The suburban football fields of Sydney are a long way from running out in front of 60,000 screaming fans at Valencia’s famous Mestalla Stadium.
But that’s the reality for Spanish striker Alex Sanchez, the former burgeoning La Liga talent, who stepped away from playing in Spain’s top leagues for a life changing move to Australia and he admits he couldn’t be happier.
The once La Liga striker came through the ranks of Real Zaragoza, alongside Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera, and made his debut with the club as a teenager against a Valencia team featuring the likes of David Silva, David Villa and Juan Mata.
Incredibly, Sanchez reached these heights despite being born without a right hand and was the first player with only one hand to play in the top tier of Spanish football.
On Sunday his focus will be wrapping up a sensational first season in Australia with NPL NSW side Sydney Olympic who he will lead into the grand final against APIA Leichhardt Tigers.
Sanchez has gone from playing in arguably the world’s best league against some of the world’s best players to playing semi-professional football in a competition he had never heard of before arriving Down Under.
But while he admits many people questioned his choice, Sanchez revealed to The World Game: “Coming to Australia has been the best decision of my life.”
It proved to be an opportunity which came at the perfect time for the 29-year-old, who craved something different after nearly a decade as a professional footballer in Spain including stints at Real Zaragoza, CA Osasuna and CD Tudelano,
“Ever since I was a teenager my life has been 100 per cent about football and I began to feel like something was missing,” Sanchez said.
“I had a really nice life in Spain and it was a dream come true to be able to make a living playing the game I love but I needed to test myself.
"Former Sydney Olympic coach Gorka Etxeberria got in contact with me last year and convinced me to come out and play for him.
"I had no idea about Olympic as a club or the league they play in but I felt this was a chance I just couldn’t pass up.”
While the timing may have been perfect, Sanchez’s move to play for Sydney Olympic nearly ended as soon as it began with Etxeberria sacked by the club and the team struggling on the pitch as the opening round of the season edged closer.
The striker admitted the situation he saw when he arrived was far from what he expected and made him consider a return to Spain.
A heart to heart chat with the club and incoming coach Abbas Saad inspired Sanchez to stay and he returned the favour with an incredible first year at Olympic scoring 20 goals from 23 games, helping them to a grand final berth after finishing the season in top spot.
“It’s been an incredible season for me and an amazing season for the club,” he said.
“At first I was very scared of what I had signed on for but now I can say I made the right decision.
“My life off the pitch in Australia has been amazing and it has helped me perform to a high level for my team each week.”
Sanchez’s time in Sydney has also helped him kick goals outside of football.
After previously capturing the attention of news agencies around the world for being the first to play in La Liga without a hand, Sanchez shared that he hopes to inspire other young people with a disability to achieve their dreams.
“There was a lot of interest in my story at the time but as a teenager all I really wanted was to be recognised for my abilities as a player and what I did on the pitch,” he said.
“I had mothers sending me letters saying I was an inspiration for their children who had disabilities, however it was very overwhelming for me at the time.
“Now I’m older I have realised I have a unique platform to spread a positive message.
“It is something I think a lot about and I’m even doing a PHD on human rights in sport so I can continue working in this area after I retire from football.”
Although contracted to Sydney Olympic for the 2019 season, the striker’s incredible form on the pitch has caught the attention of a number of clubs in Australia as well as in Asia and his native Spain .
Sanchez revealed he had spoken with a few clubs about his playing future but said he plans to return to Olympic next season.
“I have felt at home at this club and in Sydney from the moment I arrived,” he said.
“It has been the best experience of my life both personally and professionally.
“Playing in La Liga was something I had imagined since I was very young and being able to fulfil that dream gave me incredible happiness.
“However, my time living and playing football in Sydney has given me a much deeper satisfaction and will be something I will hold close for the rest of my life.”