Winger Lelo Sejean has blazed a trail in a continent where few Australians have made it in the professional game – South America.
Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay combined have won nine of the 21 FIFA World Cups played, with South America providing arguably the greatest players of all time such as Pele, Alfredo Di Stefano, Ronaldo, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
For Victorian Sejean, his decade in the continent started off with a trial at Argentinian giants Boca Juniors as a teenager. While he was unsuccessful landing at deal at Xeneizes, the club that spawned Carlos Tevez and Juan Roman Riquelme, a love affair with South American football began.
After spending time playing in Argentina, Sejean decamped to Paraguay in 2011 and has moved himself up the food chain. Originally starting in the country’s fourth division, now the 29-year-old is with Tacuary in the second division after securing promotion last year.
Sejean, originally from Geelong, admits it has been some journey.
“I’ve been here in South America on and off since 2009,” he told The World Game.
“It all began with a trial at Boca Juniors, I was at 18 at the time. Then I went to Arsenal Futbol Club, and then I stayed on as Under-20s trainee at Barracas Central, which was a third division club.
“I came back to Australia and then I went to Paraguay. I feel very fulfilled through my persistence – I’ve kept going and kept going from fourth to third to second division. It’s been great, it’s been a dream.”
In Paraguay the attacking midfielder has been mentored by former Dundee United striker Fabian Caballero. The Argentine played across the world, including for the likes of Arsenal in the English Premier League.
“The most influential person here in my career was Fabian Caballero,” Sejean said.
“He was my coach and my teammate in the fourth division at Sportivo Ameliano. He gave me the chance to play, he trained me really well.”
Sejean spent his junior days with North Geelong Warriors and then George Cross in Melbourne before his relocation overseas.
Paraguay is not the most affluent of nations in South America and he concedes it has been a constant battle in the country, both off and on the field, but he has no regrets.
“It was always a dream to come here. Opportunities, especially in country Victoria, are very limited,” Sejean said.
“In Australia we only train twice a week. In Paraguay they train every day, every single day. Even though the salaries are really low - it’s not as good as Argentina or Brazil.
“It is a very third world country, even for South American standards. I’ve slept on floors, in really poor conditions sometimes. I’ve haven’t had that much money at all.
“[But] at the end of day everyone reaps what they sow. Coming here was obviously massive. Any other Australian who is going to a third world country to play – you have to admire them. Not only for football purposes.
“Because I have been here consistently, the experience has accumulated. It all comes to persistence and consistent effort. [You] don’t stop, there’s not turning back.”
Sejean is a dual code sportsman who also competes in elite athletics in Paraguay, with javelin and long jump. He has continued to support himself away from football by teaching English and working as a model in the city of Asuncion.
With sport in Paraguay currently in a state of flux because of the Coronavirus, Sejean has remained in South America for now. But the winger is considering a return home with the Division Intermedia season unlikely to resume this year.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, but the world has to go on,” he said.
“I’m in an apartment where I’m sometimes training twice a day doing body weight exercise, agility, flexibility. We’re not allowed to go for jogs because the police will pull us over.
“If football doesn’t go on this season, I’d rather go back to Australia. It would be nice to go back home to continue my training and development programs.”