish

The Advertiser: Marcos Flores. Life After Football

Former Adelaide United star Marcos Flores was so devastated by the death of his father he gave the game away — but an impromptu kickabout with some kids in Russia changed everything

This is the story of how Marcos Flores, formerly of Adelaide United, found himself in a Madagascar jail. It’s a long story. And we’ll get to it.

But the short version is that it was because of his father, Hugo.

Flores’s father died in Argentina last year. At the time, Flores’s wandering career as a professional footballer had taken him to play for Bali United in the Indonesian league.

He was going well. Had scored a few goals, the team was winning.

But when his father passed away aged only 62 after suffering a heart attack, Flores not only lost a parent but also the desire to keep playing football.

“When that thing happened I didn’t want to run anymore,” Flores says.

“I couldn’t run. I lost completely the desire to run. I think because he was behind every single step. It was like, ‘F..k, how can I run now?’ In terms of life, I could call my mum (Grace Benard). In terms of football, I called him. We would talk for hours and hours. He was a dreamer.”

We meet in a coffee bar at Glenelg.

Flores is back in Adelaide these days, which is part of the same story, and still carries the air of a footballer — fit and lean, and passionate about life.

He was only at Adelaide United for a year.

A meagre 32 games, but his elegant, skilful play quickly made him a fan favourite. His year was so impressive that he won the medal for the best player in the A-League, the only Adelaide player to have claimed that honour.

Flores says he has recaptured the love of the game passed on to him by his father as a boy growing up in Argentina — although it has taken something of a twist.

His father was a successful doctor, but, like just about every one of his country folk, football was his obsession. Flores doesn’t remember a time when he was without a ball. He organised his school team, organised a tournament to play against other schools, designed the shirts, bribed his younger sister to play with him for hours.

“This obsession with football makes me do crazy things,” he says.

“To think I have a super power with the ball that I could switch off lights in my house.”

Marcos Flores playing for Adelaide United in 2011. Picture: Derrick Den Hollander/Getty Images

He even took his ball to bed. It was just another form of practice.

“I used to be in bed with one foot trying to hit it (the switch),” he says.

“If I missed it, I would stand up, go and get the ball again, go to bed and try again. And that was over and over and over.”

Flores grew up in Reconquista. A town of around 100,000 in the northeast of Argentina.

The Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires, is 600km to the south. All of which meant the family was a long way from the big clubs of Argentina, such as Boca Juniors or River Plate. Instead, father and son would watch the local team Club Atletico Adelante, which plays in the country’s fourth division.

Father would fill his son’s head with the beauty of the game.

“Look at the number 9, Marcos. What a player,” his father would say.

And Flores would look at him and decided he wanted to be just like him, even though the player spent his days as a cab driver.

“I got a father who was stimulating me to dream what was possible. He encouraged me. It is possible to do things you love,” he says.

But when he was 13, his father asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up.

Flores answered he wanted to be a doctor like his dad. His father asked why and Flores pointed to the family’s nice house, their happy life, their wealth.

“So you want to do it for the money?” his father asked, before telling him he would be coming with him to the hospital so he could have a first-hand experience of what the job actually involved.

Flores’s father was a gynaecologist, and after securing the expectant mum’s permission, took his son into the delivery ward. He remembers how cool, how calm, how focused his father was. And the son?

“I could handle 10 minutes and nearly passed (out),” he says.

Afterwards in the car, the inevitable question was asked. “‘You still want to be a doctor?’ I said, ‘I think I want to try football’.”

He even took his ball to bed. It was just another form of practice.

“I used to be in bed with one foot trying to hit it (the switch),” he says.

“If I missed it, I would stand up, go and get the ball again, go to bed and try again. And that was over and over and over.”

Flores grew up in Reconquista. A town of around 100,000 in the northeast of Argentina.

The Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires, is 600km to the south. All of which meant the family was a long way from the big clubs of Argentina, such as Boca Juniors or River Plate. Instead, father and son would watch the local team Club Atletico Adelante, which plays in the country’s fourth division.

Father would fill his son’s head with the beauty of the game.

“Look at the number 9, Marcos. What a player,” his father would say.

And Flores would look at him and decided he wanted to be just like him, even though the player spent his days as a cab driver.

“I got a father who was stimulating me to dream what was possible. He encouraged me. It is possible to do things you love,” he says.

But when he was 13, his father asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up.

Flores answered he wanted to be a doctor like his dad. His father asked why and Flores pointed to the family’s nice house, their happy life, their wealth.

“So you want to do it for the money?” his father asked, before telling him he would be coming with him to the hospital so he could have a first-hand experience of what the job actually involved.

Flores’s father was a gynaecologist, and after securing the expectant mum’s permission, took his son into the delivery ward. He remembers how cool, how calm, how focused his father was. And the son?

“I could handle 10 minutes and nearly passed (out),” he says. Afterwards in the car, the inevitable question was asked. “‘You still want to be a doctor?’ I said, ‘I think I want to try football’.”

