AFTER a career which yielded more than 250 goals, Australia’s greatest marksman talks us through his glittering playing days from NSL starlet to EPL legend...
Dukes’ Question Questions:
“I was 18 and it was a friendly series against South Africa. The first game was in Adelaide and the second in Sydney. I was ecstatic to be involved with it all, it really was the best time. Ask any player about it, ask Rooney when his best time was. He’ll say it was back then when you were up and coming. Now there’s so much pressure compared to that stage. Now, Rooney can’t go into a nightclub without people hounding him for a photo. When he was younger, no-one gave a shit! He could go to brothels and do whatever he wanted!”
Picking Australia over Croatia
“I was capped as a youngster for Australia, but when I went to Croatia, they tried to get me to play for Croatia and had a look to see if it was possible. To be honest, while I am from Croatian heritage, I was raised in Australia. I see myself as an Australian and I am very happy with how things turned out.”
Beating Uruguay in 2005
“I was gutted after I missed the penalty. It was a massive night but it was also personally disappointing as I wasn’t able to contribute to the win. That night was full of mixed emotions – I was happy we got through but also disappointed.”
Playing in the 2006 World Cup
“We had a very tough group. When you look back, they were all very good. Japan was the best in Asia at the time, Brazil and Croatia are also two top teams. We did really well to get to the second stage. But again, we were all disappointed with how it ended. We felt hard done by from the soft penalty against Italy. To go that far and to get taken out in that way was really hard to swallow.”
“Guus was the best manager I’ve ever had. In terms of his man-management, he has the skills but he can also convey brilliantly what he wants from the players. I’ve been involved in football for a very long time and not many managers have that. I was really proud when he made me captain, because I admired him as a manager and he believed in my ability to lead the team.”
Scoring less for the Socceroos than for his clubs
“With the national team it felt more like there were less people in that final third. The ball would come from further out and I would have to hold it and wait for someone else to come into play. When you play with someone else, automatically you have a player out there and it takes the attention off you. Because I wasn’t the type of player who could easily sprint away, it limited my ability to play that role. I found that I got into less goal-scoring situations than with my clubs. Whether it’s because I wasn’t good enough or because of the system. I know that I went into every national team game with the same mind frame as with my club.”
Toughest player ever faced?
“Probably [Argentine Roberto] Ayala. He wasn’t very big but he was tough as nails.”
Best goal you ever scored?
“There are a few of them. Goals are objective: some like them from long distance and some like them with some ball skills. I remember I scored one against Charlton at Middlesborough in the quarter-final of the FA Cup. I got the ball in the box, shimmied a few times and did a bit of a slalom before sliding it into the goal.”
Favourite strike partner?
“I like Henrik Larsson. I liked him as a player because he was a good finisher but he was unselfish. If he could create something he would always pass it. He was also a really good bloke. Under-rated but really brilliant. Also [Leeds striker Alan Smith] Smithy, I loved playing with Smithy.”
“I would have loved to play for Manchester United, and I almost had the chance. I don’t think I can count it as a regret because it wasn’t in my hands, but I had talks with Sir Alex Ferguson and it was between me and Louis Saha over who United would sign. As a kid, I was always a United fan. I was actually in Fergie’s house discussing it but in the end they opted to go with Saha.”
Not making FourFourTwo’s Top 25 Aussies Ever list…
“Somebody mentioned it to me while I was overseas. When you are overseas you’re playing games constantly and I didn’t really see the reactions. I’ve been criticised and worshipped on and off so you get used to it. I would love to have been included and to have been the best footballer I could been because it is nice for people to recognise you. But it’s out of your control.”
On his four-goal haul against Liverpool in 2000…
“People ask me a lot about that game and it was a match where everything just fell for me. It just happened to be against Liverpool! It was a good battle; we were challenging for the top three spots at the time. Everything just fell for me in that game. Four times I got a sniff of the goal and I just took them all. Some days you get four sniffs and don’t take one of them.”
This article appeared in the May 2011 issue of Australian FourFourTwo magazine. To buy back copies of this issue call 03-8317-8121 with a credit card to hand.
The latest edition of Australian FourFourTwo will be on sale in newsagents tomorrow or subscribe here