A Socceroo outfit without Craig Moore holding our back four together? We’re still getting used to it, since his retirement from the game after last year’s World Cup.

Germany’s Sami Khedira felt Moore’s hard-nosed defence at the 2010 World Cup. Germany’s Sami Khedira felt Moore’s hard-nosed defence at the 2010 World Cup.
Images: Getty Images

But at the age of 35, this arguably unsung hero can hang up his boots with undiluted pride, even if it’s the flashy midfielders and strikers who have tended to capture most of the public’s attention. Moore’s steady, hard-arsed composure while defending against the most glamorous names in world soccer saw him play all around the world. He made 52 A-International appearances for the Socceroos and also led a Glasgow Rangers side to numerous trophies in the Scottish Premier League over a decade. He returned to finish his career playing two seasons for the Brisbane Roar, before a controversial departure saw him head for Greece, then make South Africa 2010 his swansong. Arguably, there’s no more respected player in the game in this country, no footballer in the world more professional, and few more honest players in their assessments of their own performances. Which made him a natural selection for a few drinks with Inside Sport.

What are you missing most about professional football – other than the money?

Certainly not the injuries! I don’t even miss the football so much ... I do miss the routine of being involved with a football club, but I still kick about socially with mates. I play in a midweek competition for over-35s.

 I’ll bet you’ve freaked out a few blokes when you’ve walked on the paddock and they’ve gone, “Oh shit, that’s Craig Moore ... He was playing World Cup football last year ... ”

They love it – I’ve been doing it since then. I’d retired and a mate asked me to go down and have a kick about. There’s about 700 blokes who play in this comp on the Gold Coast and it’s just fantastic to kick about with people who love the game. It’s a social thing – people want to make it to work next day, so there’s no crazy tackles, and you have a few beers with the boys afterwards. Again, if I’m honest with myself, the one thing I really miss is the routine, and I’ve found that hard to replace. I’m certainly not watching games and wishing I was out there – that side of it has gone for me.

 How’s your health? You had a big cancer scare there a couple of years ago. That must have been rough?

It came as a complete shock. But I was very lucky. It was an aggressive type of tumour but we caught it early. I undergo tests every three to four months; the scary part was the first two years because there was a 50 percent chance of it coming back. And I’m through that period now.

Did your fitness play a part in your recovery?

It may well have. At the time it was quite difficult. You go into denial a little bit. I remember when I was seeing my doctor, I was like, “Will I be okay to play on the weekend?” And he was like, “Listen Craig, we’re dealing with something here that’s quite serious, and my advice is to forget what’s happening on the weekend until we get this sorted.” And that’s when it really hit home. But after the operation everything went well. I think I played ten days later.

 I see you were down in Melbourne recently for the Alex Tobin Medal presentation to Mark Viduka. Your career pretty much parallels his ... Is this another case of a showboating striker getting all the glory while defenders do the hard yards for not much recognition?

Well, you’re never going to hear me say that ... Okay, I agree with you (laughs). Strikers tend to get the limelight; they get paid the big dollars to score the goals, and us defenders are just expected to go out and stop them. But that was very well deserved for Mark. He’s had a fantastic career. We’re exactly the same age; we both went through the Institute of Sport together in ‘92. Josip Skoko was another who went through at that time; John Aloisi as well. We had a great bunch back then.

More Craig, this time at his defensive best for Rangers, vs Celtic, 2004. More Craig, this time at his defensive best for Rangers, vs Celtic, 2004.
Images: Getty Images

Well, let’s hope you get your name on that medal sometime soon – one for the defenders ...

It’s nice to be rewarded, but that’s never been my focus. In that respect, Mark and I are a bit alike – he never felt the need to come out and announce the big retirement. I was very similar. I know what impact I had on the game. I know I had a good career. I don’t need people to pat me on the back.

You’ve played under a pretty impressive list of coaches over the years. Whose style would you be most likely to fashion yourself on if you were a coach?

I think Dick Advocaat. I played my best football under him at Rangers, for sure. He demanded a lot which I enjoyed as a player. I loved having a manager who really pushed you and tried to get every little bit out of you.

He was a hard man?

Yes, he had extremely high standards. The training sessions were all very detailed, and I’m a big believer in the way the Dutch play football as well. But it was a bit of a love-hate relationship for a while. He took me off after 23 minutes during the very first league game I played under him, because I’d made a mistake and we’d lost a goal: a cross had come in and I was expecting it to bounce and clear it with my head, but it didn’t bounce high enough and they ended up scoring off it. And he took me off after 23 minutes. On the Monday he said to me, “Look, if this is the standard and this is what you’re going to give me, I’ll just go out and buy another central defender.” And I turned around and said, “No problem, you go out and buy another central defender. But I’m just telling you that I’ll be the one that’s playing.” And he said, “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Good boy, see you later.” Hiddink was the same. Top Dutch managers get in and test your character – they see if you’ve got what it takes mentally.