Flores started his professional career with Union de Santa Fe in Argentina before moving to Newell’s Old Boys, one of the country’s biggest clubs.

But the rest of his career would take him outside his native country.

There was a season in Chile, followed by that one year in Adelaide, before a series of moves took him to China, back to Australia, the United States, Chile again, and Indonesia.

Then there was that fateful phone call telling him about his father’s heart attack.

He didn’t make it back to Argentina in time to say farewell to his dad, but at the funeral he learned things about his father that he didn’t know.

There were people at the funeral that Flores didn’t recognise. Families. They were children and grown-ups that his father had delivered free of charge or, in the case of farmers, in exchange for produce. His father never mentioned it to him.

“These families said, ‘Your daddy was family for me’. I was crying,” Flores says.

He spent three months in Argentina helping his mum and sister, Soledad, deal with the aftermath of his father’s death, but then felt he had to get away again.

“You know when people advise you that no matter how bad life is, there is a reason, something good you can take out of that? At the time I could not see it. As soon as I finished my responsibilities I didn’t want to see my mum, I didn’t want to see my sister. I didn’t want to see anything in Argentina, because the air, the Earth, football was my father, my father, my father.”

Former Adelaide United footballer Marcos Flores in Africa.

Flores headed to Russia.

His partner, Marina Burnysheva, is Russian and they went to Moscow. This was not long before the country hosted last year’s World Cup, but Flores says such was his state of mind that he didn’t realise it was coming up.

In Moscow, for the first time, he met his partner’s mother, Natasha, who promptly told him she had arranged for him to train with a local team who played in Russia’s fourth division.

“I was just laughing,” he says. “Who would want me now?”

Reluctantly, he went along. He didn’t know anyone. He didn’t speak Russian. They didn’t speak English or Spanish. After that first session, he thought, again, that was it. He still didn’t want to play.

His partner told him to “give it time”.

He went back the second day. The team trained in the Moscow suburb of Domodedovo, not far from the international airport.

As he trained with the team the second time, he spotted some kids playing a game on the car park outside the ground.

He asked to join in.

It was three versus three and he played with them for 30 minutes. He enjoyed it. More to the point, it gave him an idea of what he wanted to do next with his life.

Children listening to the former Adelaide United star.

“I said, ‘I want to start teaching (football) in the street’.”

He stayed in Russia a little longer, even playing in a pre-World Cup tournament for his new team as football’s governing body FIFA experimented with how its newly introduced video assistant referee system would work.

“I got a medal from FIFA,” Flores says.

“I played but my mood was so unstable. One day I wanted to play and the next day I didn’t. But something I was consistent was playing with kids. I enjoyed it.”

Flores decided he wanted to connect with children in the poorest areas. Talking to him in that Glenelg coffee shop, his passion for the project is apparent.

He fixes you with a stare, leans forward to make his point and doesn’t let go of the eye contact until you agree with him or a new idea comes along.

Part of it was about spreading the word of football.

To give kids the notion they, too, can become professionals. Referencing his own childhood, he mentions the legendary Argentinian footballer Gabriel Batistuta.

Like Flores, he is from Reconquista. Flores talks about himself as a 12-year-old kicking a ball against the wall and dreaming of meeting Batistuta.

“I never saw him but always I wanted a tip, something,” he says.

So part of it is about football, but Flores insists his mission is about more than that.

“Whether you play football or cards or basketball you need to play completely with energy, with enthusiasm. You have to play with love, with passion, with drive,” he says.

Flores spent time in Madagascar, Tanzania, South Africa among other places.

It is that passion and energy he wants to pass on more than just a love of the game.

He called a Brazilian friend to see if he wanted to join in and to figure out where to go. They decided to start in Egypt as stage one of a journey that would take in seven countries in a trip that would take them all the way to South Africa.

They did it themselves and paid for it themselves, deciding they didn’t want to be part of a charity or a formal group. Flores estimates they met somewhere between 3000 and 4000 people, playing football with all of them.

They took buses and drove motorcycles around Egypt. They stopped in Israel and Palestine, and played football on both sides of the wall.

“Same illusions, same smile, different beliefs,” Flores says.

But, he says, on the Palestinian side of the divide “there is a lot of sadness, a lot of suffering, they feel betrayed”.

“A father of one of the Palestinian kids said to me, ‘Thank you sir for what you are doing, but now you are going to do something I will never be able to do. You are going walk to the other side’. That made me cry. It’s incredible. It’s insane.”

There is a bit of the football philosopher in Flores.

His experiences in Israel and Palestine, then as he travelled through refugee camps in Kenya and into Tanzania left a strong impression.

“Let me tell you, the soccer ball doesn’t ask for passports, doesn’t ask for races, doesn’t understand which feet are clean and which are not clean,” he says.

“Doesn’t understand if you have one leg or two, doesn’t understand if you have no legs. With a soccer ball you can use your hands. The soccer ball gave me my happiness back.”

And he learned a few things along the way.

Football is the language known the world over.

In Tanzania he spotted a game being played on a red, dusty field and asked to join in.

