Flores to breathe life into champs
"Inspired". It ranks alongside "great" as the most overused word in sport. Meaning "to breathe life into", to comprehend the depth of its meaning, one has to undertake a journey of awakening. Marcos Flores is one man to have drawn in such experiences.
The 27-year-old Argentinian has joined A-League champions Central Coast Mariners for the 2013-14 campaign, becoming coach Graham Arnold's star acquisition as they aim to retain their crown. But beyond his skills and experience, Flores brings with him an ingredient key to any successful team -- passion.
Flores' love for the game -- and life – is infectious, and it stems from his childhood in the rural, northern reaches of Santa Fe. There, he developed an inherent understanding of what it is to feel the game in his core.
But that affection came from an unlikely source.
Urged by his mother to follow in his father's footsteps of being a doctor, Flores chose a different path, and has aimed to manifest a grassroots philosophy instilled in him before making his professional debut for Union Santa Fe at 18 years of age.
"Football is a unique sport for us in Argentina," Flores told ESPN. "My first toy was a soccer ball; there's a picture of me with it I have from when I was two years old. That is how I started seeing pictures of my past and seeing me happy with the ball, realising at about 16 'Why not be a footballer?'
"For me it was easy to love the ball but my dad was a big factor in why I love football, or why I love the show, the tournaments, and to go to the game; to have a passion for the team.
"When I was young, I was supporting River Plate, one of the biggest clubs in Argentina with Boca Juniors, but both teams were 12 hours from our place because I grew up in a little town of 80,000 people; Reconquista.
"When I was 8 or 9 years old I asked my dad one day when I was upset 'I love River Plate, but I've never had the chance to go to the stadium'. So my dad said to me 'Son, one day we're going to go'.
"Three or four years passed and he took me there; 50,000 people in the stadium, it was an unbelievable atmosphere. Top players were playing; [Javier] Saviola, Juan Pablo Aimar, so many good players, and I was in love.
"But then my dad showed me what is love, and the passion to support a team. I was losing my passion because it was too far away and I couldn't breathe this game alive. So my dad said to me 'Marcos, we're going to go to the pitch. We're going to support your team, your local team.'
"He said to me 'Marcos, this is going to be your new team, and it's going to be my team also, because this is our city and we have to protect it and help them'.
"I have to be so thankful for that because that team made me love their No. 9 -- who was a taxi driver. So that taxi driver, maybe he doesn't know, but he was my idol. Maybe I was the only supporter in his life.
"He taught me this stuff and it made me love and embrace so much and respect our supporters. Now on the Coast, I'm seeing such a good atmosphere in terms of being a family club.
"So, I'm asking every person on the Coast 'How can you not support the Mariners when they have been one of the most successful teams in the last three years?' If we all can embrace this team and this club, we should make an amazing atmosphere every weekend."
Spurred on further by seeing football fans in Australia and China -- where he played for Henan Jianye -- wearing jerseys adorned with the name of his compatriot Lionel Messi, Flores has developed a deep understanding of what it means to live and breathe the game.
"It's a love for what you have. And we can go deeper; we can say that you have to love what you have on the table. It doesn't make any sense to embrace what's on your neighbour's table because you're not going to touch it. Be thankful for what you have.
"It's something that I would love to share because my dad taught me that way. It could be amazing if every parent, every father, who wants to actually share their passion could show their kid. Show them that it's beautiful to go see the Mariners, and it's beautiful also after the match at 10pm or whatever to sit and watch Barcelona, or whoever in Europe they support. Because football live is something that you cannot get from the TV, it's a massive difference.
"People who really love football know that going to the pitch and seeing players having 50-50s and making dribbles right in front of your eyes makes all the difference.
"If we could embrace what we have, this league from one day to the next, is going to make some really huge steps."
Joining the Mariners as their new No. 10 is also a responsibility not lost on Flores. Following Mustafa Amini and Tommy Rogic -- now of Borussia Dortmund and Celtic respectively -- the Argentine is determined to better his past performances, which include winning the Johhny Warren Medal as the A-League's finest player in the 2010-11 season while at Adelaide.
"There's a really important culture at the Mariners, and I joined them because they were champions and the mission is to try to push forward.
"I came [to Australia] three years ago and the steps in that time have been the biggest, from my point of view. The way we play football, the way every team tried to play before was not at all that different. Everyone played 4-4-2 and tried to protect, but now everyone is trying to play attractive football and it's really competitive.
"I'm a positive person and I embrace where I am. I am so thankful that Graham [Arnold] called me and that the last champions trust me that I can do better, that I can be a better player than what I was in Adelaide when I won the Johnny Warren medal. And so I believe that I can be, I trust myself.
"I really love this league. I think this league has everything to be bigger."
Breath is the essence of life, it keeps all of us going in each and every moment, yet it is the element most often taken for granted. Flores' appreciation of the game and his new home is refreshing; to the point where he could truly inspire a new-look Mariners to continue their recent run of success.
Central Coast Mariners at a glance:
Last season finish: 2nd (Grand Final winners)
Ins: Liam Reddy, Marcos Flores, Tom Slater, Storm Roux, Matt Simon, Marcel Seip, Michael Neill, Hayden Morton
Outs: Pedj Bojic, Oliver Bozanic, Bernie Ibini, Mathew Ryan, Daniel McBreen (loan), Brad McDonald, Adriano Pelegrino, Patrick Zwaanswijk (retired)
Prediction: The additions of Marcos Flores and defender Marcel Seip certainly boost Graham Arnold's new-look side, but whether they have the strike power this season to match last year's feat remains a mystery. Though still in the mix for the title, defending their crown will not be easy.