Overlooked by the A-League, young Australian Yahya El Hindi is making his mark in the Middle East and has already represented Lebanon in international football.
Just 22, El Hindi is currently playing in Bahrain for Budaiya. The defensive midfielder’s displays in the Bahraini Premier League have alerted bigger clubs in the Gulf, and he appears poised for a move at the end of the season.
Born and raised in the western Sydney suburb of Bankstown, El Hindi has come a long way after starting his career with Fraser Park, Rydalmere Lions and Rockdale City Suns as a youngster.
He signed his first professional contract with Lebanese Premier League side Nejmeh in 2019, when he departed for overseas.
“It’s been some journey,” El Hindi told The World Game.
“It’s just been an amazing journey so far, I’m just grateful for everything.”
El Hindi joined Sydney Olympic in 2017 before a move to Parramatta the following year. He credits his time at Olympic, and the influence of Leo Carle senior, father of former Socceroo Nick, for helping him break into the professional ranks.
“Through my youth career in Australia I didn’t really know anyone, so no one gave me a chance,” he admitted.
“I had to really work hard for myself to create my own opportunities. When I was young, I was promised many things by clubs, but those promises were never fulfilled.
“Including by A-league clubs, on multiple occasions I was promised A-League youth [spots] but it never happened due to the fact that I knew nobody, to be honest.
"One of the clubs that helped me was Sydney Olympic. After Olympic, I entered my journey to go into the professional ranks.
“Someone who’s had a big impact on my career is Leo Carle senior, he’s like a father figure to me. He changed my life and career. He’s a father figure to me not just inside football but outside football as well.
“It’s because of Leo that I am who I am today, I owe him a lot of things. He helped me, he believed me, he moulded me, made sure I was ready to take that step to become a professional.
“No one does it like him, he’s a pioneer in Australian football. In my opinion, he’s the best coach in Australia in making and developing young talent.”
It was while at NPL outfit Parramatta three years ago, during the time the Lebanese national team travelled to Sydney to take on the Socceroos in a friendly, that El Hindi was initially discovered by scouts in the Middle Eastern country. The following year, he was signed by Nejmeh.
“I got recognised when I made the move to Melita,” the 22-year-old said.
“He [the scout] had ties to the Lebanese national team and it was 2018, when Lebanon came to play a friendly against the Socceroos. When they came to Australia, I entered the camp, I was about 18, and I really impressed.
“After that camp there was a lot of interest from the top three clubs in Lebanon. They contacted my agent at the time. It was a tough decision but I went with Nejmeh because of their history and culture.
“I flew over to Lebanon, I trained and played a few friendlies and then I signed. And when I signed it was insane, on the streets there was a lot of pressure if you didn’t win and that helped me understand the reality and the expectation of professional football. It’s something that you don’t get in the NPL or the A-League.”
Eligible to represent Lebanon through his parents, El Hindi was first called up to the country’s Under-23s team.
Then, in June 2019, he was selected by the Cedars, the senior national team, and made his debut against Iraq in a 1-0 defeat.
El Hindi is just the third Australian, after former NSL players Michael Reda and Buddy Farah, to play for Lebanon.
“A good season at Nejmeh and a good performance in the AFC Cup helped me get a call-up,” the midfielder explained.
“I made my debut at 20 years old away against Iraq. I became the youngest Lebanese international at 20 in front of 60,000 people. I was also awarded man of the match as well.
“I remember during the anthem I started crying. I was in a packed stadium, it was my debut, it was the opening game of the West Asian Championship… coming into the game (there) was so much pressure.
"I was just thinking about everything I had been through to make my debut and the big occasion, I was just so happy.
“All my hard work and sacrifice had paid off. I had to become comfortable in the uncomfortable, playing in places that not many Australians have played. Once that happened it felt like it all paid off.”
El Hindi suffered a setback when he joined Lebanese Premier League rivals Safa for the 2019-20 campaign and the season was cancelled due to political unrest.
He was forced to return to Australia and then, with the impact of COVID-19, was grounded in Sydney until the opportunity to head to Budaiya emerged in October.
“The league got cancelled due to political problems, there’s a lot of issues there,” El Hindi admitted.
“I was forced to terminate my contract and fly back home to Australia. Obviously I had plans to go back overseas and that was put to a halt after the pandemic hit.
"It was hard for me, I had to continue working hard and staying patient. Then this opportunity arose in Bahrain and I took it with both hands.
“Bahrain football is tough, it’s not an easy league. The weather here is really hot. But the facilities are unreal. The salaries are massive here as well. The stadiums are unreal but the league’s quite difficult, it’s tough conditions.
“Off the pitch it’s a bit tricky, there’s a lot of pressure on me to perform week in, week out.
"I’m holding my own. If you don’t perform here you get the chop so I’m really tough mentally, I believe in my ability and let my football do the talking.
"I’ve been playing every game, which I’m happy about. I’m doing my job.”
A proud Lebanese-Australian, El Hindi says being snubbed by A-League clubs in his homeland simply spurred him on.
“I was promised certain things but it just never happened,” he said.
“It was tough for me. I just had to work hard and create my own opportunities I guess. I didn’t really let it get to me, it just motivated me and made me stronger, actually.
"I felt like I was going to prove something and lit a fire in my belly to work harder and prove to everyone that I can do it.
“Even though I’m going to take a different avenue to the one normal Australian footballers would take, I’m going to get to where I want to, which I did.”
With the Bahraini Premier League season winding down, El Hindi is now deciding on his next move.
The ambitious Australian could be plying his trade in the UAE, Saudi Arabia or Qatar in the next six months.
“I’ve had some interest from clubs in Dubai and around the Gulf area as well,” he said.
“So I’m weighing up my options at the moment, I’m waiting for my season to finish and once it’s done I’ll decide what the future holds for me.
"I’m only getting started, I’m only 22 years old. Hopefully I have some big plans for next season.
“I want to pave the way for Lebanese people and being an example and a role model for the community.
"I’m just grateful for everything, all the experiences, and I can’t wait for the next chapter. I’m here to make a lot of noise in the football world. It’s been a hell of a journey so far.”