In early July 2018, Boomerangs player, Elie Darwich headed off to Lebanon at the invitation of the local futsal hierarchy, to try his hand at representing Lebanon at the AFC U20s Futsal Championships to be held in early 2019, as well as to participate in the Alfa League, the top tier of open men’s futsal in Lebanon.
Elie has kindly agreed to provide us with blog entries of his journey…
Blog Entry #3 – 04 October 2018 – My Futsal Journey Blog #3
Craziest month I’ve had in a long time…
Let’s start with futsal. Firstly, I have started with the U20 National team training and it’s going very well. There were a couple of tryout sessions at first then the final squad was put together, and now training for the qualifiers is now underway.
What at first seemed like a long time away – our first qualifying games – are now only around 8 weeks away! There are still talks about where the qualifiers will be held, whether in Malaysia or Thailand, but I think Thailand is in favour.
The national team has also given out the training/match kits and I was very proud to be wearing the Lebanese crest on my chest.
We also had our first practise game against a division one Lebanese league side and it feels great to say we won it. Not bad for a bunch of young guys!
We have a couple more friendly games before our two or so upcoming major games in December. Unfortunately, we were put into the more difficult qualifying group coming up against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Never the less, I’m sure the team’s passion and spirit (and of course ability) will push us over the line to get the positive results we’re all after.
Now, the League team…
Since I have started with the U20’s, it has been really hard to commit to the league team I had originally signed up to. I was in talks with the coach for weeks and it finally came to the conclusion that it was for the best that I do not continue with them.
Since the announcement that I had been released from the team, I have had over five different teams and coaches approach me from both the division one and two in order to sign with them. At that time, it was a very stressful and difficult time in a way and I have to admit, caused me some headaches. But at the same time, it also felt very cool being approached by different coaches offering me contracts and all were very kind to me.
I FaceTimed my dad back in Canberra every night and would tell him about each new coach and their offer and it all got a little bit overwhelming at the end.
Long story short, there was one team I was quite interested in since I was released from the first club. They’re also a Division 1 (Alfa League) side and I have now been training with them for several weeks when I don’t have national team training.
The coaching staff of the team and I have agreed that national training comes first and then when I can, I would train with them. The deal was made! I will hopefully be signing this contract before Monday, October 8. I think our first league game is also very close – within 10 days – so that is also quite exciting.
Life outside futsal…
I’ve been living alone for most of my time in Lebanon, and I’ve started to gain a little bit of knowledge and life skills. At first, I didn’t feel I was able to live independently but now things have changed – and I had to grow up at some point right? (I’m sure many of you back home won’t believe me when I say that!)
And as I have had a lot of time to myself, I have been thinking a lot about the future I want and how you have to work hard to get the things you want in life no matter what it was.
I’d be lying to say I don’t miss home – of course I do! Who wouldn’t? I miss my family so much. Usually, you wouldn’t say which family member you miss the most, and my family clearly knows I miss them all, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I miss Yara (my youngest sister) the most. I also miss my mum’s cooking (heaps), my dad’s pep talks before games (even though he still calls me before every game I have and gives me the same motivational talk I’ve heard 100 times — but it still manages to motivate me), and Tamara (my other sister)… I miss her too.
A little shoutout to my Boomers family as well, haven’t forgotten about y’all. Nick (VA), and Damian (McF) were both very kind enough to provide me live updates on the games on the first round of matches against Raiders. Overall it seemed like a real mix of results which isn’t bad for the first week of the season, but I know we can do better.
I’d like to wish the players the best of luck in their second round of games against the Taipans this weekend and to play hard for each other. Parents, as usual, you guys are the real superstars doing your bit for your kids and I thank you for that.
I apologise that it’s been a while since I’ve written up a blog post. I hope to keep them coming more frequently – when I can . To those who do take time out of their lives to read them and if that is you reading this right now, it really means a lot and you truly are amazing.
Till next time.
Blog Entry #2 – 25 August 2018
The last two weeks have flown by….
I feel like I’ve settled in well with the league team in Lebanon. Although my goal here is to play for the national team, I feel like I’m going to learn more playing with the league team as they all have more futsal experience and will give me a more physical battle.
I’m also pleased with the way I have taken my place in the team. You can’t just walk into a team and think they are going to show you respect, especially if you’re an outsider. It’s simple really, you want respect, you got to earn it, especially playing professionally. I can tell that for the first couple of training sessions they were going harder on me because they wanted to test me. That’s all it is at the end of the day. Nothing personal, all professional.
They wanted to see where my limits were – if I would give in. They wanted to see my mindset – my mentality – to see if I could handle the pressure. I understood what they were doing, so I was well prepared. Imagine someone coming halfway around the world to take your place in the team.
However, after the first couple of weeks of training sessions, I feel like I have gained the respect of the players, and that I finally fit in with the team like any other player. The players have even given me a nickname — the Lebanese Kangaroo.
The final squad has been put together (and yes, I am in it!) and our training schedule for the month was announced. Six day’s training and just one day off each week, wow… Welcome to professional futsal!
On the personal front, I’ve moved into an apartment closer to the futsal courts so I don’t have to travel every day to training. It’s basically walking distance for me now plus I have everything close by in terms of shops and importantly food places which is good. My uncle is staying with me for the first week or so so I can settle in; but from then on, I’m on my own.
