Kalifa Cisse challenges Tim Cahill for the ball.
Kalifa Cisse challenges Tim Cahill for the ball.

Mariners new boy living the Aussie dream

NEW Central Coast Mariners star, Kalifa Cisse, says he'd made his mind up to retire before he got the call to come and play in the Hyundai A-League.

The five-times capped Mali international turned 34 last January, and after a 14-year career, he felt it was time to hang up his boots.

"I had played with three different teams in Thailand, and I felt like it was enough. I am 34, and I wasn't ready to go to a different challenge. But as soon as Mike (Mulvey) explained what he was trying to do, it seemed perfect. I played under him in Thailand - I like his mentality, he is someone I like to work with. I didn't expect to play in Australia at all, but it's a great challenge for me, and very interesting for my family." says Cisse.

Cisse hangs out with Usain Bolt.
Cisse hangs out with Usain Bolt.

Mulvey is not the only Australian Cisse has crossed paths with during a career that has taken in spells in Portugal (Estoril, Boavista), England (Reading, Bristol City, Derby County), America (New England Revolution) and Thailand (Bangkok United, Bangkok Glass, BEC Tero). He was team-mates with Adam Federici at Reading, Neil Kilkenny at Bristol City and Matt Smith at Bangkok Glass, where Aurelio Vidmar was also his coach.

"When I was younger I was quite impressed with those guys - leaving Australia very young and going overseas to play.

"That must be very difficult to leave family behind just to try and chase their dream in Europe.

"I respect it a lot. Aussie players are ones that are good travellers. I'm not in touch with them these days though - we move a lot as footballers.

"I didn't know Viddy was back with Adelaide, but that is good! I only played for six months under him, and I really liked his football vision. He was very direct and honest." says Cisse.

 

Cisse puts in a big tackle on Fernando Torres.
Cisse puts in a big tackle on Fernando Torres.

 

Cisse's best career moments though, came in England. In particular, his spell in the Premier League with Reading, where he featured (and scored) in one remarkable match against Tottenham, which ended in a 6-4 loss for his team; Dimitar Berbatov scoring four times for Spurs.

"It was just a crazy game - it was 1-1 until the last twenty five minutes or something like that, then goals came in from everywhere," says Cisse.

"They scored, we scored - I remember it being the first game in my career I lost, but really enjoyed! It was so attacking, just like two teams playing in the garden.

"For sure the gaffer (Steve Coppell) wasn't happy though - ten goals - it was mad! I like the way the guys give 150% in every game there, even in training. I learned a lot over there...it was a bit crazy, but very enjoyable."

It's fair to say Cisse has seen his fair share of tough opponents.
It's fair to say Cisse has seen his fair share of tough opponents.

Cisse only had one season in the English top flight, and his international career was similarly brief - his handful of caps for Mali all coming in 2008. But he treasures the memory of playing alongside big names such as Freddie Kanoute, and others.

"It was a team full of big players like Mahamadou Diarra, who was playing for Real Madrid, Seydou Keita from Barcelona, who was the best player I ever played with; Momo Sissoko from Liverpool.

The only problem was, they were playing in my position. I had no chance to play - I just had to go and watch them! It was a lot of travelling, and I didn't play as much as I would like." says Cisse.

But he did play at some of football's most revered cathedrals - Anfield, White Hart Lane, even the Emirates, the home of his boyhood team.

"I was an Arsenal fan as a kid - because of being from a French community," says Cisse.

"They had (Robert) Pires, (Thierry) Henry, (Emmanuel) Petit, and also Patrick Vieira, who is from my town.

"When I was young, I watched a Champions League game between Arsenal and Lille at Highbury - that was where I wanted to play, but I never did. The Emirates is a great stadium - but Highbury was more historic.".

But before his own playing career passes into history, Cisse is hoping to have some more memorable experiences with the Mariners.

The revamped outfit from Gosford are expected to put in a much better showing this season, and Cisse has become good friends with the A-League's most famous triallist - Usain Bolt.

"I offer him advice on football - I am not a coach, but I try to make him feel comfortable. It is his first time working with a group because he came from an individual sport. It's something he is not used to," says Cisse.

"I try to help him, and explain the game to him, to make sure he enjoys himself. Yeah we socialise together - he is a very easy going guy, very cool, he doesn't have a big ego. He has adapted very easily to the group because of that.

"It's easy for me to say we (the Mariners) are going to do better than last year - because they finished bottom! But our target is to be at least in the top six. I think it's not too arrogant to think that.

"Then from there, we will see. That's our first target. When you see the quality of Oar, McCormack, McGlinchey, Simon, O'Neill, we have a decent team." he adds.

 

Cisse looks set to be an A-League fan favourite.
Cisse looks set to be an A-League fan favourite.


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