**Emiliano Tade cuts a relaxed figure when sat in a Yokohama hotel just a couple of days before Auckland City take to the pitch in the opening game of the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup. The Argentinian midfielder has been in this position many times before, after all.
Like team-mate and captain Angel Berlanga, Tade will be taking part in his sixth consecutive Club World Cup and could equal former team-mate Daniel Koprivcic’s appearance-record. But despite being one of the tournament’s seasoned veterans, Tade’s appetite for playing at the global club showpiece event remains as strong as ever.
“I remember being at my third Club World Cup and it was Daniel Koprivcic’s sixth tournament and, at the time, I thought no-one else would equal that,” said Tade, speaking exclusively with FIFA.com. “But now I’m here playing at my sixth Club World Cup, it’s unbelievable.
“I used to watch the tournament growing up in Argentina when it was the Intercontinental Cup and seeing Boca Juniors playing in Japan on TV. I’ve been following this tournament all my life and here I am playing in it, it’s like a dream come true.”
Of all Tade’s memories watching his boyhood team Boca Juniors playing in Japan, their 2000 final triumph over Real Madrid in the Intercontinental Cup stands out above the rest. “I’ll never forget Juan Roman Riquelme’s performance that day, he was outstanding. I still watch videos of him playing now,” he smiled.
Arguably more extraordinary than taking part in a sixth consecutive tournament, however, is Tade’s remarkable rise from restaurant dishwasher to Club World Cup player. A keen traveller, Tade worked temporary jobs to fund his backpacking experience around New Zealand in 2007-08 before signing for Wellington United, and later Team Wellington and Auckland City.
“I was working as a dishwasher and other jobs too and then I found football – or football found me, I don’t know how it works! – but then everything changed and here I am,” said the Argentinian, who sports a tattoo of New Zealand’s iconic silver fern on his ankle.
“Sometimes it happens that you don’t find what you’re looking for in your home country and you need to leave to find yourself. What I’m experiencing now, playing at the Club World Cup, is due to New Zealand but I’ll never forget my [Argentinean] roots and where I come from.”
*Auckland City were the first visiting team to arrive in Japan, touching down in Tokyo on 30 November. The meticulous preparation of coach Ramon Tribulietx – “a man who breathes football” according to Tade – saw the Navy Blues arrange two friendly games ahead of the tournament starting on 8 December; one in Hong Kong before taking on J.League 3 outfit SC Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture.
“Those warm-up games are probably more important for us than any other clubs here,” said Tade. “We need those matches to see where we are, and where we need to be, in order to compete with the level and speed of playing at the Club World Cup.”
The Navy Blues, making their eighth appearance at the tournament, have been paired with newcomers Kashima Antlers. Masatada Ishii’s side will be on a high after defeating Urawa Red Diamonds to take the J.League crown last Saturday and while he expects a stern test, Tade is confident the OFC Champions League winners’ can get a result.
“They’re quicker, fitter – they’re on another level, but at the same time we’re very confident in our own strengths,” he said. “It’s why we’re here and why we were able to finish third in 2014. I think we have a great chance.”
However Auckland’s Japan journey pans out in 2016, seasoned traveller Tade has his sights on a new backpacking destination in the off-season. “Spain and Thailand have been among my favourite places I’ve visited when travelling, but India is next on my list of places to see in the near future," the Argentinian smiled.