I went to around 6-7 trials in different clubs all around Europe. Usually I spent one week with the club and played one or two friendlies in this period.
Every new begining is tough. In football you often change teams, cities, countries, and it is not always easy to adapt to the new environment. I changed a lot of clubs and countries in my career, and one thing remained the same – when I was 8 years old and came to my first club as well as when I was 30 and changed a club.
You come into the dressing room and there are 25 new faces staring at you. You go and shake hands with each one of them, but you always get this strange feeling of discomfort, because you know everybody is thinking you want to take their place in the team. With time passing by, the group accepts you, but the first few days are always hard. Especially when you go on trials abroad.
I went to around 6-7 trials in different clubs all around Europe. Usually I spent one week with the club and played one or two friendlies in this period. After that we would negotiate the contract. There were so many factors and pieces of the puzzle that had to come together if you wanted to sign the contract. It didn’t matter if you played like Messi, sometimes the transfer just didn’t happen, because one link in the chain was missing.
I remember on one occasion I was in the worst shape ever and performed very badly in the trial, but I got to sign the contract anyway because my agent was friends with the coach and they split the money from the transfer. This is football reality – it is not always nice and it is not always fair, but that is the way it is.
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Oil in the air
I think it was summer 2004 and an agent from the Netherlands, whom I haven’t even met before, called if I wanted to go to Azerbaijan for a trial with a possibility of a fabulous contract. I could not imagine living in Azerbaijan, but I could not stop thinking about all that money which I could secure myself a careless future with. So I went.
The first thing I remember when I stepped out of the airplane was the strong smell of oil in the air. No wonder they could pay that well if they had oil even in the air.
This team I was supposed to join was in the preseason camp some 250 km away from the capital Baku, so I had to get there. Someone was supposed to meet me at the airport and take me there, but he never showed up. So I had to take a taxi. The best deal I could get was an old Lada Niva that came along with a drunk driver. So I got in the car and for the next three hours – as we were driving 140 km/h avoiding holes in the road and cows standing there – regretted my decision and prayed to stay alive.
When I finally got to the camp I trained with the team and did well. But I was disappointed by the team, since I was used to playing with quality players. So in my mind I already started to think that this was not for me. And new reasons kept coming up: I didn’t like the city, the food was awful, and the whole living standard was really low; there was even a rat in my hotel room. The other thing that puzzled me was that although the clubs annual budget was around 10 million USD, they didn’t even have matching training kits. So unprofessional. I ended up wearing extra small shorts and a t-shirt, so I trained in tight kit that made me feel like I was a ballet dancer.
Crazy taxi driver
I decided to decline the offer and go home. They surprised me by increasing the offer to even more money. That had me thinking for an hour or two, but I felt in my gut that I just could not stay there. They didn’t take the refusal well and I had a bad feeling leaving the club. At that point I really wished my agent was there with me, because after all, that was his job to run the talks with the club, while mine was to do the best I can on the field.
Lucky me, the same drunk taxi driver that brought me there three days ago came to take me back, as if he was the only driver in Azerbaijan. I couldn’t believe it. But I had to hurry to catch the plane so I had no other choice than to go with him. Before leaving, I saw a club representative paying the driver for the trip in advance. So he started his crazy drive, but when we were near Baku he suddenly stopped the car in a dark part of the city. He knew I was in a hurry and didn’t say a word for a few minutes. I was going nuts. He couldn’t speak a word of English but I Immediately knew what he wanted. So I gave him 20 USD and finally he drove me to the airport. At the airport he demanded 100 USD for the trip or he wouldn’t give me my bags. Then I went crazy. I started to kick his taxi like a lunatic. The police came shortly after and wanted to arrest me. I was very lucky that one local guy who could speak English saw everything and helped me out.
After that I was more careful going to trials and always did some research about the country I was going to. Also, it is very important to have your agent going with you or at least arrange for someone to be there with you. And to actually show up.
The Diary Of A Football Player
A series of posts with everyday examples from a footballer’s real life. It’s a mosaic of sport life from someone with experience (the author has been a footballer for 15 years). Many times controversial in his career, but always with love for the game.