Melbourne Victory midfielder Rashid Mahazi says that the two-and-a-half years spent playing in South America for powerhouse clubs like River Plate and Independiente helped him grow as a footballer and as a person.
Mahazi, 23 is an integral part of the current A-League Champions playing over 60 matches in three seasons for the Victory.
The former Dandenong Thunder junior was spotted by Daniel Santomil who runs the River Plate Academy in Melbourne.
Through his youth program and relationship with River Plate, it allowed Mahazi to spend six months with Los Millonarios.
Australian born with a Kenyan father, Mahazi left for Argentina when he was a teenager and the Victory midfielder said that the influence of Santomil and his time in Argentina had a profound effect on him.
“It was amazing,” he said. “I spent six months with River Plate and then I spent two seasons with Indepentiente. Daniel was a great coach for me. His Academy before I went overseas was something that helped me a lot. I never had freedom to express myself on the ball and improve my technique as much as he gave me.
“When I went over there I developed a lot as a player. When I did go overseas I learnt a lot. I grew up a lot. I went there when I was 17. So to be overseas without your family and stuff like that at that age you’ve got to grow up.
“In football terms and just as a person in general I matured. “
Santomil was a former player for Argentina club side Juniors.
After his playing career he then immigrated to Australia and has been involved in coaching for over 30 years.
He says when he first came across Mahazi he was not in any state representative team but when he first saw him play he knew he would be able to progress to a high level.
When Mahazi originally moved to Indepentiente he started in the U20 squad and then moved to the reserves team. Looking back on his time in Argentina Mahazi says that the aggressive nature of the players stood out.
“The football is amazing there,” he said. “It’s an extremely aggressive league I’m not sure everyone realises that. Everyone thinks ‘oh South America and skill’ but Argentina in particular is one of the more aggressive leagues in the world I’d say. It just really fast. Football players are just really technically gifted and you have to learn quickly and they don’t appreciate it if you give away the ball and you’re not doing the right things.
Mahazi added, “Once a week we would play an 11 vs 11 against the first team. So you are going up against exceptional players and that reserves squad won the league the year I was there.
“It’s a different sort of vibe than Australia the way football is approached over there. I think it’s driven by the fans. I’m pretty fortunate here at Melbourne Victory that we turn out 20 to 30,000 fans regularly whether it’s a midweek game or not.
“So we are catching up with them on that front.”
- Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.