The young defender opens up on his journey so far and life in Vilnius
By Nick Boffa
Football, truly the world game, has long facilitated the movement of people from one side of the planet to another. However, even with that in mind, Kody Maude has found himself about as far from home as possible – the young Aussie defender is plying his trade diligently for club side FC Vytis Vilnius in the I Lyga, the second tier of Lithuanian football. Maude personifies the modern Australian footballer as he embraces professional opportunities far from home and in the face of challenges, sacrifice and uncertainty.
Maude grew up in idyllic surrounds by anyone’s definition – south of Sydney in the beach town of Manyana, population 521 people. “We were huge beach-lovers, we all surfed and spent heaps of time on the beach”, Maude recollects. “I’m a huge family man and coming from a family of eight people, they’re the reason I am where I am today. I stay in close contact with my family, we’re always chatting on the phone basically every day. They keep me focused.” The nostalgia is palpable as Maude fondly recalls his formative years and it’s clear he holds equally good memories of his introduction to the game that would later become his profession.
“Manyana was a place you could just really be a kid.”
The journey began at local side Manyana Wanderers and Maude remembers the early connection he felt to the game, particularly the simple aspects of having fun and socialising. As his talent shone through, trials for National Premier League (NPL) sides beckoned; success came at Southern Branch FC and selection for the New South Wales state side. At the age of 15, Maude made the decision to push on and try his luck at one of the bigger clubs in Sydney; trials for powerhouse APIA Leichhardt followed and again, Maude was competing with a greater pool of talented players for a spot. “I remember that trial so clearly. Mum and I drove three hours for it and there were so many games going on. Towards the end, I still hadn’t had a run and I asked the coaches for some minutes. In the last 10 minutes, I bagged a goal and was taken a bit more seriously”, he laughs. After a successful season with APIA, Maude made the switch to be closer to home and signed on with Sutherland Sharks.
Game time is key for any young player as they look to progress through the ranks and develop as a player. Maude embodies this as he lists his NPL experience – U/18 Champions with Sutherland and stints with Rockdale City and Bankstown including scooping Player of the Year at Rockdale and winning the Macedonian Cup. The will to sacrifice went into overdrive as a 20-year-old Maude met Amen Hadid, founder of Australian Soccer School. Maude combined full-time work in construction with additional 5.30am training sessions and NPL club training. The diligence and commitment soon paid off with the talented defender heading to Europe in early 2019.
“European football doesn’t hold the highest opinion of Australian players.”
Maude is able to reflect on the early foray into Europe with clarity and a commendable sense of objectivity given the frustrations and barriers he encountered, as most young Australians do. Trials in Salerno with Serie D club Nocerina were successful but blocked by the most dreaded phrase in the foreign football lexicon – international clearance issues. Maude is still grateful to his former coach from APIA, Ernesto Meduri, who was instrumental in arranging his trials in Italy. The young defender put the disappointment behind him and returned home to sort out an English passport with the aim of returning for more trails in time for the Italian season. A call from his agent convinced him to forgo his other plans of National League in the UK and try his luck in Lithuania for a month-long trial at Vytis FC – he’s glad he did. “As an Aussie going abroad the hardest thing to get is game time and I’ve been lucky to get that at Vytis.” The defender has more sage advice for compatriots making the same journey abroad in search of professional football:
“You need to be mindful it’s a very tough thing to do, both mentally and physically. Make sure you’re fit and ready because Europe is a big step up. First impressions are key because the one hour trial is often the difference between them (clubs) keeping you or turfing you out. European football doesn’t hold Australian players in the highest regard so you need to be right at it from the first minute. But never give up!”
Maude has settled into life in Vilnius seamlessly and found the level required to get regular game time for his new employers. He is quick to credit his family again along with his partner, from whom he’s been living away during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Maude is genuinely grateful for the support he’s received from those closest to him and his life is quiet in the Lithuanian capital. He is interested in nutrition and eats well while focusing on his daily gym routine and training load, which is six days a week. The quality of the league is strong compared to his previous experiences in Australia and Maude expects Vytis FC to challenge for promotion to the top-flight, having gone on a run of 14 games undefeated at one point (Vytis finished 5th where only the top team will be promoted). Maude was able to play well over 3000 minutes across 35 appearances this campaign and his form even caught the attention of some top-tier sides, most notably FK Riteriai, so he’s optimistic of having made the right career choice at this point.
“He’s a great mentor for me, a true professional.”
Maude is keen to learn as much as he can from his stint at Vytis FC yet he’s already found himself in a mentoring role of his own – he’s joined at Vytis FC by Sydney-sider Corey Cuelho, who is younger and also learning the ropes in Europe. “He’s a great lad, we have great banter! He’s only 21 so I try to mentor him physically and mentally.” As for his own development, Maude is quick to reference teammate George Freidgeimas, who plays alongside him at Centre-Back; “He’s had so much success in top-flight football and the national team, he’s a great mentor for me.” The Aussie defender points to his grandfather as another early influence on his career from facilitating an introduction to football to fostering his passion for the game. The importance of family and strong relationships is a recurring theme for Maude as he recounts his journey so far, both in football and living abroad. The solitude of pursuing a career far from home is a huge barrier for young players and one that not all manage to overcome, regardless of talent on the pitch. Maude is able to articulate the sacrifices that he’s made and is still making, while acknowledging those made by his family and partner.
The road is long, uncertain and perilous for young Australian players looking to move abroad but the tale of Kody Maude shows what can be achieved with hard work and a slice of luck. The story is far from over for the boy from Manyana.