Former Melbourne City goalkeeper Yaren Sozer is out to make a name for himself in Malaysia after 18 months playing in Turkey.
Victorian Sozer came through City’s academy ranks and into the first-team. But unable to break into the A-League, the keeper was snapped up by Turkish giant Basaksehir two years ago.
After gaining experience in Turkey’s lower divisions, the 23-year-old has now secured a move to Malaysian Super League side Perak.
“The offer came from Malaysia and I thought why not,” he told The World Game.
“I’d rather be playing in the first division here. It’s very, very rare to have a foreign goalkeeper here.
“It’s a good experience because the coach is Mehmet Durakovic. I’m 23, I want to do well in Asia and see where that takes me.
“I feel like I’m still in the early stages of my career, especially as a goalkeeper. The plan is to come here and make a name for myself.”
Sozer landed in south-east Asia in February just before the Coronavirus hit. The Malaysian season has been rescheduled to restart in September.
“I arrived here and within two weeks the season got called off,” he said.
“It was terrible timing, but what can you do. It’s the same for everyone I guess. I’m just waiting to play.”
“We’re not allowed to train until mid-August. We’re going to start on the first of September, they’ve condense our season to 11 games now.
“We only have a few games to try and qualify for the Asian Champions League, which would be huge for us.”
Born and raised in Melbourne, Sozer represented Australia at Under-20 level four years ago.
He spent several years with City before heading to Europe in 2018.
“I went through the Melbourne City youth team at 15, 16,” Sozer explained.
“I worked my way up to the first-team where I was training with them for two or three seasons. I got a bit of an opportunity to play in some friendlies, played against Manchester City, then during the A-League season I was on the bench a few times.
“I was still 21 at the time and then I got an offer from Basaksehir. They’re a powerhouse of Turkish football. They just wanted to sign me, keep me under their umbrella and loan me out to their sister-club.
“When I first signed for them I trained there for a bit and they were playing in the Champions League at the time. They had Emmanuel Adebayor, Robinho, Demba Ba, Gael Clichy, Martin Skrtel, just all these world-class players.
“It was a reality check going from Melbourne City to training with these boys for a month. They sent me to their sister club [Erokspor] in the third division.
“They loaned me to get some experience. So I just spent a season and a half on loan there.”
Sozer says he matured a lot during his spell in ‘cut-throat’ Turkey.
“I can’t even begin to describe the difference between Australia and Europe,” he admitted.
“The passion over there was ridiculous. When I was in the third division team and playing there, we’d go to cities on a four or five bus ride and their population would be say one million but there’s only one team in that city.
“So everyone supports that team and the stadium’s fill out with 20,000, 30,000 people and there’s flares, smoke, they’re throwing stuff at your bus when you arrive. That passion…. And they all take pride in their team.
“There’s a sense of that in every team and there’s nothing like that in the A-League or in Australia. So Turkey was huge for me. I matured a lot. I think every footballer needs to.
“In the third division it’s tough, they don’t have the same resources as everyone else. It’s all about football and it’s a dog-east-dog world. These kids in Europe are not playing soccer for the sake of it.
“Most of them they’re doing it to get money for their families, they’re poor, they have to do well to be able to feed their families. They’re the main income earners at 20 or 22 for their household.
“Try taking a position off a kid playing for his family.”
Sozer made five appearances for Eroskpor in the Turkiye Kupasi Cup and two in the league last season.
He believes he needed to leave Australia in order to get some experience of senior football under his belt.
“I feel there’s not a lot of room for youngsters in Australia, there’s a bit of a gap between the NPL and the A-League,” the keeper said.
“So what happens is when you get between the ages of 18,19,20 – it’s fine when you’re 17 and playing in the youth team, or 18. But what happens when you’ve come to that senior team level when you’re 19, 20.
“If you stay in the A-League you’re going to train with the A-League squad but you’re not going to play at 19, or start every game. Is that really ideal for your development? Just sitting there and training for 12 months?
“You need to play games as a youngster. That’s why I thought to myself, I can stay here or bite the bullet and try Europe. That’s what I did and I was in Europe, I was away from home, I gave football a red hit crack.
“That’s what Basaksehir does, anyone under the age of 23, 24, unless you’re some sensation, they spit you out to their feeder clubs in the second division or third division.
“You mature, grow, get some experience and they monitor you. If you prove yourself, they’ll bring you back up to the first-team. There’s nothing like that in Australia.”
Sozer was recruited to join Perak by former Socceroo defender and Melbourne Victory coach Mehmet Durakovic.
The shot-stopper said it wasn’t an easy decision to leave Turkey, but feels he was ready for a new challenge.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, because Europe was always what I wanted,” Sozer said.
“But I felt after a year and a half in Turley I wanted something new, I wanted a new challenge. Mehmet called me and got me over the line.
“In Malaysia they draw big crowds, 20,000 or 30,000, it’s on TV and Mehmet said to me you come here and do well and you can make a name for yourself very quickly. You’re closer to home and all of Asia is constantly watching.
“Mehmet’s had an extensive career, they love him here. He’s well-respected. It’s good to have that Aussie connection as well.”