The River Plate Aussie waiting for FFA's call

He is the first Australian to ever play for the Argentinian powerhouse club, River Plate, and has had a taste of first team action against some iconic clubs of the world game. Yet Gavin De Niese has never been contacted by Football Federation Australia. Con Stamocostas chats with the 19-year-old from suburban Melbourne... 

After waiting three years to make his official debut for  River Plate, Australian Gavin De Niese has been promoted to the ‘Los Millionairos’ reserve team after starting in the Quinta league (U-18’s).

Last year he played 20 games and scored seven goals, and has started off the new season getting regular game time in the reserve team, including a taste of first team action against some of Turkey’s biggest club teams.

“I’ve started off this year so well and I’m looking forward to having such a good year,” the 1.76m central midfielder said.

“In (pre- season) I went to Turkey with the reserves, staying at five star hotels, playing games against the first team of Galatasaray and Besiktas.

“I was one of the youngest boys so I only got 10 minutes in the final against Besiktas and we beat Galatasaray on penalties (in the game before). 

“Then (I played) in a tournament in Mexico called the Copa Chivas scoring three goals in six games.” It included a screamer against fierce rivals Boca Juniors.

He described the scoring spree as: “definitely a moment I’ll never forget.”

The 19-year-old added: “Now I’ve started five games in the reserves playing 90 minutes and regularly.

“I think I adapted quite rapidly and that’s why now I’ve been moved up (to the reserves).

“I always kept at their (teammates) level and when my chances came to play I made the most of them so I’m quite comfortable.”

The move up to the River Plate reserves means the pace of the game is quicker and sometimes De Niese comes up against players from Argentina’s top division.

“Every now and then we play with the first team,” said the former South Eastern Piranhas junior.

“It’s a lot faster – it’s basically all one-two touch in the middle of the ground – more physical. It’s now all ages so we have games where we play against first team players from other clubs and with players from River Plate who come down to play in the reserves.

“We have had some mixed trainings with the first team squad under the head coach as well.”

The former Springvale White Eagle junior said he’s not looking too far ahead in terms of making River’s first team squad.

“My short term goals at the moment is to just keep trying to make the starting 11 in reserves, week in week out and getting on the scoresheet and improving,” he said.

“I just want to keep going as I am. It’s quite a jump now, a step away from the first team and I just want to keep my spot in the squad. (My goals) are just to keep working hard and keep trying to be better, there will always be moments.

“How far am I from the first team? It’s a question about timing at the moment. I’m doing well, I’m starting (in the reserves) and I only just turned 19. There is no rush for me to make first team at the moment. When I’m ready I’m sure my chance will come.”   

De Niese, who first played in Argentina for River Plate when he was 13, speaks fluent Spanish.

Giving an insight into his Argentinian journey, he spoke about the importance of the club’s support network as well as his main motivating force in football – his mother.

“My mum got very ill when I was five and passed away when I was 13, and she was never able to see me play,” De Niese said.

“As I was part of the River Plate Australia International Program, I had all the support any player could wish for. I had a care taker from River Plate Australia in Argentina since I arrived.”

There was also from the family of Daniel Santomil, his coach at the River Plate Academy in Australia.

He added: “My dad also came to live with me for two years. The Australia embassy is also aware of the program.

“Now that I am 19, I live on my own, but I still have Eddie (the care taker) if I need anything. We are a very close.

“I don’t think a young player can do it alone without support, as you cannot possible perform to the best of your ability while still adapting to a new environment.

“I know now that if my career takes me to another country or culture, I will be able to adapt quicker than other players and concentrate on playing football as I have already learnt the way to go about it. I think that was the idea behind the international program.

“Missing my family has never gotten to me. I have my future here. Players that leave because they miss family don’t truly want to be footballers – that’s my way of seeing it.

“You have to leave things behind to follow your dreams. I go home for about three-four weeks once a year in December.” 

One of De Niese’s reserve team coaches is Luigi Villalba who was at the club from 1992-1997 and won three championships and a Copa Libertadores as a player.

“We train in the morning Tuesday through to Sunday (games on Sunday),” said De Niese about his training schedule.

“In the afternoon I do a lot of stretching and yoga and do 30-45 minutes of ball work three-four times a week.”

De Niese described what life is like in Argentina in a football sense and says his teammates make him humble.

“Football-wise the passion and the will to win here in Argentina is incredible,” he said.

 “In the cultural sense, I have a lot of respect for the boys I play with due to the way they have grown up – some with barely anything but always with such smiles on their faces.

“Some of the things the boys have been through just makes me realise to not take anything for granted and always live life with a smile.”

De Niese has never been contacted by anyone at Football Federation Australia and missed out on selection for Paul Okon’s Under 20 team last year.

He has an Irish passport and residency in Argentina but the young Aussie is still keen to represent the country of his birth.

“At the moment I have not been contacted at all by FFA” De Niese said.

“I gather that they (the FFA) don’t know much about me as I left Australia when I was so young.”

He added: “Throughout my time in Argentina I have been asked if I have played in the youth for Australia. I’m probably one of the only boys in my age group at the club who has never played or been involved with the national team yet.

“Before the World Cup (in Brazil last year) I trained with the Argentinean team and the River boys testing equipment in anticipation for the World Cup.

“It’s definitely one of my goals to play in the green and gold. I know the player I am and I’m sure when my chance comes I’ll make the most of it, it’s up to them (the FFA) to give me the call.”