Refugee, rejection and rise: The extraordinary story of Melbourne Victory's Elvis Kamsoba

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After not really having a home for the first decade of his life, the little winger has made it in the big time despite a series of setbacks

At the tender age of 11, Elvis Kamsoba had nearly spent the entirety of his life in a Tanzanian refugee camp.

Born in Burundi - a landlocked country in the central heartland of Africa - Kamsoba's family fled the country when he was only four-months-old to a temporary home across the border.

He was to spend more than a decade at the refugee camp. And while the living conditions were unimaginable, this is where Kamsoba developed the incredible skills we see today for A-League club Melbourne Victory.

"You know how refugee camps are - you see them on TV. It's not good. Living to survive every day - that's it," Kamsoba told Goal.

"There wasn't much to do at the refugee camp. We used to go to school and after school, the only thing we did was play street football with all the other kids. You play until you get tired at night and then just go home after.

"The football field would be small and there would be a hundred kids playing on it. You couldn't really see the ball properly because there were so many kids."

The congested environment which Kamsoba grew up in was the origin for the quick movement and close control ball skills he has shown at National Premier League and A-League level.

However, this was not a good place to be brought up and the family sought a new start somewhere else in the world - with Adelaide in Austalia the only option offered.

It was a new world for Kamsoba, who had never been on a plane and had barely seen the technology we take for granted in the developed world.

"We applied to get a better life outside Tanzania and Australia was the country that accepted us - there were no other choices," he said.

"When I got to Adelaide I was stunned. It was completely like a new world to me. Obviously, in the refugee camp, there is no cars or electricity.

"It was the first time we had been on a plane. I got a bit nervous being my first time. And then we arrived in Australia and I was just like, 'wow'."

After settling in the City of Churches, it wasn't long until Kamsoba's footballing ability was noticed by Football Federation South Australia, who invited him to their National Training Centre.

He graduated through their program in 2011-12 and began playing senior football at 16 - first at Playford City and then Adelaide Raiders.

Finally, his potential was recognised by Adelaide United, who invited him for a trial alongside 200 kids in 2013. But despite making it to the final 23, Kamsoba was cut by then interim coach Michael Valkanis.

"Unfortunately I think the coach had his own opinion on me. He thought I was a bit too small," Kamsoba said.

"He told me to go back to NPL level and get strength."

Kamsoba took Valkanis' advice and enjoyed a stunning 2014-15 season, scoring 19 goals for Adelaide Raiders as a 19-year-old and began to attract interest from multiple A-League clubs.

His form caught the eye of Reds coach Josep Gombau, and the Spaniard was keen to sign Kamsoba before the deal fell through in the most unlucky circumstance.

Elvis Kamsoba

"Adelaide United showed the most interest in me but Melbourne City and Wellington also made contact," he said.

"(Gombau) verbally offered me a youth professional contract but it was the same week he left. The new coach Guillermo Amor wasn't interested in me."

The second rejection was enough for Kamsoba to realise he needed a fresh start elsewhere - so he called Melbourne Knights, packed his bags and successfully trialled with the Victorian NPL club.

It was at the Knights' Somers St home that Kamsoba caught the eye of former Melbourne Croatia player and then Avondale assistant coach Zoran Markovski.

"Out all of the players we wanted to sign at Avondale, I knew I could take Elvis to the next level as a footballer. He just needed that guidance and coaching - and a good team," Markovski told Goal.

"The kid was pretty rapid - he has electric pace. He takes people on and puts defenders on the back foot. That's what I loved about him."

Markovski and Kamsoba hit it off straight away and after a few phone calls, Avondale managed to poach the flying winger for the 2018 season.

Elvis Kamsoba

The relationship between the pair has developed to the point where Kamsoba sees Markovski as his 'Melbourne Dad' and one of the greatest influences and mentors in his football career.

"From the first moment we spoke on the phone he became a father to me. He made me feel so comfortable in Melbourne," Kamsoba said.

"I felt comfortable to share everything with him. He became so close to me and gave me a lot of confidence in playing. When I was having a bad day he would notice and come to talk to me about it.

"Even now we have a strong relationship - I still visit him and we talk on the phone. Because he became a second father to me, I call him my 'Melbourne Dad'."

Markovski, who is now Avondale's head coach, shares the same sentiment, explaining how Kamsoba became integrated into his family because of the isolation from his own - who remained in Adelaide.

"I treat him like my own son. He comes over every couple of weeks for dinner. My wife and kids love him," Markovski said.

"He's from Adelaide but come to Melbourne with no family or friends."

Kamsoba starred in Avondale's 2018 FFA Cup run - with A-League premiers Sydney FC stopping them in the quarter-finals after extra time.

Around this time, Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat asked his friend Markovski if he knew of any quality wingers going around in the Victorian NPL - a conversation that led to the trial and eventual signing of Kamsoba.

Elvis Kamsoba Victory

"Musky actually told me he was looking for a winger and I told him I had the best winger in the NPL," Markovski said.

"He reckons he has signed a gem. Elvis is one of those kids that will go to the next level again - he will raise another level."

It didn't take long for Kamsoba to make his debut at Victory, with Muscat handing him a start against Adelaide United on January 9 - only one week after his signed with the A-League champions.

Since then, he has been a regular fixture in Victory's first team and showed his match-winning ability with a stunning performance off the bench as he helped Victory come back from two goals down to beat Central Coast at the beginning of February.

His rise to prominence has seen his country of birth Burundi get in touch with a national team call-up - one that Kamsoba has rejected despite the tiny nation qualifying for the upcoming African Cup of Nations.

Some sage advice from Markovski helped Kamsoba make the decision to hold on his international future, with his former coach believing he can rise to one day play for the Socceroos at football's pinnacle tournament.

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"I told him not to go. I said Australia have more chance to make the World Cup than Burundi. If I was you, I wouldn't," Markovski said.

"I said I know it's your country of your parents, but you have a good chance of playing in a World Cup for Australia if you can raise your game to another level."

The Socceroos have recently been graced with the talents of African-born stars Awer Mabil and Thomas Deng - and if Kamsoba's rise continues it won't be long until he is playing alongside them in the green and gold.

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