WHEN Marcos Flores first rang his parents to tell them he was going to play football in Australia, he promised them one thing; that he would be the best.
It was a big statement to make - he was an unknown quantity, an Argentinian playmaker that had barely heard a thing about the A-League.
He was still sure though.
At 24 years old, he'd already had his fair share of ups and downs in his career in South America, and he saw Australia as a fresh slate - an opportunity he would embrace and give everything he had.
"I achieved a lot in Adelaide," he says, smiling. "Of course, I won the Johnny Warren Medal in my first year and I am proud of that.
"But I loved that squad. I was in the right moment at Adelaide United."
Marcos is a big believer in fate. After a few failed attempts by Adelaide United to lure the Argentinian from his homeland to Australia, he is adamant that when he did finally accept, the players around him at the time played a big part in his instant success.
"The Team of the Decade was announced a few weeks ago and I was named alongside Travis Dodd, Mathew Leckie, Cassio, Sergio Van Dijk, Eugene Galekovic - they were all part of the team in the year I won the medal."
He adds: "No one player is anything without the players around him."
There was blood everywhere, the lady's husband was freaking out and I couldn't handle it
The Marcos Flores football story, like any good book, is told to me in chapters, each with an underlying theme - that he was, and still is, a boy with a dream.
While he always loved football, growing up as the son of a wealthy doctor meant it felt natural for Marcos to aspire to be just like his 'Padre' - delivering babies for a living.
"He said to me, 'You want to be a doctor? Let's go," Marcos recalls.
"We drove 20 minutes to the hospital, arrived and put our gowns and masks on and my father said to the pregnant lady 'Excuse me, you don't mind if we have a student with us today because my son - he wants to become a doctor.
"So he looked at me and said: 'You are going to see everything now'."
Less than 10 minutes later, Marcos Flores' big dream of becoming a doctor was abandoned.
"My Dad was so calm, so professional. There was blood everywhere, the lady's husband was freaking out and I couldn't handle it," he says.
"I told my Dad 'I have to go!' and quickly got out of there," he says, laughing.
Growing up in a privileged family meant that Marcos had more opportunities than most kids from his hometown of Reconquista - a tiny city famous for being the birthplace of Football legend, Gabriel Batistuta.
"Anything I wanted to do - my parents always told me to follow my dreams," he explains. "And because I liked to be creative, I thought I might like to write or travel. I wanted to do something artistic with my life."
Of the many dreams that a teenage Marcos Flores considered pursuing, one thing that had remained a constant in his life since he was a small boy was football.
"Every minute of my spare time I spent at the park playing football," Marcos says, "but I didn't really know I could make it a career."
"My father would come see me play games and people would say to him, 'Your son, he plays good football', and so he asked me seriously one day if I wanted to do it professionally.
"I asked him, maybe naively because I was just a young boy, 'but do they get paid?
"He said, 'Yes, of course they get paid, Marcos. They can be very rich."
"What he said next helped me shaped who I am as a person today. He said, "But you don't do it for the money, Marcos. You do it because you love it."
It was the defining moment in a career that started promisingly in the youth system of the Argentine Primera Division, but like most good football stories, it didn't come without its share of struggles.
"My first professional trial at 16 years old was about 3 hours drive away from my house and the coach liked me," he says. "So he said to my Dad, let him live here, under the stadium, with 35 other boys."
For the kid that lived in a comfortable, air-conditioned house with a bedroom decked out with all the latest technology - it sounded like a fascinating challenge.
Marcos's mother suggested they arrange an apartment for him to live in but his father insisted it was a good opportunity for his son to experience a different way of life.
"My father always taught me that money wasn't everything; you had to have values. If you have values, you will be a better person," he says.
According to Marcos, it was a special memory he has of his father that is key to the way he tries to live his own life now as a man of his own.
"When I was about 10 years old, my father and I walked past a homeless man and he asked for money and my father gave him $5," he says.
"I asked him: 'What are you doing? With that money could buy me the socks I like.'
"He got so angry with me and said: 'That is the last time you will say anything like that again. That homeless man will eat today.'
"He told me: 'Don't you forget this day.'
"And I didn't forget."
Living under the stadium in a small room with 6 other boys was a huge shock for Marcos, who didn't quite expect the circumstances to be so dire.
"We would drench ourselves in mosquito spray and go to bed straight out the shower without drying ourselves, just to keep cool," he explains, earnestly.
"One time, it was 3am and I couldn't sleep because it was so hot and I had a game at 9. So I took my sheets to the shower, wet myself completely and took myself back to bed."
Marcos wells up as he describes the living conditions, from the tiny portions of food, to curfews, discipline and thieving roommates.
