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On the verge of his second World Cup, Socceroos veteran Aziz Behich is simply making an attempt to take all of it in

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The street from Dundee to the College of St Andrews is every thing you’d count on from a drive down the south-east coast of Scotland. 

After a light crawl out of town and throughout the Tay River bridge, the A92 curves barely inland earlier than spilling out onto a large horizon of rolling inexperienced farmland.

The freeway passes by means of villages with names like Drumoig, Pickletillum, and Kincaple; some no quite a lot of cottages broad, ringed by historical timber or low fences of stormy-grey stone.

Outdated picket posts separate one crop of lush vegetation from one other, bobbing like buoys up and over the distant hills. In the event you flip your head at simply the fitting second, past the farmhouses and orchards and clumps of firs, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the flat North Sea. Each couple of kilometres, on both aspect of the street, there’s a golf course.

An aerial view of a river and a bridge
A view of Dundee and the River Tay, trying south.(Getty Photographs: Steven Robinson Footage)

It isn’t removed from Dundee to St Andrews — about half an hour by automobile — however Aziz Behich is taking his time. He nonetheless cannot fairly imagine he is right here in any respect.

“Us footballers, our lives are 100 miles an hour at occasions,” he tells me on the way in which to the college the place his membership, Dundee United, trains.

“The opposite day, I used to be sitting right here considering, ‘I left Australia 10 years in the past.’ Now I am in Scotland. Time simply flies as a result of we’re coaching on daily basis; you are simply focusing day-by-day to be sure you’re bettering and staying on high of your sport.

“However as I’ve gotten older, it is beginning to really feel a little bit completely different. With the World Cup developing, I form of know what to anticipate now, so I am actually eager to try to respect it as a lot as I can.”

Dundee looks like a distinct planet in comparison with the north Melbourne suburbs of Essendon and Broadmeadows the place Behich grew up.

Behich’s dad, Yasar, was a Turkish-Cypriot migrant who arrived right here within the Nineteen Seventies after fleeing a coup in North Cyprus. His mum, Cemaliye, adopted just a few years later, and collectively that they had 5 youngsters, of which Aziz is the second-youngest and solely son.

A young boy wearing blue, white and yellow soccer clothes poses for a photo
Rising up, Aziz Behich performed soccer in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.(Equipped: Aziz Behich)

His mother and father have been, in Behich’s phrases, “a typical migrant story”. Yasar labored a number of factory-floor and cleansing jobs to pay the mortgage and put meals on the desk, whereas Cemaliye took care of the children and tried to take care of order of their too-small home.

“Our mother and father did an incredible job,” he stated. 

“It was in all probability tough for them, however we by no means noticed that a part of it. They hid it from us. They did no matter they may to verify we had the perfect life potential.”

It was by means of his dad that Aziz’s love of soccer began.

Yasar was a well-known participant again in North Cyprus; so well-known that his picture was printed on the within of a chewing-gum wrapper.

Behich remembers photographs his mom had taken of him sitting on the boot of their outdated automobile or draped over a fence watching his dad run round on Melbourne’s group fields, a secret famous person from half a world away.

A man wearing a pale jumper has his photo taken
Yasar Behich, father of Aziz, was a widely known footballer in North Cyprus within the Nineteen Seventies.(Equipped: Aziz Behich)

Whereas most children his age grew up watching the Premier League on tv, Aziz and his dad would as an alternative comply with the Turkish Süper Lig, memorising the gamers and stats and titles of golf equipment like Beşiktas, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray.

These youth planted the seed of Behich’s footballing desires. However they have been nearly flattened earlier than they’d had an opportunity to develop.

After shining for Inexperienced Gully SC in Victoria’s state league, he was signed by Melbourne Victory’s youth crew in 2009, and even wore the captain’s armband the next season.

He was recurrently invited to coach with the A-League crew alongside gamers like Kevin Muscat, Archie Thompson, and Ricardinho, and made a handful of senior appearances for the membership. 

However regardless of all this involvement, Victory by no means supplied him a senior contract.

“That was arduous for me to take,” he stated.

“No A-League membership needed to offer me an opportunity, so I form of needed to take a backwards step.

“One a part of me was saying, ‘this might be it. Perhaps it is simply not my time.’ So I went again to Hume Metropolis, which was my native crew in Meadow Heights, acquired a part-time job at a manufacturing unit after which went to coaching within the night. I believed I would just keep there eternally.

