From playing against Xavi to sharing a locker room with Tim Cahill, Sydney FC midfielder Anthony Cáceres has a wealth of footballing experience.
With Uruguayan background, it seems obvious to state that Cáceres naturally lives and breathes football.
The 30-year-old grew up a supporter of Nacional, one of Uruguay’s most successful clubs with 48 titles and once home to footballing icons Luis Suárez and Diego Godín.
And despite the Socceroos beating Uruguay in a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier to reach the finals in Germany, the Cáceres family are happy to call both Australia and Uruguay home.
“My grandparents came over to Australia with my parents when they were teenagers and they were obviously bold enough to still be Uruguayan when they arrived,” said Cáceres.
“Dad played for Marconi and represented the state before going in a different direction, but he played at a reasonable level when he was younger and that helped him obviously to adapt to life here. It would’ve been hard because they didn’t speak the language at all and so football was an avenue to settling down and expressing himself.
“For as long as I can remember Uruguay has given me an identity with football and given my family are from there and born there, they’re still very steeped in Uruguayan culture and tradition and with that comes football, so it became a ritual very quickly in my life.
“I keep up with the game over there and support Nacional and yeah it’s something that I’m very grateful for and it’s a big part of my life.”
Although Sydney-born Cáceres, who won the Sky Blues’ Player of the Year award last season, remains loyal to Uruguay and is supporting them at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the midfielder is also keeping a keen eye on the Socceroos.
“It’s been both!” Cáceres explained. “I have really close mates in the Socceroos so I want to see them do well and Uruguay obviously I’ve always followed them.
“I’ve spoken to Redders [Andrew Redmayne], Maty Ryan and Dukey [Mitchell Duke] briefly and yeah Redders is loving it, probably spoken to him more than anyone. But obviously I don’t want to bother them or anything to let them enjoy the moment.
“I just sent them a message congratulating them. It seems they have had a really good energy amongst the group and they’ve been really focused.”
Cáceres, who registered a career-high five goals and six assists last campaign, finished joint-top of the Alex Tobin Medal for 2021/22 alongside Melbourne City’s Connor Metcalfe – narrowly missing out on the PFA’s most prestigious accolade by one Player of the Match award.
The Sky Blues star was again recognised for his stellar season through selection for the A-Leagues All Stars team which put on a strong showing against Barcelona in a 3-2 friendly defeat at Accor Stadium in May.
“Last season on personal terms was a good season for myself, winning the Sydney FC Player of the Year is very special, especially at a club like this where great players have won it in the past,” Cáceres said.
“After that I got the opportunity to play against Barcelona and I think we did the league proud in that game, we showed that we have some real quality against one of the best sides in the world … and we showed that technically and physically we can compete with teams like that.
“Further proof is this year’s World Cup, the bulk of the Socceroos squad has played in the A-League and we’re through to the next round with players that were made here in this country, so it says once again that this country, this league, has a lot to offer.
“You want to see people buying into it more and more and there’s no better time than now when we’re proving it on the world stage.”
Appreciating the Socceroos’ World Cup success in Qatar and realising its potential benefits to the domestic game in Australia, Cáceres recognises what it takes to play football at the top level.
The midfielder developed his trade at Marconi and the Central Coast Mariners during his youth days and would go on to win an Isuzu UTE A-League Championship under Graham Arnold at the Mariners in 2013, winning the club’s Player of the Year award two years later.
Cáceres would then join Premier League giants Manchester City in 2016 – subsequently securing a loan move to Melbourne City where he teamed-up with Socceroos great Tim Cahill to win the FFA Cup the same year.
“Timmy’s [Tim Cahill’s] mentality is unbelievable, I think I’ve never really seen someone more focused and confident in their ability like him,” Cáceres added.
“I think that’s what made him so great at the end of the day and he was a true example of what a professional is, so it was a pleasure really to play with him at City.”
The following year in 2017, Cáceres went out on loan from Man City to Al-Wasl in the UAE Pro League and went to battle in the AFC Champions League against Barcelona legend Xavi Hernández during his spell at Al-Sadd SC in Qatar.
“Xavi just moved differently, he sees everything in advance,” said Cáceres. “He’s probably the smartest player I’ve come up against, he’s always got a solution.
“You think you’ve got him cornered or in a situation where you can pinch the ball but he’s beating you before you even get there … he’s able to play in tight spaces and obviously what he’s done in light of the game speaks for itself.
“He was great to play against and lucky enough I got his shirt after the game, I just had to!
“I have a couple nice jerseys for sure, I got Edison Cavani’s when Sydney FC played PSG and I got Ronald Araújo’s from Barcelona, so a couple of Uruguayans there!”
Spending the 2017/18 season at Al-Wasl in the Middle East, Cáceres would make two cup finals and finish third in the league – making the move to the UAE away from his family at the age of 24.
The playmaker would only spend one season with Al-Wasl, but it was a campaign which aided his development both on and off the park.
“I went over alone for the bulk of my time there and then had my fiancé at the time join me eventually,” said Cáceres.
“Getting away from the comforts of being at home was a great opportunity for growth as a person more than anything. In terms of football I got to play 45 or so games, which I hadn’t done in a single season so adapting to that kind of demand really helped me.
“When I came back I felt I returned a better player. In terms of lifestyle it was incomparable to anything I did before. Dubai’s an amazing city, they looked after me really well over there. The club was great, the people were very respectful and helpful.
“It was one of the most enjoyable years of my career.”
After returning to Australia in 2018 Cáceres and his fiancé, Helen, would get married and become the first husband and wife to play for the same A-Leagues club – Melbourne City.
In January 2019, Cáceres would join Sydney FC on loan from Man City, making the move permanent in July the same year – claiming one A-league Premiership and two Championships under Head Coach Steve Corica.
The midfielder has been a key figure for the Sky Blues since joining midway through the 2018/19 season and believes that the club is still on an upward trajectory.
“Despite results not being ideal there’s still a confidence amongst the group,” Cáceres said.
“We know that we have a lot of quality within the team and we’ve showed that we can outperform teams. I think with the ball we’ve been good, we just need to tidy up in key moments but there’s still a real belief in the team.
“It’s early in the season, the World Cup break has been useful for us to refresh and analyse where we’re at so we’ll be ready to go once the season kicks off again.”