"The situation was bad," he says, his voice cracking with emotion resurrected by the memory.
"I accepted it because I wanted to experience it - and I did this knowing I could leave if I wanted to. My parents were always offering to find me an apartment."
"But I wanted to get through it, at least until I made my debut with the first team. That was my goal."
Marcos made a dream debut with Argentine Primera Division side Unión de Santa Fe as a 19 year old, where he came on as a 67th minute substitute, gave his first assist and scored his first goal as a professional.
Taking off his jersey to celebrate - he felt as if he'd made it.
"It was the best night of my life," he recalls. "And after celebrating with my family that night I realised it was time for me to grow up and leave that horrible place."
"It was the first time I told my Mum about the conditions I was living in, and she was shocked, " Marcos says. "But I made first division and I wasn't going to be stupid enough to put the last two years in the bin.
"I got my own apartment and for the first time, locked my own door behind me at night, at the time I wanted to do it.
"I was free."
Despite Marcos's dream start as a professional footballer, it wasn't long before he realised that his talent wouldn't be enough for him to sustain a good career in South America.
"Twenty or thirty years ago, someone would say: 'You want to play football? Here are two or three apples...'
"Now, its dirty. When I was 20 years old and playing well in Argentina, my manager made a few enemies," he reveals. "He left on bad terms with my club and I paid for his mistakes."
"My first two seasons in Argentina were great - the football was good, I was playing for a top club and I was living my dream," he explains. "But the only thing I ever had in my control was my talent."
Despite his strong start, Marcos found himself having a tough time finding regular football in his homeland, which is when he made the decision to seek a career elsewhere, in a place he hoped would embrace him.
"I burnt 20 DVDs with the plan to give them to anyone that would take them," he remembers, laughing.
"I would say to random people: 'Look this is embarrassing for me, but please take my DVD. I would give it to people at the supermarket."
My father always taught me that money wasn't everything; you had to have values. If you have values, you will be a better person
With his stash of DVDs kept under his seat car for easy distribution, on one significant evening on the way to a party, a friend of Marcos found a disk and mistook it for music.
"Turn that rock n roll off", his friend said, "and put this on," holding the disk in Marcos's direction.
Marcos laughed and said: "No buddy, that's not Reggaeton. It's my highlights DVD. Do you know anyone that can help me find a club?"
The next two weeks saw the two hour highlights DVD of Marcos Flores fly from Argentina to Sydney, where there would be a non-practising, licensed FIFA agent ready to make some calls.
"This guy called Adelaide United about me, probably randomly. " Laughing, Marcos continues: "It started with an A so maybe they were the first ones in the phone book."
Fate would have the DVD then fly from Sydney to Adelaide, where the playmaker would soon become the target of Adelaide United Football Director, Michael Petrillo.
"I remember my friend ringing me and saying, "Look, these guys in Australia are interested in you, " he recalls.
"And at that time I was so desperate for a jersey - any jersey - that I told him that if they offered me a contract paying me a wage in the form of a koala or kangaroo, I'll go."
But as timing would have it, Australia would have to wait for the services of this particular Argentinian. It was February 2009, and Adelaide United were keen to sign him for pre-season starting in June - but they were crucial months that Marcos did not want to wait.
"I made it clear to everyone that would listen - the first offer that would come up I would take, " he says, "and so I went to Chile."
Signing a one year deal in Chile turned out to be a perfect step in the right direction for Marcos, who claims that the move helped him find his passion again.
"I signed with a cute club called Curicó Unido and it was good for me.nI rediscovered my dreams to play in South America, and as I was only 23, I wanted to play with risk."
Even though he thought he closed the door on the Australian opportunity, six months into his contract, Michael Petrillo came to watch Marcos play in Chile.
"We sat there in June and he was asking me to come play for Adelaide United. I wasn't sure, I didn't know anything about the league. There weren't any Argentinians in Australia, there were only eight or nine teams at the time.
"I told them I wasn't going to break my contract and if they were still interested at the end of my contract, we will see," he reveals.
Marcos admits that while the offer intrigued him, he felt he was still young enough - and good enough - to make it in South America.
"It works like this over there - if you play in front of the right people you can play for Real Madrid the next day. Of course, it can work the other way around too - you can play three bad games and your career is over."
"But I wanted to take my chance."
Nearing the end of Marcos' contract at Curico Unido, Adelaide presented Marcos Flores with yet another contract, one he was still hesitant to accept.
"My agent convinced me it was the right thing to do," he says, continuing, "but I know he just wanted to get paid because it was the best option for him."
"In the end I accepted the offer from Adelaide United a little disappointed I was leaving South America," he admits, "I felt like my agent was throwing me into the jungle and collecting his money.
