Late in July this year Marcos Flores gave an interview to David Davutovic of the Herald Sun, and alongside it the newspaper printed a candid image of the Argentine. In the corner of the photo, there was an illustration, presumably drawn by a child. It may be in the shot by accident, or it may be a clever piece of composition on the photographer’s behalf, but all the same, the three words that adorn the drawing speak volumes about the typical relationship between Flores and the A-League fan. The three words are simply “We Love You”. It’s an appropriate way of summarizing exactly what the playmaker brings to the A-League as he returns for a second stint, this time with Melbourne Victory.
It’s hard not to like Marcos Flores. Humble off the pitch, he is explosive on it: bringing verve and creativity to Adelaide United, bringing electrifying technique and crowds to South Australia and around the country. In his first stint in Australia, he developed a reputation for classy style, characteristics that were just notable in his style of play. He is so dangerous with the ball, as capable of playing a killer pass or shot as he is of conjuring up a piece of trickery to leave opponents in his wake. Adelaide mourned his departure to China, but now he returns, ready to play a central role in Ange Postecoglou’s new project at Melbourne Victory.
For the Victory, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Last season was blighted by coaching changes and poor performances. There were few bright spots: and one was the presence of superstar Harry Kewell, whose return to Australia was hailed as a groundbreaking moment for the fledging league. While Kewell didn’t live up to expectations on the field, his media profile and marketing potential ensured the return on the hefty investment was somewhat measurable in marketing dollars. When he left the club by mutual consent to return to England in May, fans despaired for the loss of their marquee.
However, unbeknown to fans, things were accelerating quickly in the Victory headquarters. As Postecoglou said, “it all somehow kind of all fall into place.” Flores had struggled to adapt to China, and was looking to leave Henan Jianye in search of a new challenge. Although Adelaide offered him an appealing homecoming, it was Victory who won his prized signature, and Postecoglou indicated that the temptation to work under the same manager who made Brisbane such an efficient and entertaining force.
The controversial decision to rebuff Adelaide for the lure of Melbourne will make for a fiery match when the two sides meet in Round 3 on the 19th October, but perhaps more importantly provide Postecoglou with a player of such a caliber he will feel comfortable building a new Victory side around. The signs are clear already in pre-season that the reborn Victory will be one of the most exciting sides in the A-League, with Flores at its heart. In a 3-0 victory over Moreland Zebras, former Victory player turned coach Grant Brebner commented on the fluency of Victory’s attack, suggesting it was “impossible” to identify who was playing where: “their movement was fantastic. I still don’t know now where they were really playing because they were all over the place.”
Paired with fellow South American Guilherme Finkler, Victory may become the latest team in world football to join in the growing trend of playing without a recognized striker, a tactic made mainstream by Spain in the 2012 European Championships. Central to this is Flores.
To the casual observer, the Argentine seems out of place on the football pitch. He runs languidly, often appearing laborious and awkward as he glides across the pitch, searching for the ball at his feet. However, when he does receive possession, he transfigures, turning into a magician. Opponent and observer can be hypnotized as he performs spellbinding pieces of magic with consummate ease. He is a new breed of no.10, one which is growing in popularity across the league and around the globe. Technically blessed players with the vision to unlock defenses are in demand.
In an interview with Football+ last year, Flores discussed the popularity of the playmaker, making specific mention of Nick Carle. Although the Sydney FC player will spend this season on loan to Baniyas in the United Arab Emirates, it speaks volumes that players such as Fred, Thomas Broich and Flores himself are in such high demand. The A-League is embracing these artistic maestros, and for good reason. They bring energy and excitement to teammates and fans.
It can, however, be difficult to assimilate these playmakers into a side: often, it can be too easy for opponents to shut them down out of the game and thus restrict a side’s creativity. Furthermore, there is a prevailing attitude in Australian football culture to prioritize physical attributes over technical, and it can be difficult for these technical players to assert their style of play. It was always notable that Sydney FC fans always appreciated Carle for his work rate rather than creativity. But this is what makes Flores such hot property. He grew up on the streets of Argentina, often “dribbling around 30 kids in bare feet”, and it’s clear that the tenacity to stand apart in his home country has been transferred into his professional career. He knew to slack off in defence would be unacceptable to his team, and as a result went about improving his fitness, the effects of which can be seen in his astute awareness of the requirements in the defensive phase of play.
But it will always be what he does with the ball that excites. Flores calls the ball a girlfriend, something to care and nurture for when it is in your possession. This mindset is what made him so thrilling to watch for Adelaide fans, and is what is certain to make him a success in his new surroundings. Melbourne Victory would do well to treat their marquee in a similar manner: something to be treasured, something to be loved.