Part III - The beginning of my professional career

Newsletter #3
I had one goal when I arrived at the AIS and that was to leave the program having secured a contract with a professional team. I didn’t care about what team, only that I was getting a contract. As soon as Melbourne Heart offered, I was ready to move everything to Melbourne.
Excited but also quite nervous at the same time. You go from playing with boys your own age and getting help with everything at the AIS, to training with men and living on your own in an apartment. The first month was probably the hardest. It took a little while to adjust to the training standard, the demands of being a professional footballer, cooking on my own… and not having my license wasn’t ideal. From memory, I had 3 meals I could cook -  tacos, spaghetti bolognaise & chicken burgers! Probably not the healthiest meals but that was all I knew how to cook.

I was fortunate that Ben was with me at the club, so we stayed together all the time, which ended up being a bit of a joke among the players that we couldn’t leave each other’s side. The biggest difference was the training intensity and the winning mentality of the players in every single drill we did. No one wanted to lose and you learned very quickly that if you make a mistake that costs your team the match or you do not track your runner, you will be hearing about it from the players. I think some young players come in and can find that quite confronting, but I actually enjoyed it! I love being competitive and it taught me straight away to play simple and make sure I am working hard. As long as you do that, you will gain the respect of the other players.

A great learning experience for me came early on in my first season. When we played with the Youth Team, we would train with the First Team in the morning and the Youth at night. One day, in between sessions, I went with one of the older boys, Mate Duganzic to Nike to get a new pair of boots. The plan was  to catch the train and tram back to our training ground. Well, I did catch a train but after sitting on it for 10 minutes I realised I was on the wrong one! I quickly got off and ran about 2km to another tram stop. I had about 20 minutes before I needed to be there and the traffic was not moving! (welcome to Melbourne). So I got off when I was close and ran the rest of the way. Arriving just as training was meant to start. I was so scared before next session, when I had to go and speak to John Aloisi and tell him what happened. He was understanding but I was late and needed to learn a hard lesson. I was told to only train with the Youth Team for the next week. I was devasted. I never wanted to do anything wrong but I also learned the importance of always being on time.
 I had recovered from this and was training really well. Then came my opportunity. I was selected to play against Sydney FC in Sydney. Del Piero was playing for them at the time, which made it even more exciting! We were 1-0 up and Fred got injured in the 60th minute, which meant I was coming on. I was so excited but nervous at the same time, I ran out onto the field and all of a sudden my legs felt like they weighed 50KG each. The ball came to me and I was so slow to move and pass, it wasn’t going well. We then went on to lose 2-1. I didn’t cost us the game but I certainly didn’t make a great impression. One thing that still sticks with me to this day was after that game Richie Garcia came up and said, “if you come on off the bench you better work hard, I ran past you to track my player, I better never run past you again when we are defending”. Another lesson learned.

I didn’t play again with the First Team that season but that experience made me hungrier than ever. I knew I could play at the level and I was ready to put in the work to achieve it. During that season, Vince Grella was at the club trying to make a comeback. It didn’t work out for him but just before he left, I wanted to try and speak with him to ask for some advice on what I could improve on. It turned out he was going to become a football agent and he wanted me to become his first player. I always tried to ask the older players for advice and I was very fortunate that at Melbourne Heart, we had a lot of players who were happy to help out like, Simon Colosimo, Clint Bolton, Richie Garcia, Vince Grella and then over the next few years Patrick Kisnorbo, Harry Kewell, Robbie Wielaert, Orlando Engelaar plus so many more. I tried to hang around as many of the players as possible outside of training to learn from their experiences. Jason Hoffman, Azizz Behic, David Williams Andrew Redmaybe and Gol Gol Mebrahtu really helped Ben and I out in our first few years

Vince put me onto a exercise physiologist that he and plenty of other Socceroos players had used over the years. I met with, Tim Schleiger and started to work with him to get a program ready for the off-season so I could come back for the next season number in the best possible condition. If you can’t physically compete, then it doesn’t matter how good of a football player you are. Another big learning moment for me, surround yourself with the best possible people on the field but also off the field.
I still remember my first treatment with Tim. I had obviously had massages before, but this was the most painful massage I had ever had. I didn’t want to act soft and tell him to relax but I think he could tell how much pain I was in by the fact I was sliding off the massage table! I still see Tim regularly and have formed a friendship that will last well beyond my playing career.

I smashed that program in the off season, plus did the program from Melbourne Heart and trained with John’s brother, Ross Aloisi at West Adelaide. My aim was to come back from off season and be the fittest player at the club so I could make a good impression.
For all young athletes out there, make sure you find the right people that will support your playing career. Find people that will always have your best interest at heart because you will need their advice and help throughout your career. I hope you have all taken something away from this newsletter
Sometimes your biggest failures will come from your biggest learnings. After my first year as a professional, I made sure I was never going to be late again for training, I was never going to let a player work harder defensively than me and I needed to become fitter and stronger to compete at this level.
 Next week we will get into the rollercoaster of my next 3.5 years in Melbourne.

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