“However fortunate sufficient, Melbourne Coronary heart acquired fashioned that season. They supplied me every week or two trial out in Ballarat, so I would journey up each morning only for coaching periods, and ultimately they supplied me a six-week contract. I had time to show myself then, ended up doing properly, and stayed there for just a few extra years. The remainder is historical past.”

Historical past is essentially the most becoming phrase for what occurred subsequent.

Following break-out performances with Melbourne Coronary heart within the A-League, the place he transitioned from a winger into the full-back place he now performs for the Socceroos, he started to draw curiosity from the Netherlands and Germany.

However there was one league that at all times known as to him. The league he spent numerous, valuable hours obsessive about in his childhood.

Football fans from Turkey hold up a giant national flag during a match
Behich grew up watching Turkey’s Süper Lig together with his dad. He would find yourself enjoying there for near a decade.(Getty Photographs: Anadolu Company/Berk Ozkan)

“Once I acquired the supply from Bursaspor in Turkey, it was a no brainer for me,” he stated.

“Two years earlier than I would gone there, they’d received the league. They’d simply performed within the Champions League. They have been probably the greatest golf equipment on this planet.

“I grew up watching that league. I knew every thing about that league. I needed a lot to expertise that, however I by no means thought a membership of Bursaspor’s dimension could be fascinated by a child from Meadow Heights.

“I would solely simply performed by first sport for the Socceroos on the time, too, so I used to be on a excessive. The whole lot felt prefer it was falling into place.”

In 2013, Behich grew to become the primary Australian to signal for the storied membership and, at the moment, simply the fifteenth to play within the league. He would not realise it till later, nevertheless it felt like a form of homecoming.

Two male soccer players, one wearing black and the other wearing white, during a match
Behich’s (proper) time with Bursaspor taught him lots about soccer, and lots about himself.(Getty Photographs: Anadolu Company/Saban Kilicci)

His first season was a whirlwind: he had by no means been to Turkey earlier than, with his solely information of the nation filtered by means of the recollections of his family.

“It was ruthless,” he stated.

“My first six months have been so tough. I did not play a sport. There have been coach modifications on a regular basis, which you do not see a lot in Australia. I used to be getting ignored of the squad as a result of clearly I wasn’t well-known there, and I used to be a younger child as properly, in order that they did not actually care.

“So it was a very tough interval: I went from being a reputation popping out of the A-League, simply enjoying my first sport for Australia, to just about being non-existent over there.

“There have been positively occasions the place I used to be like, ‘let’s simply go dwelling, it is simpler again dwelling’. However the different a part of me stated, ‘you’ve got come this far, you’ve got taken this massive plunge ahead. If I used to be to return again now, I’d suppose I would failed myself.’ I by no means need to really feel like that. I am grateful I had that mentality, as a result of it is acquired me right here right now.”

Pushing by means of these early difficulties ended up altering Behich’s life.

He stayed at Bursaspor till 2018, ultimately incomes a big-money transfer to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven for a reported $4.5 million — one of many highest charges ever paid for an Australian abroad — earlier than circling again to play in Turkey for the following 4 years.

Nevertheless it was off the sphere the place the larger transformations occurred.

A man with a dark beard and wearing a bright green shirt looks out of frame with lights behind him
Behich’s time enjoying soccer in Turkey allowed him to study extra about himself and his household’s historical past.(Ann Odong)

Behich already spoke Turkish due to his mother and father, however residing there for the higher a part of a decade meant he discovered to learn and write it fluently. He immersed himself in the historical past and the tradition of the nation; its music and its meals, its sport and its tales. It grew to become his second dwelling.

It additionally gave him a greater understanding of his household’s advanced relationship with the nation: that tangle of affection and disappointment that many first-generation migrants really feel when separated from every thing they ever knew.

Over time, his understanding of himself started to alter, too, as he was determining who he was and the place he belonged.

“I at all times felt Australian, however I do have the Turkish blood in me, so I used to be at all times the participant caught in-between,” he stated.

“You’d have the foreigners, after which the Turkish locals, and I used to be at all times the participant within the center, which was good and unhealthy.

“I at all times acquired requested by them why I did not play for Turkey. Nevertheless it by no means crossed my thoughts. I at all times needed to play for Australia; I grew up there, I began my soccer there. They gave my household a life.

“Even my dad stated, ‘the perfect determination you made was enjoying for Australia.’ Australia gave us an opportunity. I’ve at all times felt like I needed to give one thing again.”

