By late pre-season in A League circles everyone is just ready for the competition to start. There are three seasonal changes from the grand final to the first game. That’s a damn long wait.
Appetite grows in the form of the FFA Cup. If you do well in the Cup, eyes are on you by the time it all finally gets underway.
Sam Silvera had eyes on him. Hard not to spot him in the Cup. Big mohawk. Fast feet. Quick brain. And only a kid. That’ll get you noticed in a competition crying out for all of the above. And who doesn’t love a big mohawk.
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But his coach didn’t start him first up. Or the next game. Alen Stajcic. Alen Fun Police. Far out, we want to see if the kid really has it!
Last Sunday we found out. The Fun Police gave the kid a go. There was reason for the wait. Training wasn’t consistent enough. It was good sometimes. Great sometimes. But ‘sometimes’ impresses a coach like Stajcic about as much as gastro impresses a fellow plane passenger.
Finally in Perth, Silvera had take off. Boom. That goal. Liam Reddy didn’t see it coming. The Shed didn’t see it coming. Fast feet, quick brain, BOOM. Eyes are on Silvera for the best possible reason.
Silvera saw it coming, because if there’s one thing the kid has learnt early, it’s to be patient.
When Silvera was a younger kid, 7 years younger than today at just 12, he was told he was not big enough. Too skinny. Too little.
So his junior coaches RAE’d him.
RAE’d? Huh? It’s a term no kid who plays representative football wants to hear.
Translation: you are too small. We are going to play you a year down. RAE > Relative Age Effect.
It’s a mechanism put in to ensure young players who are talented enough, but not big enough, aren’t spending weekends being fished out of grandstands after being kicked there. Some 12 year-old boys are six foot and shave. Other 12 year-old boys can’t ride on roller-coasters.
As Sam Silvera entered his teenage years, the only rides he got to go on happened after bumping into six footers with stubble. So, when he was meant to be in the under 13’s, he played under 12’s. RAE’d.
“I was scrawny, I was skinny,” says Silvera.
“It really helped me being in that lower age group. I was being told I was too small, need to work on your strength. But it helped me to be smarter, not getting into battles, physicality and I think just confidence wise, going at players, dribbling. It did help me. A lot.”
It took away the possibility of denting his legs and mindset at the same time.
“Most of the time when I started to dribble, most of the bigger kids they didn’t like the change of direction so if I went passed them it was just a big swing of the leg and I’d cop it.
“So I was training with my normal age, just on the weekends I would come down (an age to play games).”
Wasn’t easy. Teenage boys, remember. Stubble gets instant respect. To be small AND survive is victory.
“I felt like I could be at that level with the older boys. Some of those boys used to go to my school at Westfields Sports High (Western Sydney’s football playground nursery) and I was training with them at school … it was just a bit frustrating seeing them.”
But it worked. Silvera’s silk was still there when the growth spurt finally happened at 15.
“Honestly playing relative age helped me a tonne. Just gave me the confidence to try new things, try a little trick, just built my confidence quite a bit.”
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Confidence is not lacking now. Silvera could have stayed at Western Sydney Wanderers, who viewed him as a longer-term prospect. Sure, they wanted to keep him, but A League football at Wanderers was further away than what others could offer.
Last April Silvera was invited to trial at the Mariners by Alen Stajcic and his former school coach, now Mariners assistant, Nahuel Arrate.
And it ended up neatly book-ending the Mariners season, in a quirky way.
Usain Bolt. Remember?! The most famous triallist in the world. Which of course didn’t work out.
And then, long after Usain bolted, at the end of another campaign of Mariner misery, Silvera trialled on the Central Coast.
Silvera is half Jamaican, through his dad. Silvera is quick. He did little athletics as that scrawny, skinny kid. Never guess who he tried to copy.
“When I used to do Little Athletics, I was very good at the sprints, and I always used to watch (Usain).
“Some races I used to watch him before the race, how he’d run and try to copy all that. It was similar, but wouldn’t say close. His stride pattern was a little longer. I tried though!”
Any takers to swap the two with Jamaican blood now? From a circus, to a genuine footballer with all the circus tricks. Finally some light for the Mariners.
Silvera knows last week in Perth is one game. One day on a calendar. One of potentially many. Maybe. Should he listen.
“Defensively (the coaches) have worked on me a lot because that wasn’t one of my strengths. Tracking runners, blocking passes in so they can’t go forward.”
Basically all the stuff that will never make a highlight reel but certain to help the coach lose his mind, hair and eventually, job.
“The coaches were happy for me right after the (Perth) game. They keep me grounded, and humble.
“They were showing videos of what to do next game, even though I’m not sure if I’ll start or not, but just what I need to be better at.”
Doesn’t appear to be too much danger, but no-one wants to see the kid get too big for himself.