‘I fell out of love with Australia’
If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I would ever come back and play in Australia, I would have told you where to go.
Through a big section of my career, I was very aware of the debate that was being played out about me in the media, and whether I should or shouldn’t be playing for the Socceroos. For a lot of years, I was very bitter about the whole situation, there’s no question.
This is something I’ve never said to anyone but there was the consideration at one point that I’d chosen the wrong country to play for. I knew how I was perceived and respected in Scotland at that time, when I was scoring goals at Celtic, and I knew the opportunities I would’ve been given.
I know you’re always going to be judged on goals when you’re a goalscorer, and it just didn’t happen for me with the Socceroos. I have my own opinions on it but one thing I’ve always tried to do is keep those opinions to myself. Circumstances are out of your control at times, and the ball just didn’t roll the right way for me when it came to playing for the national team, whether it be tactics or anything else.
In the end, Scotland never played at a World Cup through that period, though you could argue that playing European qualifiers is a lot bigger than playing in any Oceania or Asian ones because of the media and the TV that comes with it – and then you’re putting yourself on another platform because you’re at the next level.
All those hypotheticals did go through my mind.
‘I fell out of love with the whole nation’
The one thing I would’ve loved to have done was go to that 2010 World Cup. Being involved in the qualification period, only to be axed at the last hurdle, was heartbreaking. It became a bitter pill to swallow throughout that time.
I found it very hard to come back to Australia after that. I fell out of love with the whole nation. I just turned my back on it because I felt like I’d had that done to me.
It was a difficult period. I really wanted to be at that World Cup. I was playing at Celtic, playing in the Champions League and at the peak of my powers. Whoever came in for me, I didn’t feel that was warranted when compared with what I’d achieved domestically at that point. Then I found myself back in the squad for the Asian Cup nine months later and I’m going, ‘What happened there?’
I didn’t really feel like I was a Socceroo anymore because of that disappointment. All of a sudden, I started getting disengaged with this country. It’s something that happened, but look, I am Australian and I’ll never regret playing for my country; it gave me everything in terms of my development, and it’s where I started, and I believe if you start somewhere, you finish there.
Would I turn back and change things? No, I wouldn’t. I’m at peace with it now, and it was an absolute privilege to play 26 times for my country. I feel like I’ve come full circle, and that’s why I’m here now.
The finest Socceroo
I always considered myself to be both very unlucky and very lucky when it came to Australia’s golden generation. I was lucky because of the quality of those players to play alongside, but then I was unlucky because I had to compete for places with them!
For me in terms of the best of that lot, it’s between Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka all day long. It’s so hard to split them. I played with Harry so much more than I did with Viduka, and I would’ve loved to have played with ‘Dukes’ more because his ability was unbelievable. He had a switch where if he turned it on, Jesus, he was at the elite level.
But Harry had that X-factor. At the peak of his powers at Leeds and with the Socceroos, he could do things that no other Australian footballer could do, so with that, I have to go Harry.
And you’ve got to give Timmy Cahill his dues as well. He bleeds everything that is Australian – the guts, the determination. He wasn’t the most talented in terms of natural ability and I think he’d admit that himself, but my God, he gave you everything he had and that was proven in his success; he made his strengths unbelievable and he always played to them very well.
You also can’t forget about someone like Marco Bresciano. He’d probably be the best technical player we’ve produced in terms of what he could do on the ball and how he made it look so simple.
But for me, overall, it’s Harry – he was the full package.
‘I find it disrespectful and degrading’
A lot of my football mentalities and thought processes are going to be British because I lived there for 20 years, so to work with a British management system in Robbie Fowler and Tony Grant here at Brisbane Roar suits me.
People have called some of the players here ‘Brexiteers’ and I think that’s disrespectful, the connotations that carries. There’s a lot of talk in Australian football around the ‘British style of football’, where it’s clear that people have a problem with it. I actually have a problem with people saying that; I find it disrespectful and degrading.
Look at British football now and the success it is having at the highest levels. They are the best. We get caught up in Australia that countries other than the UK do it better for some reason.
At times, I really feel as if British football and what it’s done for Australian football has been far too disrespected. You look at the most successful players we’ve produced, like our golden generation – where did most of them play? They played in the Premier League. We had some top players in other leagues as well but if you look at the numbers, and what those players suited, it was the Premier League.
We’ve gone away from that with the Dutch theory and everything else, and now we’re seeing different types of players being produced, and we’re not having as much success in the countries we were previously. That’s all to do with how we develop our players.
We’re seeing that now and we’re questioning it: Where are all our good players? Why aren’t they going to Europe? We’ve got to look at how we’re producing them, their development from a young age. The way we were brought up technically is a lot different to what it is now – the education of the game in Australia has changed and we have to realise that.
Look at the success we’ve had in the past. We all want to talk about how good they are when they’re in the Premier League, but apparently it’s not a good enough style for us to play here? It baffles me, it really does, some of the waffle these people talk – and particularly some who get the airtime.