One other a part of Behich’s id that Turkey allowed him to discover was one which had taken a again seat whereas he centered on soccer: his religion.

His household was Muslim, and his childhood was structured by visits to the native mosque together with his dad, or hanging on the market with mates on Friday afternoons after faculty. He’d take part in traditions like Ramadan and Eid, however he did not have a lot curiosity in Islam or its teachings again then.

Now 31, Behich has develop into extra reflective and interested by his faith; the concepts and rules and classes he can incorporate into his life as his post-playing days draw nearer.

A male soccer player wearing yellow looks down at his hands while standing on grass
Behich is presently the one Muslim participant within the Socceroos and hopes to guide by instance.(Getty Photographs: Kevin C. Cox)

“I am a really proud Muslim,” he stated.

“I am unsure why, however as I’ve gotten older, I discover I am transferring extra in the direction of it. Residing in Turkey and studying off my mum and my dad, asking all of them kinds of questions, has made me open myself to it extra.

“It is tough typically with soccer with issues like fasting. It isn’t the healthiest factor to do; I’ve tried earlier than however your physique does not cope properly. I get all the way down to the mosque after I can, although, and I am studying much more about it now.

“I try to be a task mannequin as greatest as I might be. Once I signify Australia, I am additionally representing the Muslim group in Australia. On the finish of the day, everybody’s beliefs are their very own; I simply attempt to present that it is potential to beat your desires.

“For me, it is nearly being particular person, on and off the sphere. Rising up, the principle factor my mother and father taught us youngsters was to be grounded, to be respectful of everybody round you, and to be particular person it doesn’t matter what. So that is what I’ve at all times tried to be.”

Behich hopes he can take that reflective mentality to Qatar to compete in his second consecutive World Cup with the Socceroos this November.

He nonetheless will get goosebumps when he remembers strolling out towards France at his first match in 2018, standing alongside his countrymen and in entrance of his household, trying up on the bursts of yellow within the stands as all of them sang the Australian anthem collectively.

Two soccer teams, one wearing blue and one wearing yellow, line up in a stadium before a game
Behich stated lining up for the Socceroos towards France on the 2018 World Cup was the second he realised all of the wrestle was price it.(Getty Photographs: Shaun Botterill)

“It is tough to clarify that feeling to individuals,” he stated.

“And that is what I inform the youthful [players]: after you have that have, no one can take that away from you. It is adrenaline. It is pleasure. It is emotion.

“After I had a style of that, I stated to my dad, ‘I will be there once more in 4 years’ time, I am going to do no matter I can.'”

He felt all of it once more when Australia defeated Peru in a well-known penalty shoot-out in June.

He wasn’t nervous within the tunnel earlier than that sport; if something, he was as assured and decided as ever. He remembers turning to fellow veteran Aaron Mooy after the primary play-off towards the UAE and saying: “this might be our final probability to go to a World Cup. We won’t exit like this. Now we have to return.”

Behich is lower than two months away from it now and is doing every thing he can — together with transferring half-way all over the world to Scotland — to expertise it for what might be the final time.

As he pulls into the automobile park on the college, I ask him what it means to him to be a Socceroo.

He pauses.

“The Socceroos imply one thing completely different to everybody, however for me personally, it is every thing,” he says.

Two male soccer players wearing yellow and green celebrate after winning a game
Behich’s profession for membership and nation has been a rollercoaster, however he would not change a factor.(Getty Photographs: Mohamed Farag)

“All of my choices in soccer have been to play for the nationwide crew. When you play in your nation, there isn’t any feeling prefer it.

“That is what I say to the youthful boys coming by means of, you’ll be able to’t take it with no consideration. That is what drives me on daily basis. I will be 32 this 12 months however I nonetheless really feel that zeal. The Socceroos are the explanation I get up on daily basis and work arduous and attempt to do properly.

“I am so grateful to have a possibility to go to a different World Cup. It goes by so shortly that you do not actually realise how particular it’s.

“Whenever you take a look at our squad, we’re so multicultural. It isn’t one thing you see a lot with different nationwide groups — and it is an amazing factor. We study off one another consistently.

“Everybody comes with a distinct background, completely different faith, however we’re all right here representing Australia for a similar cause: we need to put on that jersey and make the nation that raised us proud.”

This story is a part of ABC Sport’s “Socceroos In The Highlight” collection within the build-up to the 2022 World Cup. You may learn half one on Mitch Duke right here, and half two on Ajdin Hrustic right here.


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