The Rollercoaster of being an athlete
Welcome back everyone, I hope you have been enjoying the insights into my career! We will pick up where I ended last week.. Pre seasons are very tough but if you aren’t up to the fitness levels you will fall behind very quickly. I saw this happen to different players over the years, and trust me when I say this! FIRST IMPRESSIONS count…. Make sure you return in good condition
Throughout preseason I was also heading away with the young socceroos to play in different tournaments either in the middle east or Asia. This was such a great experience and something I absolutely loved, experiencing different playing styles but also understanding what it’s like to have to perform when you aren’t in comfortable environments. Different hotels, average pitches, food that was sometimes not eatable. You also learn to pick up a different playing style in a very short amount of time. My coach was Paul Okon who I believe is a very, very good coach! I loved the way he wanted to play the game and it suited me.
Once the season started, I was on the bench for pretty much every game, but I wanted more than that. You get a taste of coming on and then you want more of it and I believed I was good enough. This was always my mentality, and all young players should have the same belief in themselves. If you don’t think you are good enough, why would a coach? This is where the mental side of the game becomes so important.. We were losing quite a lot of games and I wasn’t getting as much of an opportunity to play as I would have liked. In these moments it can be very easy to lose you head and stop putting in the same level of effort. I made a big effort to stay focused, not get distracted with going out and enjoying life as a 18 year old in Melbourne.
About half way through the season our coach got sacked, this was a really strange thing to experience. John was the coach who gave me my first contract and now he was gone, I was learning quickly that football is a results based business. Then a new coach comes in and you have to impress them all over again! I ended up starting quite a few games towards the end of the season which was great and I got a new 2 year contract. A season is a long time and you will have plenty of highs and also lows, it is up to you to try and level these out. Enjoy the good moments but don’t get complacent because it can change very quickly, the same with the lows, one week you aren’t in the squad and the next week you could score the winner off the bench!
It was near the end of this season that Manchester City took the club over and we became Melbourne City. Another pretty cool thing to experience as a young player! It meant big changes were coming and again I needed to make sure I came back into pre season in the best possible shape… Which I did. I was away for majority of the pre season with either the u20 Australia team or the u23 Australia team. Another massive achievement playing a couple years up in the u23’s. I thought this would definitely help me secure a starting spot in the team when I came back.
But after every camp I was always behind all the other players, even the other young ones that were eligible for those camps and didn’t get selected. I wasn’t too happy about this and felt like it was quite unfair, which I went and spoke to the coach about. Not in a arrogant way but just to tell him I wanted to play. Another big thing for all young players is to go and speak to coaches if they don’t agree with certain decisions, but make sure it is done in a respectful way. Show them how much you care and how badly you want it without coming across in a way that makes you seem entitled to it.
This ended up being my toughest season, I kept going away with the national teams throughout the season and it hurt my chances of playing. I still ended up playing quite a few games but just couldn’t break into the team. This was when doubts started to come into play. Did the coach even think I am a good player? Do the other players think I’m good enough? Am I good enough? It is something I believe every player goes through but it isn’t spoken about enough how to deal with it. I couldn’t wait for this season to finish so I could have a break and reset to go again.
Pre season started and I was in great form to begin with. On the back off being one of the fittest I could then show my quality in training. It was also my last year of my contract so there was that extra motivation to do well. Halfway through pre season we had meetings with the assistant coaches and I will never ever forget that chat. He asked me what my expectations were for the season, I said to score 5 goals and play every game I am fit and available for. It felt like he was almost laughing with my response and said, I think you will play just over 10 games and you will score 1 goal. At this point I knew they didn’t believe in me as much as I believed in myself…. Time to prove them wrong!!!!
I came off the bench in the first game of the season against Melbourne Victory to score 1 and assist 1. Then I was in the starting team playing as a inverted winger on the right hand side. Mooy was playing as the #10 and they weren’t going to change the formation to fit me into the midfield. I scored a few more goals over the next month but always had the feeling they didn’t rate me much. I then got called up for the u23 Olympic qualifiers in Qatar which was awesome.
We went away in January and when I was away I got a phone call from my agent right before our first game asking if I had ever thought about returning to Adelaide united, I said no and didn’t think too much about it. Then 24 hours later I got another call saying if I want to go then Melbourne City would let me… They wanted Osama Malik and Adelaide asked for me in return. I then had a big decision to make which could change my career. I knew the coaches at City didn’t want to play me in the midfield and Adelaide were saying I would fit in nicely to the #8 position as Jeggo was leaving. I went with my gut and chose to go back to my hometown team as it was the best move for my football. It is important for all young players to make these type of decisions for the right reasons, not due to money, easy option etc but always what is best for your football.
I got to Adelaide and it was quite strange after being at a club for 4 seasons and then being the new kid on the block again. New team mates, new coaches, new playing style, new facilities. But I settled in so well and I believe it was down to a couple of different factors. 1 was that the playing group were so welcoming, 2 the playing style and system really suited me but it was also so clear for every single player in what their role was within it. And the 3rd would be having a point to prove to the people who doubted me. It really did light a fire inside me to show them how good I could be.
We ended up only losing 1 match for the rest of the season. And in the final match of the season we beat Melbourne City to overtake them and be in first position on the ladder! What a game it was as well, probably one of my favourite matches I have ever player in. They were such a good team with Mooy, Novillo, Fornarolli being the best players in the league. But we beat them and then Brisbane Roar lost the next day so we secured the Minor Premiership. We then got Melbourne City in the semi final at coopers stadium. I was so nervous prior to this game in the changerooms, knowing what was on the line. I was actually sick in the toilets just before kick off, I think nerves are a good thing because they show how much you care but you have to make sure they don’t affect your performance when you get onto the field. Which they didn’t! We won the match and were off to the Grand Final at Adelaide Oval against WSW.
Walking out for the warm up was a surreal feeling, seeing the stadium full already and the atmosphere was crazy. The game itself couldn’t have gone any better, we went 2-0 then it got back to 2-1 but we scored the 3rdin the 90th minute and the stadium erupted!!!! The best atmosphere I have ever seen at a match I have played in or been too. To celebrate with family and friends was awesome as well. I had supported the club as a kid and to now win the championship was insane. Crazy how football can change so quickly.
I was then away in Bali on holidays with my girlfiend when I got a call from the Socceroos team manager, he told me I had been selected for the upcoming camp against England. So I had to end my holiday early and head back to Adelaide to train for a week before leaving. We got over to Newcastle and had a few days training prior to the match. I was very nervous for the training but I felt like I had done quite well in the sessions! Right before our team meeting Matt Mckay said to me “ Wait till you hear what he has to say, you will want to run through this wall for him afterwards” And wow, wasn’t he right! The way he anayalsed England and showed exactly where we could hurt them, then showed clips of us playing well. I actually walked out thinking we are better then England. From that 1 week with him I can see why he has done so well in Japan and now in Scotland. Unfortunately I didn’t come on but I was so happy to be apart of it.
Right after the camp I then had a big decision again to make, there was a couple teams who wanted to sign me in Europe. Again I went through the same process, what team would be the best for my football! I chose the club that I was going to get paid the least at but whom I thought would be the best for my career. Next week we will go into that adventure
I hope you have taken away a few thing, some big ones are:
- Return to pre season as fit as possible to make a good impression
- Believe in yourself, because if you don’t then no one else will
- Don’t be afraid to speak to coaches but make sure you are always respectful
- Your moves should be dictated on what is going to be the best for your football