What have you been hearing about Holger Osieck. Is this bloke the goods? 

I think so. I’ve not spoken at length with too many players, but if there were any chinks in his armour, we would have heard about it. In football you hear the little rumblings. But everything I’ve heard has been extremely positive. He’s apparently quite old- school in his type of management but he’s certainly getting the best out of players, giving them confidence; he lets them express themselves and apparently he’s just a really good guy who gels well with the players. I would go so far as to say that at that level, 70 percent of coaching is man management.

Was Pim Verbeek a little bit remote?

I got on really well with him and I thought every player got on well with him. It’s just one of those things – he was in for a certain amount of time, he got us qualified for the Asian and World Cups, and I think his time was a success as a manager. Holger’s now come in and he’s done a good job.

Were you sitting up in the middle of the night watching all the Asian Cup games?

I watched them all, yeah. I thought we did enough in the group stages without being overly impressive. We huffed and puffed a little bit. The results certainly could have been different. Uzbekistan was an absolute whitewash; we destroyed what I thought going into that game was a very, very good side, but we made them look extremely average – full credit to the lads. Then the final ... Unfortunately we play a game where you can dominate field position and possession, but at times it doesn’t count for a victory. In virtually any other sport it would.

Tears of joy flowed following Craig Moore’s penalty  vs Croatia at the 2006 World Cup. Tears of joy flowed following Craig Moore’s penalty vs Croatia at the 2006 World Cup. Images: Getty Images

That one Japanese goal in extra time in the final – you would have got your noggin on that cross, wouldn’t you?

David Carney has come out and put his hand up and said he made the wrong decision ... Space doesn’t score goals, and there was nobody in that near post area for him to cover. Carney had to stay with his man. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of those things. The boys did extremely well and we really dominated that final, and it was really a tough one to take. For a few of those boys it might be their last chance to lift some silverware.

I’ve read over the years suggestions that the star egos in the Socceroo team tend to clash a bit, that they’re not the greatest mates. Is that a true picture?

Nah. No. If you’d asked me that two or three years ago, potentially there looked like there could have been a few people getting ahead of themselves ...

Eyeing the captaincy?

No, not so much – more competitive for marketing opportunities rather than what they do on the football field, and for me that’s certainly settled down and this squad has been a tight-knit squad. Sure, there’s players who keep themselves to themselves, and then there’s players like me who want to be involved in everything.

Harry Kewell’s been one of those blokes who falls into the “keep to themselves” category, hasn’t he?

Harry’s certainly not a loner – I’ve got on fantastically well throughout my career with Harry. But he is a type who feels comfortable with certain people and maybe not everybody, and at times maybe a little standoffish, but the way he’s been he’s had to protect himself from a very young age from people who he maybe thought wanted to know him for the wrong reasons. But he doesn’t think he’s a superstar. Not at all.

He’s copped some serious criticism on blogs and from certain journos, I reckon without a lot of regard for some of the injuries he’s had to carry and deal with. Agree?

The thing is, unfortunately, every time you cross that white line the fans just think you’re 100 percent fit because you’re on that field playing, not knowing the details that maybe you’re carrying an injury and there’s a lot of pressure for you to be out there, maybe from your manager. I’ve been in the situation where I’ve been at Rangers where you’re carrying injuries and felt that maybe you should be sitting that game out, but the pressure was on. Don’t get me wrong: you had to want to do that for yourself, but the flipside is that if you go out and struggle, people don’t know that you weren’t 100 percent fit. They just think you put in a bad performance.

You left Brisbane Roar pretty dramatically last year when the new coach, Ange Postecoglou, came in. What happened there? 

We have no problems whatsoever. I was the first person to congratulate him on the way the team’s gone this year – he’s done an exceptional job. I guess there was a time there where I was a bit unhappy with the way things were going. Just in general at the club. For me to go to the (2010) World Cup, it was always understood I’d have to go and play overseas to stay in condition, and the way the Brisbane Roar came out and said it was either “me or Ange Postecoglou, take it or leave it”, all those sorts of things, I was disappointed. Apart from not lifting a trophy, I had two very good years there. We were always there or there abouts ... They could have said, “We understand his passion to play in another World Cup and we’re supportive of him leaving to play.” That way they come out of it well.

But they didn’t say that ...

