Star homecomings hark new football era


Their experience will lift the professionalism of their clubs and help to create a proper football culture in this country, which it has never really had.

I said years ago that the only way that Australia can become a powerful football nation is for our best talent to go overseas to learn from the best, then come home and educate everyone about the true passion and meaning of the game.

Believe it or not, I was criticised for those comments, as people said the talent drain was bad for the Aussie game.

Your average Australian football aficionado may think they know what it-s like to be in a European or South American football club but they truly don-t.

You have live the life of… No, suffer the life of a professional footballer trying to make it to understand what it really means. Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton know exactly what I mean.

These homecoming heroes have been there, done it and bought the T-shirt. They-ll bring back a how-to methodology and will pass on all that knowledge to their new teammates and coaches, which will in turn change the culture of their clubs.

Their experience will lift the professionalism of their clubs and help create a proper football culture, which this country has never really had.

Out in the respective communities, if some kid asks them if they should go overseas, the lads will probably say the same as I would:

“If you have extraordinary talent and a heart as big as a lion, and you want to leave your friends, family and girlfriend to go and beat yourself up and everyone else around you, every day, for the next 20 years… Yeah, go for it.”

This doesn-t mean don-t do it – this means you have to be prepared to put yourself into a football jail and have the right stuff to even attempt it.

You may be the best footballer in the world but when you arrive at a club there are other triallists that hate your guts and it takes a whole lot more than talent. That-s where the dogfight starts. They will kick and hurt you, they-ll wind you up, they-ll spit at you, they will do anything to get noticed ahead of you – and that-s just in the dressing room!

You are a foreigner trying to take their job and their dreams. They don-t like it and their friends don-t like it. You will get beaten up physically on the pitch, and psychologically and emotionally off of it.
How do I know all this? Because it happened to me. Talent is not enough. You need hunger, bloody mindedness, blind passion, thick skin – and talent.

I don-t know Harry or Emmo at all. I think I-ve met them once or twice in passing but I know what they-ve been though and that-s why I respect them. I also know of hundreds of kids that haven-t made the grade and I respect them too for trying.

Harry and Emmo will also want to start their own academies and coach kids their own way – us footballers all feel that our own way is best! That-s when Australian soccer will start to come of age, when we get the daily grind and professional culture of it under our skins. That-s what the boys can bring home.

I used to have a saying, that kids who practiced properly and with the correct methodology could go from grassroots to glory. That-s what this batch of current Australian players have done. And by coming home, they have gone from glory back to grassroots.

It-s not just Harry and Emmo, though. We have Aussies playing in more than 50 countries around the world, and they all know they come from the best country in the world and someday will want to come back and contribute. The chickens are coming home to roost – so my prediction some 30 years ago wasn-t so stupid after all.

This is powerful stuff and it-s all good for the game. Take away all the marketing hype surrounding Harry and Emmo and what have you got?

It-s credibility and track record.

It-s knowledge and know-how.

It-s sincere and genuine – and not mercenary.

It-s foundation-building and long-term – ideas not too often used in football circles.

The lads have come full cycle and we should all be very proud of them coming home and helping the game here.