"Even though it was a beautiful jungle."
Today, Marcos speaks of his move to Adelaide United as the best decision he has ever made in his life.
"I remember first arriving in Australia - I felt like I was in a movie - with no subtitles! I spoke no English and Cassio - he was my soul mate in Adelaide," he says fondly of the Brazilian fullback.
My manager made a few enemies - he left on bad terms with my club and I paid for his mistakes
"He helped me a lot, he let me make mistakes, so I could still speak my words. I was always sitting next to Cassio, like his little brother."
In his first full season in the A-League, Marcos Flores quickly saw his star rise from unknown foreigner to best player in the country and with such success, inevitably arises great opportunity.
"I was given no choice but to go to China - it was the best deal of my career."
"But I signed it with a heavy heart - I wanted so badly to stay in Adelaide."
"Adelaide United was, and still is, my career highlight."
Marcos is clear abour why he made such an immediate impact in Adelaide, both on and off the field.
"It was partly my mind, with all the troubles I had in the past, I just wanted to play well every time I went out on the pitch," he says.
"And I think the A-League suited me. The philosophy made me a better player - a better person. I became fitter - it was more physical.
"I wanted to work like an Australian but play like an Argentinian."
As for the connection he had with the fans, Marcos made it his mission to ensure he was as approachable as possible, arranging days where he would kick around a ball with them in his personal time.
"I did - I still feel I do - have love for the fans of Adelaide United," he says. "I know they were upset I left, I was upset to leave."
"But when things in China didn't work out, the simple fact is that Adelaide United didn't offer me a contract to come back, even though I wanted to.
"That is a fact."
Leaving Adelaide United for Henan Jianye, a club in the Chinese Super League, didn't work out as well as Marcos has hoped, where he says - by his own admission - he failed to find his feet.
"China, in a cultural way is something amazing," he explains. "But as a footballer you have an early perception about whether things will work out for you or not."
"I knew early on it wasn't going to work out there, for a number of reasons."
When Marcos and his Chinese club decided to mutually terminate his contract, he had no doubts as to where he wanted to return to - a place he considered like a second home, Adelaide.
"So I waited for Adelaide until they told me it wasn't going to happen, and then Melbourne Victory came up," says Marcos, "and it was a fantastic opportunity for me.
"I couldn't say no."
Marcos is the first to admit that his first and only season at Melbourne Victory was disappointing, for both him as a player, and the fans who had such high expectations of him.
"If the structure is not perfect for you - you will not show what you can do," he says.
"And it wasn't that there was anything wrong with the structure at Victory - it just didn't suit me.
"I played like a different Marcos Flores and I knew by the end of the season, that I couldn't help the team by being there."
Marcos admits his disappointing stint at Melbourne Victory caused him to doubt himself and his ability.
"I was getting hammered from everyone, from Adelaide supporters, Victory supporters," he admits. "And when Graham Arnold stepped in and showed such confidence in bringing me back, I asked him: 'But are you sure I can do it?'"
Right now, the new Central Coast Mariners #10 is feeling very happy and content of which he credits mainly the change room for his new positive outlook.
"It's a beautiful team culture at the Mariners - when you run out on the field, its like you are running next to 11 brothers," he reveals.
"Sometimes I feel like we are like amateurs, we are so relaxed and get along so well.
Marcos is clear on his vision for his place at the Mariners and beyond his football career - and that is to be an inspiration for young kids.
"When I was 12 years old I was going to the bank with my Mum and I met a professional football player," he says.
"He rubbed my head and told me to train hard.
"I know, it sounds easy to say, but those words meant something to me.
"I want kids of Gosford to see the Mariners as their team, not the teams in Europe", he says. "Of course, watch those leagues too, but if you want to play football, fight for your dream to play in the A-League.
"The league is improving every day, and so am I."
Marcos Flores, despite the rollercoaster that has been his football career, is adamant that every decision he has made, he has done so for a reason.
"The day I joined Central Coast Mariners," he says, "I spoke in front of hundreds of fans and told them that I never, ever regret one step I made in my past because every step forward, right, left, backwards... brought me to the place I am at right now in my life.
"I am so in love with this country and my dream, even after all these years, is still alive.
"And it is to play until my legs tell me they don't work anymore."
- Kat Caravella is a journalist and wonderWAG as the other half of Newcastle Jets star Zenon Caravella, who gives au.FourFourTwo.com her unique insight to the lives of A-League families. In addition to her own blog at mammasvida.com.au, she is also co-owner of online wine merchants www.redwhiteandbubbles.com.au. You can follow her on Twitter on @KatCaravella