Auckland City FC may have been knocked out of the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup Morocco on Wednesday but it was a close-run journey. The same could be said of the presence of Argentinian forward Emiliano Tade in the New Zealand side’s line-up, given the circuitous route he has taken in reaching the international stage.

The Navy Blues succumbed to a stoppage-time goal as they went down 2-1 to Raja Club Athletic in Agadir. And despite their status as the amateur side in the competition, it proved a bitter pill to swallow, as Tade, who came on just after their second-half equaliser, confirmed.

“There is no such thing as professional or amateur in a situation like that,” he told minutes after the final whistle had sounded. “It’s a horrible feeling to lose that way, especially when we had the chances to win.”

After falling behind to one of the giants of African football in the first half, Ramon Tribulietx’s charges levelled the game up in the second and spurned some very presentable chances, much to Tade’s chagrin: “It’s always hard when you lose a game in those circumstances, though we can take some satisfaction from having matched them right up to the last minute. I honestly don’t think we were far away at all. The fact that we gave as good as we got for 90 minutes against a professional side shows that.”

A change of scene
While his side were impressive, so is the Argentinian’s achievement in making it to the tournament at all. After all, it was not so very long ago that he was a law student playing the game for fun.

“It’s true,” he said, taking up the story and breaking into a smile. “If you’d have told me that one day I’d be playing a Club World Cup match in front of 40,000 people, I’d have said you were mad. Getting knocked out is hard to take, but this is something every kid who’s ever kicked a ball dreams about and it’s exceeded all my expectations.”

The days when the young student realised that he would never be able to make a career in law or football in his country seem a long way away now.

“I didn’t see any future to what I was doing in Argentina, and I definitely didn’t see one in football,” explained the player, who also appeared with the New Zealand club at the 2011 and 2012 FIFA Club World Cups. “If you’re 16 or 17 and you haven’t signed professional terms, it’s hard to keep believing that you’re going to make it to the first division. So I started concentrating on my studies, but I didn’t see myself developing there either and I needed a change in my life, a change of scene, and I’ve always liked travelling.”

And travel he did, in no uncertain terms, making his way to New Zealand, thousands of kilometres from his home town of Santiago del Estero.

“I didn’t speak a word of English,” he recalled. “I had no idea what ‘to be’ or ‘to do’ meant, but a few people helped me out and I began to settle down. I found a job, learned the language and football did the rest.”

A friend suggested he go for a trial with Wellington United, who opened the doors to the national league to him in 2009.

Living a dream
After then spending the 2010/11 season with Team Wellington, Auckland City came in for him, with Tade going on to win the OFC Champions League three times in a row with the Navy Blues and earning a ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup every time.

“I look back on everything and I think it’s wonderful and very hard to believe,” the diehard Boca Juniors fan said, who is also an ardent admirer of Diego Armando Maradona.

“The thing is, I can’t make a living from football in New Zealand. I need a job on the side, and I’m currently showing schoolchildren how to play football as part of a community coaching project.

“It’s a lovely thing to do and it ties in perfectly with my life as a football player. And with me being abroad as well, it allows me bring some of my culture in and also to soak up the culture of the place where I’m living.”

Discussing the differences between football-mad Argentina and New Zealand, where rugby is king, Tade said: “I come from a footballing country and to be honest I struggled a bit to start with, and not just on the pitch, where they play a very different game that’s more physical and direct, though I try to bring in a little Latin flair.”

Expanding on his point, he added: “I was a little bit taken aback by some of the other things they do here too, like the after-match get-together, when the two sides go out for dinner, there’s a speech, the two coaches talk and the players have a chat. It’s a nice idea and I like the sentiment behind it, but it’s the kind of thing I don’t feel like doing when I’ve just lost a match.”

Tade is glad there are no post-match niceties to endure in the wake of defeat to Raja Casablanca, which leaves him free to focus on all the good things that have happened up to now and ponder what the future might hold.

“I don’t think there’s much chance of me going back to Argentina to play football. The level there is too high,” he said, pondering his options. “I can dream, though. It’s by dreaming that I’ve been able to get this far.”