Saying that though, I know my family will never skip a day without calling me to see how I am; if I’ve eaten; if I’ve done washing and to check I haven’t burnt the apartment down. Also, I have plenty of extended family who live close by as well and I know they won’t leave me alone either. Needless to say, I’m very well taken care of.
Finally, continuing on from the last blog about training, I’m absolutely loving it. The coach pushes you to your literal final breath, where you think you can’t physically do anything more. When the intense 2-hour training session is over and you’re ready to take your shoes off and leave, that’s when the conditioning starts.
Laps – and I mean laps – of running till your legs give out. Once the legs have given out, we do an intense 15 minute core workout; and this is after training is supposed to be finished. Once your abs give out from the core workout, we then do a deep stretching session for every muscle we have used in our body over the past couple of hours. So, although training starts at 9:30 pm and should finish around 11:30 pm, we don’t leave the courts till around midnight or after.
At the end of the day though, hard work is the key to success. And playing in professional leagues is all about success.
My futsal journey so far…
When I started this journey, I was feeling a range of emotions.
I haven’t left home for this long before so I was feeling sad, but going to my dad’s home village and country to represent them in futsal made up for it. I was confident in myself, thinking I knew what to expect.
I had one light training session in front of the national team coach and I think he was impressed, to say the least. I signed my contract with the national team the week later as well as getting offered a position in a newly promoted national league team.
Becoming a ‘Professional’
So on the same day, I signed two professional contracts – two more than I’ve ever signed before. It was a very weird feeling, partly because the contract was written in Arabic and I didn’t understand it, so I didn’t know what I was signing up to for the next year. But I had my uncle to help me read it and I trust him. I was also feeling proud that I’ve achieved something quite special in my eyes.
My first month in Lebanon, I kept fit doing runs nearly every morning and played local mini football derbies in the village with my close friends. Speaking of friends, they treat me so well, much more than I deserve and I am forever grateful for that. I also stayed busy joining a scout group in the village and working with kids of all ages up to 14 leading them in games and activities as well as some life skills.
Training with the U20’s national team starts in September but training with the league team has already started (in early August).
My first official training session in Lebanon.
Beforehand I was feeling confident yet the sweat on my body told a different story. It’s a 2-3 hour drive to the training ground from my village. We stopped halfway to get some food (full roasted chicken) and we then continued our drive. This reminded me of the Sutton Forest stops on the way to Sydney!
When I got there – I was the first one to arrive – I walked through and saw the training court (which is also our match day court) for the first time. The whole venue fits around 400-500 spectators I’d say so it wasn’t a small venue. Players started rocking up slowly and before you knew it, there were 21 players ready for the first session.
Looking at each player before training has even started, my confidence dropped a little and the nerves built up. All of a sudden, I didn’t know what to expect. You can tell if a player is good or not by the way they present themselves off the court, I certainly had some self-doubt creeping in.
The training session was no different to training in Australia — however, it’s just 1000% more intense. That first session reminded me of my first F-League game in 2016. It’s that same intensity they have at training. Your decision making, the positions you take, the passes you make, shots you take, all had to be perfect – as if you’re playing a final. Literally everything! Not to mention this was in what felt like 40-degree heat with no air conditioning. There were a couple of past and present national Lebanese team players also in the team so that was something else I had sitting in the back of my head.
I think it’s safe to say I trained okay, definitely not my best though, which I felt was understandable because it was my first training session with a new team, and I felt I was out of my playing comfort zone somewhat. Also, the fact that I felt the need to throw up every break we had (thanks to the heat and that roast chicken an hour earlier).
There isn’t really a language barrier but I need to get used to and understand some words they say in terms of futsal terminology in Arabic. At the end of the day, I knew where the benchmark for them was and if you can describe it in words I’d say it was like “treat every session as it’s the final and you’re life depended on it.” Well, that’s what it felt like.
Training session 2 – lessons learnt
Skip a day and I had my next training session with the team. Same build up coming to the session, except this time I did not have that roasted chicken! Also, I was feeling more confident because I now knew what the intensity would be like as well as some familiarity with the players.
Without going into too much detail, this session was pretty much the same as the first session in terms of intensity. I feel like this will be the way it is for the whole season. This time, however, I was much more relaxed, comfortable and confident. I was playing my own game, moving around freely and limiting every small mistake I make. Those who know me, I’m very competitive in everything I do. It just keeps me going and striving for greatness and higher achievements in life.
I didn’t want to turn it into a competition of course, but I felt like I was the best player that night. Although sometimes I forget at the end that it’s just training, I was very proud of how I trained, and I know that I need to continue the same way for the rest of the season. It was only after the session I had what I think was a very well deserved roasted chicken!
Training sessions – more lessons
One thing I’ve already learnt playing in Lebanon is you don’t joke around at training. Something for the kids (training for Boomerangs), whether it’s a 5-metre pass or a far post tap-in, do it as you would in a game; because that is the only way you’re going to improve yourself. There is no point taking a shortcut and going easy on yourself. Who’s that going to help? Certainly not you because once you step on the court on match day, you’re going to be caught out in terms of intensity because you didn’t work at 100% of your ability in training. Don’t take shortcuts. Train as if you’re playing a match. That’s the only way you’re going to improve.
I’ll be following the Boomerangs season closely, every week and will be getting game by game updates (sorry Nick). One thing I miss for sure is that family feeling a club like the Boomerang has across all its teams.
Till next time – Elie