Unwanted in the A-League, Australian forward Nicholas Olsen is thriving in the most unlikely of professional football destinations: Kuwait.
The former Western Sydney Wanderers winger left Australia in January 2019 to join Kuwait Premier League side Al-Jahra FC.
While his first season in the Middle Eastern country didn’t go to plan, with the Sons of the Martyrs relegated into the second division, the 2019-2020 campaign has been a hit, with promotion already secured back into the top flight.
Olsen admits while his time in Kuwait has been a “rollercoaster”, he is loving his stint in the Gulf state and has no plans to leave.
“It’s good, the football’s good, the lifestyle’s good and the people are good. They look after me,” he told The World Game.
“When I signed we were in the first division but the team was struggling. We were in a relegation battle when I came in.
“Another new signing and I helped the team and we picked up points. It came down to the last game, we were coming out of relegation and it was against a team we had to score against.
“Unfortunately we lost and that put us down into the second division. But now, halfway through the season, we’re promoted, so we don’t have as much stress in the last six games.
“It’s been interesting, it’s been a bit of rollercoaster. I’ve never really experienced relegation before, and then have to fight for promotion.
“It’s been enjoyable. I’ve been able to have that experience, so it’s been quite amazing so far.”
Born in Sydney, Olsen grew up in Perth before returning to the NSW capital at the age of eight.
He came through the Sutherland Sharks ranks, making his first-team debut in the NPL as a 16-year-old, then had a spell with Sydney FC’s youth team before being signed by Western Sydney.
But the Young Socceroo’s A-League debut in the west never came and he was eventually released.
“From there I was in that limbo zone where I had just come out of a professional environment at a young age,” the 24-year-old admitted.
“I had left school and didn’t really have education behind me, so I was fighting for two, three years.
"I was always talking to different people, talking to my agent to find opportunities to get out of that limbo stage.
“I did have some trial opportunities and I did trial for some A-League clubs but unfortunately it didn’t work out.
"I didn’t really get my chance and then all of a sudden this Kuwait opportunity came up.
“I’m really blessed it did because it’s given me another lease of life and put myself in a country that I’d never thought I’d be in. I hope I can stay here for many, many more years to come.”
After leaving Western Sydney, Olsen had stints with APIA Leichhardt, Sydney United 58 and Sutherland in the NSW NPL.
He caught the eye with his performances in the semi-professional competition and then an opportunity in Kuwait arose. Olsen is the only Australian player in the two divisions that feature 15 professional clubs.
“My agent just messaged me before I moved over, about six months prior, he said there was some interest and there could be something happening,” Olsen said.
"Before I signed I went over, I was with them for two weeks training to see if I liked the culture and if it felt like the place for me to be. After the two weeks I signed straight away.
“Before I came there were a lot of Serbians and Croatians playing in the league. Now it’s a lot of Africans, a couple of Brazilians, Xavi Torres is here who played for Perth Glory.
“There’s a little bit of a mix. Being an Australian I’ve found it pretty easy to fit in. I’m not really fazed by a culture shock, I’m pretty easy going.
“With the club it was an easy transition. They were really nice, they looked after me, they’ve given me a house.
“It’s more than I could have expected and asked for. They’ve made it feel like home really quickly. In terms of the standard of the players here, it’s really good.
“You’ve got two massive teams in Al Kuwait and Qadsia, but then another big team is Arabi. There’s four or five teams that are really, really strong and the rest are not as good, but they can come out and play and beat the top five.”
While Olsen was never able to break through professionally in his homeland, the forward is thankful to have made it in the Middle East.
“It’s like a second chance because a lot of players I know have had their chance in the A-League, and some have had a contract, but never had the chance to play and prove themselves - they’re still fighting now,” he said.
“I always feel for those people and I talk to them regularly.
“When you’ve been in that environment and you put everything into the sport that you love, you have to skip everything else – education, sometimes you have to miss out on working.
“You have to sacrifice a lot – it’s never easy but I’ve been lucky enough to have a second chance.”
The Socceroos take on Kuwait in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Perth next month.
Olsen says the Gulf State is a country on the rise, in terms of growth and development, but expects Australia to again be too strong for the Al-Azraq.
“It’s a newly developed country,” he said. “They’ve got petrol so they’ve got some money. They’re slowly building it and developing it.
“For me it’s an easy one, Australia will win again. The Socceroos are too strong. But Kuwait are getting there.
“I think the players that are coming through now, in the next four to five years they’ll have a really good national team.
I’m not saying they’re good now, but the youth that is coming through now - the standard is a lot higher.”