Meet David Olaoye, the first English professional to play in Argentina
BUENOS AIRES -- David Olaoye had a dream.
"I wanted to play in Argentina," explains the 21-year-old Englishman. "I told my mother and she didn't like the idea. She asked me why I wanted to play so far away. But I love Argentinian football, the passion of the fans, [Lionel] Messi, the Boca-River rivalry, the strong type of the football. I've watched it on television and thought 'I want to be there.'"
Playing in a foreign country is nothing new -- the best Argentinian footballers move to Europe, for example -- but what makes Olaoye, who was born just outside London, unique is that he's the first from England to have a professional contract in Argentina.
Given that the two countries were at war in 1982 and sentiments remain over the disputed Falkland Islands, known as "Los Malvinas" by Argentines, the country has never been an obvious choice for players from England.
Olaoye plays for El Porvenir in Argentina's fourth division. Upon arrival at the club's modest, 12,000-capacity stadium, I was told he was in the clubhouse. That tallied with something I had been told earlier about him: "He's always alone at the club. He lives there. He'll be there."
As darkness fell Olaoye sat with his visiting twin brother Daniel, himself a professional in Sweden. The pair were polite, friendly and full of laughs and smiles.
"We grew up in East London as an Arsenal fans," David, a left winger, told ESPN FC. "We played for Junior Hammers, who had links with West Ham. We went to the David Beckham academy in Greenwich. We were sent from our school and played with boys two years above. We didn't see David there but we saw his dad."
The twins represented Elite Pro Sports FC, alongside players released from professional academies. Sheffield United showed interest but the Olaoye brothers had to finish their GCSE exams. Then a Greek agent called Kostas Kiassos offered David a chance with AO Tympakiou in Greece, where he played 14 games.
"Then I moved to Slovenia for six months in the second division," says Olaoye. "It was difficult because I got injured."
The desire to play in Argentina lingered and an agent set up a trial during the summer, paying for the flight.
"After that I was offered a two-year contract," says Olaoye. "There was a lot of media interest in Argentina when I arrived, which I found strange as it was all new to me, but everyone was friendly. My teammates, most of whom are older than me and have played at lots of clubs, are friendly and protective over me."
How did his new colleagues help him settle into his new life?
"Little things, like telling me not to leave my phone on a table when I eat because someone might take it," says Olaoye. "None of them speak English, but that means my Spanish has to improve quickly and it has. They made me part of the team."
But while his welcome was warm, Olaoye learned quickly that the issue of the Malvinas remains significant in Argentina. Flags of the islands are on display at almost every football stadium and war veterans are treated as heroes.
Argentina has long contested the sovereignty of the Falklands, a British Overseas Territory, and the war started when Argentina's military junta invaded. Britain responded by sending a Task Force and, after a four-month conflict, reclaimed the islands.
Relations between the two countries have improved in the ensuing 35 years and, last month, when a Royal Air Force jet was dispatched from the Falklands to help search for a stricken submarine, it became the first British military plane since the war to land in Argentina.
"I didn't really know about the history of the war between the two countries but my mother did," says Olaoye. "My teammates spoke about it almost immediately. They told me that it was a very important issue in Argentina, not something to joke about. I respect that."
One of the most popular chants in Argentinian stadiums remains: "He who doesn't bounce is an Englishman." The whole ground usually stands up and jumps accordingly. Meanwhile, Olaoye has discovered there are other reasons why playing in Argentina is not simple for an Englishman.
"I missed the first 14 games because I was waiting for my residency papers to clear. But I trained at eight every day and then I have personal training three times a week, which I pay for myself. I can feel myself improving. I scored in nearly all the friendly games in which I played."
Argentinian football is on a break until January but Olaoye,who made his competitive debut for El Porvenir two weeks ago, isn't returning to England for Christmas.
"I'm going to train every day and be sharp for when the players return for training," he says. "I don't really miss much about England apart from my family, but I can speak to them every day. I love the food here too; the steaks are the best I've ever had. The only thing I asked my brother to bring over was Vaseline, because my skin gets dry in the sun here."
As for the future, what are Olaoye's aims?
"I want to play well in the first team and have a good season. I'd like to play back in Europe, but for now I am happy in Argentina and want to continue to develop here."
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.