• Stan Lazaridis played 60 matches for Australia (Getty Images AsiaPac)
The World Game's monthly feature pays tribute to Australia's heroes of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Flamboyant winger Stan Lazaridis reminisces on a wonderful career for club and country and the ramifications of 'that' night in Melbourne in 1997.
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14 Mar 2017 - 3:28 PM  UPDATED 14 Mar 2017 - 3:28 PM

Wing wizard Stan Lazaridis said the Australian team that lost the playoff for a place in the 1998 FIFA World Cup was as formidable as the one that reached the 2006 finals and would have shocked many people in France had it beaten Iran.

Lazaridis, who is now 44, was one of the most popular players to wear the green and gold.

The sight of him tearing down the left wing, taking people on with blistering pace and mazy dribbling, was breath-taking and a joy to watch.

He played 60 times for Australia and was in the Socceroos team that led the Iranians 2-0 with 17 minutes to go in Melbourne but conceded two goals in five minutes to crash out on away goals after the 1-1 draw in the first leg in Tehran.

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"That was the lowest point of my career, no doubt," Lazaridis said.

"We had the game. It was ours but it did not happen due to a set of circumstances. But why it was most upsetting was because that team had it all. It was one of the greatest Australian teams of all time.

"We would have done extremely well in France, no worries.

"That group was perfect. It was an unbelievable squad with a mixture of talent, youth, speed, toughness and experience. That squad was ready and very special and it ran deep.

"I was part of that squad and I'm not sure if it was the best ever because, let's face it, the 2006 team made the finals. All I will say is that team ushered in a magnificent era for the Socceroos."

Lazaridis started playing competitive football in suburban Perth and went on to forge a magnificent career that took him to the bright lights of the English Premier League.

Lazaridis's involvement in the game is only minimal these days. He does some media work in his home town Perth but his main occupation is in property.

"During my career I fell in love with property because I always believed you had to think about life after football," he said.

"I was able to buy some properties which I manage. This keeps me very busy. I also work for myself, which is something I always wanted."

Lazaridis was only too happy to have a 'heart-to-heart' conversation with The World Game.

You're a businessman now. You interested in buying an A-League team or licence, by any chance?

"No, no, no. To do that you need a certain level of wealth and time."

How hard was it to establish yourself in such a tough school as that of English football?

"I was one of the first of my generation of Australians to go overseas. At that time Australia was not acknowledged as a football country. We were not really respected and I always used to get snide remarks about kangaroos and the bush at first.

"If I were a European I would have been ahead but as an Australian I always had to prove we could play football. The likes of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Mark Bresciano were all technically gifted players who could play anywhere but we did not know that at the time.

"We went out there, we wanted to win, we played with the heart and we were all up for a challenge and we did not really care who we were playing against.

"But, you know what, I knew that if I played at my best then that was good enough to play in the next game."

Did you ever get the feeling that some of your team-mates saw you as this guy from the other end of the world coming to take their spot in the team?

"Oh yes. I got that at training. I would not use the word 'bullied' but it was always extra physical when it came to tackling me, for example.

"They were trying to intimidate you a bit and make you want to leave. But I always said to myself 'I want the fans to see me play' and if that was not good enough I would hold my hand up and say I couldn't do it anymore.

"But I was good and consistent enough by a country mile. And once the fans got to love you that was it ... the other players could do nothing about it."

You played under Harry Redknapp at West Ham United. What was he like as a man manager?

"The thing with Harry is he always had a good eye for a 'footballer'. He did not want someone who was just physical, he wanted traditional players who could 'play'.

"He liked me because I was an old fashioned type of winger and an exciting player people paid money to watch, although I only realised this later in my career.

"Harry would take a risk on someone who was a bit fiery like Paolo Di Canio but who could play football if given the breathing space. It is not easy to do."

You were also a firm favourite of Socceroos coaches Terry Venables and Frank Farina but you struggled for game time under Guus Hiddink. Any idea why?

"He did not dislike me but he probably did not like my style in terms of the way he wanted to play.

"He was all about tut-tut-tut and he might not have liked the way I ran with the ball and thought other players fitted his system better. I suppose he had me in his 2006 World Cup squad because he knew he could use me at some point, but he didn't.

"I was itching to get on in the last half an hour of the round of 16 match against Italy, particularly after they had a man sent off.

"All I was thinking to myself was 'please give me half an hour'. I was ready and I knew I would have got a cross in for Viduka or John Aloisi. I know something would have happened for sure.

"We did not press home our numerical advantage and I think Hiddink was not brave enough to push those buttons. Who knows ... we could have won that game. Having said that, I still think Hiddink did a fantastic job for Australia."

Were you too flamboyant or too much of a free spirit for Hiddink, who was supposed to be big on tactical discipline?

"I never thought of it this way but that's the sort of player I was. I played on the edge but I won games for my teams."

How do you rate the current Socceroos side?

"Ange Postecoglou is doing an unbelievable job. All the other Socceroos managers had all these big players but Ange has created a great 'team'.

"The Socceroos play as a unit and Ange has a balanced system that the players must play. He does not play around two or three big-game stars like we did.

"Technically some of the players are still very young so he has the tough part of having to develop them."

Do you have any regrets from your career?

"Look I had a great career and I do not really have any regrets. Well, there is a little one, actually.

"I had had a good year at West Ham and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and his assistant Pat Rice were looking at bringing in a back-up player for Marc Overmars.

"I never pushed it because I did not understand how it worked.

"It would have been great to join the Gunners. Other clubs like Leeds, Celtic, Rangers, Benfica and Bologna showed interest over the years and I'm not disappointed for not joining them.

"But Arsenal were the ones that at my age would have been perfect. They of course went on to become 'The Invincibles' and I could've been part of that squad.

"I probably would have been second string to Overmars but I always thought that if you're happy somewhere the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence.

"I was happy at and loyal to the two clubs I played for and I had a special bond with the Birmingham City fans."

So what was the highlight of your career?

"Being a professional in England for so many years, performing in great stadiums in front of 50,000 or 60,000 people week in week out, playing against guys like Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Marcel Desailly, representing your country 60 times and travelling the world: that's the highlight in a nutshell.

"I must mention the Aussie blokes too who sometimes are ignored: it was a privilege to be a team-mate of such great players as Kewell, Bresciano, Viduka, Tim Cahill, Milan Ivanovic, Vince Grella, Paul Okon and Ned Zelic who was just incredible on his day."

Who are the best players you have played with and agaInst?

"Di Canio, Eyal Berkovic and Christoffe Dugarry were the finest players I played with. They were all very special and unbelievable players.

"Bergkamp and Zinedine Zidane spring to mind as opponents but the Manchester United team that landed the treble in 1999 and the Arsenal side that won the league unbeaten in 2004 were incredible, especially when you analyse them individually. There's Chelsea's Ruud Gullit too. One day I had to mark him and, I tell you, one of his thighs was the size of my whole body. He was awesome: he could play anywhere, probably even in goals."

And finally who are the players you admire most abroad and in Australia?

"Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the best in the world at the moment but the Argentine gets my vote for what he does for the team. He is my favourite player because he is very, very special.

"In Australia I cannot stop admiring Cahill, who has played at the top level for many years and is still doing the business. He is such a talent and he's great for Australia."

STAN LAZARIDIS FACTFILE

Club career
1992-1995: West Adelaide
1995-1999: West Ham United
1999-2006: Birmingham City
2006-2008: Perth Glory

International career
1993-2006: Australia (60 matches)

Honours
Australia: OFC Nations Cup 2000