No, they didn’t. I can guarantee you I have left every club on good terms, looking the right people in the eyes, shaking their hands and saying thanks very much, and then within a day or two seen all sorts of carnage in the newspapers. That’s happened four times to me. Anybody who knows me knows I’m a straight shooter – it’s not like I’m difficult to deal with, but I certainly won’t be ducking and diving behind people’s backs and talking rubbish. I’ll speak to them directly and look them between the eyes, and all those clubs I left on what I thought were good terms. Unfortunately you cannot control what’s said later. And a lot of people, influential people at those clubs, they’re saying things to make themselves look better or give the fans a side they want to hear ...

And the Roar made you out to be the bad guy?

Well, yeah. I mean, even before Ange came they were trying to say it was a boys’ club, that [coach] Frank Farina used to come down to the Gold Coast and play poker with me. I saw Frankie the other day at an exhibition match up in Townsville, and we had a little chuckle because that is the first time I have ever seen Frank Farina outside of football. In my whole career. I worked under Frank for the national team, and obviously at the Brisbane Roar, and Frank Farina has always been a manager who’s there at training, there on match day, but you’d never ever see him outside of that. He’d never ever mingle with the players. Never. So hearing stories from our chairman that Frank Farina is down playing poker at my house, I said, “Mate, you don’t even know your own manager.” I don’t dislike anybody. At first there was a little awkwardness with Ange, but I went up and shook his hand and it just broke the ice and he realised that I certainly don’t have any issues, and I know that he doesn’t have any issues with me – we’ve spoken on quite a number of occasions since then. I’d also certainly help Brisbane Roar players in any way, for any reason. My time at Brisbane Roar was a success without lifting a trophy. The club was a great bunch of people.

Brisbane Boars Brisbane Boars Images: Getty Images

Favourite moment for Oz?

It has to be the whole experience of the 2006 World Cup. We went into the unknown that time – the first time we had qualified in 32 years, and I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect, and then it was like a complete dream the way everything went. We obviously started off well against Japan; the result against Brazil I don’t think anyone expected, but we certainly didn’t let ourselves down; and before the tournament we said if we had the opportunity to play Croatia to qualify through that group stage, we’d be really happy with that. And that evening was one of the best evenings, and I’m reminded of that for the rest of my life because I’ve got a big massive picture in my games room of me after I scored the penalty and I’m running away and you’ve got Timmy Cahill and Harry Kewell and both of them look like they’re crying.

The 2010 World Cup was very enjoyable, but in a different way. The expectation this time around was different – our group was tough. We got off to a bad start against Germany, but thankfully our following two performances were massive – and really needed to be because I was concerned after the German game.

Was that an aberration?

Yes, we did change our formation to play a 4-4-2, which hadn’t been done under Pim for some time, if at all. Apart from that, I purely put the blame on the shoulders of the 11 men who were out there, because we certainly didn’t perform. We’re normally very well-organised as a team, and for whatever reason that day we had 11 individuals out there. And we were lucky we got beaten 4-0 when it should have been 8-0.

They were on fire ...

They were rampant; they could pick up the ball at any stage of the field and have that much space and time. We looked quite clumsy and badly organised  defensively as well – you end up forcing offsides and you’re putting your hand up and not getting back and that doesn’t look great either. In the end you’re guessing because they’ve got time to put their heads up on the ball and they’ve got numbers going forward ... We didn’t get close enough, we didn’t cause them enough trouble. Though for the first three minutes I thought we were fantastic (smiles): 2-0, I would’ve taken that on the chin. But we still didn’t have the right mentality to say that that was enough. I looked up at 70 minutes and saw four-nil and I thought this is going to be seven or eight ...

I don’t want to end our chat on that note ...

Out of a terrible performance, the reaction that we had was to produce the following two really good performances against Ghana and Serbia.

 So how do you fill your Saturdays these days?

I’ve set up a business, a franchise called Viva Soccer. Basically I’m just trying to encourage kids between the ages of 3-11 to play the game – I just feel there’s a lot of people out there who focus purely on the academy-type setup, and that’s only five percent, and maybe only two percent of those make it. I’ve had many meetings with the FFA and hopefully they’ll endorse it. We’re not working at the moment with football clubs because unfortunately there’s a lot of politics involved. For me it doesn’t really work. To be a viable business opportunity we have to get involved with schools, and that’s been a huge success. We’ve sold five franchises, one in Melbourne, one in Cairns, three here on the Gold Coast. My aim is for it to be all over Australia sooner rather than later.

Any coaching ambitions at the elite end?

I wouldn’t rule that out. I’d love to be in a position where I could have an impact on Australian football – I still think there’s a lot of work to be done. Every state seems to have a different system and until we have one system in place through the country we’re up against it. So there’s certain roles I can see myself playing – maybe even help out structurally to get that right system in place so the pathways link, just to give the players the best chances.

– Graem Sims