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Anxiety and falling out of love with football: Why Mahazi quit at 28

Rashid Mahazi in action for Incheon United Source: Twitter

Rashid Mahazi has opened up on why he retired from professional football at the age of 28, saying struggles with mental health and falling out of love with the sport have seen him hang up his boots.

Mahazi played in Argentina, South Korea and Australia, winning an A-League premiership, championship and FFA Cup with Melbourne Victory.

In December, the defensive midfielder called time on his professional career after helping Incheon United avoid relegation from the K League 1.

Mahazi had spells in NPL Victoria with Northcote City and Moreland Zebras, and made more than 80 appearances in the A-League with the Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers.

The 28-year-old says rising anxiety and never fully feeling like he belonged in football were reasons why he has quit the professional game.

“Through the years it gradually happened, it wasn’t a sudden thing," Mahazi told The Unlaced Podcast.

"I think what spurred it on was this past year I had a lot of anxiety, real bad anxiety - it’s hard to say exactly where it’s came from.

"It started when I first came back, completely not football-related at all, something happened completely irrelevant and I started having panic attacks after that for about three weeks and quite intense, to be honest.

"Then it was like a button was flicked in my body and the anxiety continued after that.

"It just felt to me like my body was telling me I’m not on the path that I want to be on right now. Maybe I’m lying to myself.

“I love football – to play it – but the world of football is not something I feel like I fit into completely, and it’s not sort of my space.

"Basically I was having these feelings and then when I sat down and really, really thought about it, and broke it down in my mind, I thought: 'do I enjoy playing football as much professionally compared to when I’m playing in the NPL? No, I enjoy it more in the NPL. I’m having more fun in the NPL'.

"So the other thing is you’ve got some aspiration, some goal in mind to get here or there.

"I could lie to myself and I could impose that desire but the aspiration wasn’t there to get to a certain level.

“I was happy with where I’m at and what I’m doing. Basically I go: 'then what am I here for? I’m here for money. That’s what I'm here for'.

“I’d always said as a kid I would never play for money, I would never make it about money. And as soon as that became the main purpose of why I was playing, then I would stop.”

In 2017, he first quit professional football to travel to Kenya, the country of his father, after his death and see the rest of the world.

He then returned to Australia and signed for the Western Sydney Wanderers the following year, before linking with Incheon in 2019.

Mahazi says he will play football again socially in the future but his time in the professional ranks is finished.

The midfielder, who is also a musician and writer, is focused on studying psychology at Swinburne University.

Signed by Ange Postecoglou to Victory in 2013, Mahazi believes professional football needs to be better at supporting the wellbeing of players.

“It's a ruthless world, the football world,” he admitted.

“It's not a place where people are putting their arms around you and saying, 'it’s all right, everything's OK' - and that's got to change.

“There needs to be a space in the sport world, especially in soccer – I think the NRL, AFL definitely do it better than we do in the A-League – but looking after the players and their mental health is not.

“That’s my experience, I haven’t seen it at all. They go, 'yeah there’s that person you can speak to', but it needs to be all the time.”