It was eight versus eight, but all the players were wearing different shirts.

There was the blue and red of Paris Saint-Germain. The black and white stripes of Juventus. Flores couldn’t figure out how he was going to be able to tell which team he was on.

They had no language in common, but after a fashion he figured out the distinction between the two teams.

One had their shirts tucked into their shorts.

“I have seen crazy things but nothing like that,” he says, the delight of the memory still evident.

Then there was the jail in Madagascar.

Madagascar is one of the poorest places on the planet. According to the World Bank, only 13 per cent of its 25 million inhabitants have electricity.

Around 75 per cent of its people live below the poverty line, which equates to $1.90 a day. Flores ended up there because he met a guy at a hostel in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. His job was selling Madagascar as a location for movie shoots. He said he should visit.

In Madagascar he played football with kids in the market and on the streets.

But he was also invited to a foundation that worked with children at the Antanimora jail. The jail was built for 800 prisoners but there are more than 3000 incarcerated. It has a children’s wing as well, many of them there because their parents had abandoned them.

There was not a lot of room to move.

Flores would be faced with trying to control 109 kids on the prison’s basketball court, with four balls and seven assistants, some of whom were prison guards. The nice plans he had made on paper before he entered the prison went out the window. The guards yell an instruction and the boys fall into line.

Flores spent time in Madagascar, Tanzania, South Africa among other places.

A million miles away in Glenelg, Flores pats his chest above his heart in rapid motion to show how he was feeling as he approached the kids.

“The show must go on, Freddie Mercury,” he was thinking to himself.

“I am getting stressed and that was the challenge. I thought I have to show that I’m serious so they don’t take the piss.

“I stare at the eye of a guy who was first in line until the guy smiled. And I thought, that’s one. I found another in another line. Then another kid looking at me, then a smile.”

Through a translator, Flores tells them to come closer and he introduces himself. Tells them he has been a professional footballer for 15 years, playing around the world.

Tells them he has known players, such as another Argentinian Carlos Tevez, who would have ended in jail if not for football.

Tells them that sport can be an escape from prison. That today he would show them how to be a professional.

He starts a warm-up exercise. Running on the spot. Shows them how an amateur would do it, then how a professional would do it. Pushing himself as hard as he can.

“I am conscious of these kids. These kids don’t eat. Every three or four months someone dies because they are starving and I am making them train properly, which is crazy.”

But he wants to impart a lesson. “When you are committed, you are happy and you are excited — you take power from that.”

Some of the kids dropped out but Flores reckons around 80 were taking part. Somehow the running drill morphs into some kind of haka chant and the kids join in.

“I swear if God could give me a present, my dad would have to forgive me because the proper wish would be to have one more day with my father — but I’m going to be honest: I want to see from a drone that happen in the middle of the jail by one Argentinian.”

After that, he put them through some drills with the balls. And then, of course, there was a game at the end. Four guards from the prison against Flores and the volunteers from the charity. On the basketball court, surrounded by 100 kids.

“I played 120 per cent. I played like crazy. I play like a derby. Like Adelaide against Victory. I won of course.”

Now he is back in Adelaide.

Not with United, but with Adelaide City. He loves Adelaide, says he didn’t want to leave when United sold him to China after that one glorious season.

Former Adelaide United star Marcos Flores signed for NPL SA club Adelaide City. Picture: Mike Burton/AAP

Wanted to come back after China didn’t work out, but says no formal offer was ever made. He ended going to Melbourne, much to the disgust of some Adelaide supporters.

Flores was in Tanzania when Adelaide City called asking if he wanted to play.

His first answer was, “no, I’m done”. He added: “In professional football I cannot have the freedom I need to be happy.”

But the conversation continued and there was talk of Flores working with juniors and having an ambassadorial role with the club, which plays in the National Premier League, a step down from the full-time rigours of the professional A-League.

He accepted.

He’s made an impact with his new club. In a game against Adelaide United’s NPL team he scored a goal from inside his own half.

But he carries his African adventure with him and wants to take the message not only to the young players at Adelaide City but into the parts of South Australia where training academies and coaching clinics don’t reach.

He talks of setting up his own academy, where the first lesson will be how to make a ball. An academy that is not limited to training drills and running from one cone to another.

“I can actually promise we are going to teach you more than football,” he says.

“If I teach you how to win you can be resilient. If I teach you how to lose you will never give up. I teach these values rather just dribble a cone for one hour.

“That is the most important for me.”

The Resource Link: https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/lifestyle/sa-weekend/marcos-flores-was-so-devastated-by-the-death-of-his-father-he-gave-soccer-away-until-decided-to-teach-poor-children-how-to-play/news-story/164f37d3f45de82dc5260972990ee2f5

The Author: Michael McGuire, SA Weekend

May 3, 2019 1:40pm

Don’t Stop Here

More To Explore

Antanimora: Football In The Prison

Antanimora: Football In The Prison Friday, August 31st, It was one of the most incredible football experiences of my life. I got the invitation to