Thursday, June 3, 2010
Scoring goals with Golgol
When Golgol Mebrahtu stepped out onto the pitch at Members Equity Stadium in Perth it marked the end of a remarkable journey that had taken him from Eritrea to Australia and finally to an A-League contract with Gold Coast United. But his debut was just the first step on his journey to hopefully represent Australia at the 2012 Olympics.
Mebrahtu’s fairytale football story started when he was spotted by Gold Coast manager Miron Bleiberg while playing football on a Brisbane pitch. Impressed by what he saw, Bleiberg suggested Mebrahtu attend trials, and a few months later he signed for Gold Coast.
Stepping up from the Brisbane Strikers to an A-League team was a huge step, and Golgol was initially nervous, but he soon settled in. Recalling the transition, Mebrahtu says, “I knew it would be a big step and I was nervous when I saw the likes of Michael Thwaite and Shane Smeltz at training, but after a couple of weeks I got used to it and really settled in well.”
Mebrahtu had started playing football while still living in Africa, but didn’t have much time to play. “There was little in the way of organized football for us kids to play and my family were very focused on education, so most of our time was spent learning more academic things. Occasionally a bunch of kids from the neighbourhood would gather together for a kick-about, but that was about it.”
But a move to Australia when he was ten changed this, and shortly after he was turning out at under eleven level for Brisbane Olympic. Not long after this he was kicking the ball around regularly and playing whenever he could.
“I started just kicking a ball around and watching football when I could. I played under 11s at Brisbane Olympic and just loved it. When I entered high school I was lucky enough to get some private football training and after that I seemed to develop rapidly and my passion grew at the same rate. That’s when I decided that I wanted to become a pro if I got the chance.”
The move to Australia came as his Christian family fled religious persecution in predominantly Muslim Sudan. While he initially had some issues adapting, he is now well settled in Australia.
“I was still very young then, but of course you do notice some of the cultural differences and naturally the language was an issue initially. I now have an Aussie accent though because all my friends were Australian when I was growing up. Coming here so young helped a lot and adapting to life in Australia was never a problem for me or my family.”
Although Mebrahtu does still miss Eritrea (his country of birth) and Sudan (where he grew up), he is certainly loving life in Australia. “I do a little, yeah. Mainly for family reasons, but having said that I love it here. Hopefully, sometime in the not too distant future I will be able to go back for a visit.”
While he was born in Eritrea, Mebrahtu holds Australian citizenship, and will be hoping to represent Australia at international level. “Australia has presented my family with a great opportunity to enjoy life here and nothing would make me prouder to represent Australia.”
Unfortunately for Mebrahtu, his debut A-League season was marred by injury. “It was difficult for me personally because of the injuries I had and that was a new experience. I had a really good pre-season but after that I struggled for consistency because I had these niggling injuries all the time. There were still lots of positives though because I ended up playing in six first team games and really enjoyed the season despite some of the setbacks.”
He will however always remember his debut game, a two-all draw with Perth Glory. “I recall we were losing 2-1 at the time and I was a little nervous because the game was very tight.”
“There was a lot of intensity because we were pushing for the equaliser, so when Shane (Smeltz) knocked in that late goal we were all delighted – it was a great experience; a bit surreal. It doesn’t matter how long I play for that is always going to be my first match, so it was a big moment for me.”
Mebrahtu also enjoyed his debut season in the National Youth League, and had an important role in the Gold Coast United team that went onto win the NYL final. “Mike Mulvey (Gold Coast’s youth coach) knew all along that we had the players to do really well and everyone improved over the season.”
“With Mike’s guidance we were confident that we could achieve something special and I don’t think anyone at the club was overly surprised that we made a success of the season. There are some very good players in our Youth Team and everyone worked hard to create the opportunity for us to succeed.”
Although being part of a relatively successful season, Mebrahtu is already planning for next season. “I want to be injury free and have a really good pre-season to set myself up for the year ahead. I want to establish myself as a Hyundai A-League player by making more appearances for the first team and just take it from there. To stay injury free and score a few goals would be nice too.”
One benefit of playing for an A-League club is the calibre of players Mebrahtu trains alongside every day. Gold Coast United’s marquee, Jason Culina, is a regular Socceroo who has played at the top level for clubs such as Ajax, FC Twente and PSV.
“Just being around a winner like Jason is amazing. He gives 100% at every training session and in every game, so it’s not hard to see why he’s been so successful. He’s going to the World Cup again this year and that pretty much says it all about Jason – he’s the ultimate professional.”
It may be more than two years away, but Mebrahtu is already dreaming of playing for the Olyroos at London 2012. “I’m going to be doing everything I can to prove that I’m good enough to make the next U23 squad that will go to the Olympic Games. Whether it comes off or not is another thing, but that’s what my immediate focus is regarding the national team.”
Finally, when asked about the players he looks up to, Mebrahtu names two of the greatest players from the last decade. “I have always been a big fan of Thierry Henry – he’s just amazing. Ronaldinho is another player I look up to and you can only dream of being as good as them. “
“I try to look at their style though because I like the way they play the game. I like to play on the ground and take people on, so those two are the ones I look at for tips, etc.” Maybe one day young strikers around the world will be looking up to Mebrahtu.
Golgol Mebrahtu’s story is one that will fill many young footballers around Australia with hope, and while he may have only just started his journey to football stardom, Mebrahtu has a few words for them. “You have to work hard and persevere. If you have belief in your ability and do the work then the opportunity will come. Football is like a lot of things – you get out of it what you’re prepared to put into it.”
Thanks to Golgol Mebrahtu for the interview and Gold Coast United media manager Neil Favager for his assistance.
This article featured in Goal Weekly several weeks ago. Goal Weekly is Australia's best weekly football newspaper and is now Australia-wide. Check it out at any good newsagent!