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 #4 – 11 December 2018 – My Futsal Journey Blog #4
My futsal journey has come to an end – this chapter at least. Heaps of things have happened since my last blog, both positive and negative.
I’ve just come back from Dubai (where the qualifiers for the AFC U20s Futsal Championships were held) and let’s just say it’s probably the coolest place I’ve been. We went to the Dubai mall (which is one of the biggest malls in the world) at night and it was crowded with people and tourists from all over the world. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Anyway, with futsal, we’ll start with the negative.
Preparation prior to the qualifiers was all going well and couldn’t have been better until about a month before our departure I got injured and eventually after getting x-rays and other checks done, was ruled out to play. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to take in and at the time I didn’t take it well – after all, I’d been building myself up for this tournament for six months. But after a while, I came to understand that you can’t dwell on these setbacks – you have to move on and make the best of your situation. I have to admit, it was tough. But hey, that’s life, you just have to take it.
Even though I was injured and ruled out of playing the qualifying tournament, I never left the team’s side while they were preparing themselves for the two games we had. And I was privileged to be able to still fly out with the team to Dubai to support them all the way. For that, I’m very thankful.
Which leads to the positive.
As I mentioned, Dubai is amazing and the hotel we stayed in was top class which made it better! A couple of other nations competing in the qualifiers were also staying in the hotel so it was awkward at times. Seeing them in the lobby, we’d just have this sort of stare down at each other which increased the rivalry between us. Never the less we were ready to play. Our first game was against Kuwait, a team coached by the Brazilian phenom, Cacau (can you believe that?). I can’t imagine the nerves my teammates might’ve been feeling because I was shaking up in the stands. And it was stressed that this was a must-win match to start our campaign in the best possible way. We came out strong at the start but couldn’t cap off our good performance with a goal for a while – which was frustrating. However, after getting one, the goals came more freely and we finished the game-winning 7-2, which was a relief for all of us.
After that match, we had a day rest, and we took that opportunity to watch our next opposition (Saudi Arabia) play against Kuwait. This was to our advantage as we could now see how the Saudis played. Saudi Arabia (KSA) also had the same problem we did against Kuwait, dominating in the first couple of minutes but not finding the goal. However, in the end, they won 4-1. So it all came to our final game against Saudi Arabia. The winner would take first place in the pool and qualify directly for the AFC U20s Futsal Championships. The loser, by finishing second, had to play a must-win game against the second place team from the other group.
I could safely say that watching Saudi Arabia play Kuwait beforehand really was to our advantage as we could see how they played and assess their strengths and weaknesses. We came out hard from the very start of the match – but so did they. I realised that the first goal would be crucial because the other team then needed to chase the game from behind. And that’s what KSA had to do as we scored first, then again, and then another going into halftime leading 3-0. It was a perfect result for the first half, but we knew the game didn’t end there. Saudi Arabia had to push harder and we knew we didn’t have to do much more than see the time out. As time went on, KSA used the power play tactic as they were desperate to narrow the scoreboard gap. This gave us an advantage as we scored a couple more goals during that time on their power play mistakes. The final score was 8-2 – sounds like a big win – but it was tighter than that score suggests.
Qualifying by winning these two games was probably one of the best feelings and I couldn’t have been prouder of the boys. Our mission in Dubai was accomplished, our next goal, the AFC Championships.
But as the qualifiers came to an end, so my time in Lebanon also comes to an end, for now. I hope to be back in Australia before Christmas.
It is difficult to find the words to describe how my journey has been over the past few months. I have learnt a great deal about futsal and about life. But all things must come to an end. I’m spending every minute of the last couple of weeks or so I have here with my family and friends back in the village. I will miss them when I return to Canberra.
I’ll always be grateful for the experience I had and the people I have met. But for now, I have to think about my future and what my next step is.
I hope to see the Boomers family soon.
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