• Brett Emerton celebrates a goal against England in 2003 (Getty Images Europe)
The World Game's monthly feature pays tribute to Australia's heroes of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Marathon man Brett Emerton talks about his club and international career and expresses his deep admiration for the Socceroos current playmaker Aaron Mooy.
By
Philip Micallef

3 May 2017 - 1:12 PM  UPDATED 3 May 2017 - 5:51 PM

Australia's World Cup midfielder Brett Emerton said that Socceroos midfielder Aaron Mooy had made an effortless transition from the A-League to the English Championship and said he hoped his sparkling form would land him in the Premier League.

Emerton, who was a key member of Australia's 'Golden Generation' that played in the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, said he was impressed with the way Mooy took to English football this season after starring for Melbourne City.

Mooy capped a stellar debut for Huddersfield Town by being named player of the season after being chosen in the Championship team of the season by the Professional Footballers' Association.

"He is the Australian player I admire most," Emerton, 38, said.

"I have lots of time for him. I've enjoyed watching him develop the last couple of years. The way he went about his career is excellent and he made the move from Melbourne to Huddersfield at the right time.

"He was nearly always City's man of the match and he has continued to improve in the Championship. I hope to see him in the Premier League some time soon because he deserves it."

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Emerton retired from competitive football in 2014 after a hugely successful career abroad that included no fewer than 10 seasons with Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League.

Before that he spent three seasons at Dutch giants Feyenoord.

He also played 95 times for Australia and would have notched a century of caps for sure had he not suffered a serious knee injury in January 2009 that needed a reconstruction and that kept him out of the game for eight months.

Emerton, who lives in Sydney, took time out to reminisce on a career that many young players can only dream of.

So what are you doing now?

"I worked as an ambassador for Football Federation Australia for a couple of years after I retired. It kept me involved in the game, which was nice.

"I also have a huge interest in properties in which I invested a lot of money while I was playing and I have spent some time managing them.

"I also am involved in a project to start a football website which is still under construction and about which I cannot say too much. It is something I am passionate about.

"Apart from that I am enjoying quality time with my family."

At what stage of your career did you realise that you had special qualities that would take you to the highest level of the game?

"It is always hard to judge how good you are as a player. I think at the age of 12 or 13 I began to realise that I had some ability and that is when I started working really hard on my game.

"But I don't think it was until I signed my first professional contract with Sydney Olympic in 1996 and started playing regularly that I believed that football was going to be my career long term."

You will always be remembered as an extraordinary athlete with a massive engine. Were you always like that?

"I was obviously blessed in that department. I was always physically very strong. But like anything in life you do not get to the top unless you work hard.

"I would like to think that I had the ability in the first place but I continued to work hard on my fitness, speed and endurance and I reckon that is what got me to the top."

Were you ever disappointed that many pundits who praised your athleticism seemed to forget that you also were a very skilful player?

"I always had confidence in my technical ability. That showed because I was able to play in almost any position across the park. I could play out wide or in the middle and even at the back."

You left Australia after the 2000 Olympics to play for Feyenoord. Did you see the Eredivisie as the realisation of your ambition to become a pro in Europe or a stepping stone to achieve your childhood dream of playing in the Premier League?

"I definitely looked at it as a stepping stone in my career. I always dreamed of playing in England but I also was realistic enough to know that I just could not go straight from the National Soccer League to the Premier League. It was an amazing step.

"Feyenoord was great for me. I was able to play regularly and the three years I spent in Rotterdam improved my game immensely and prepared me for where I wanted to play."

You traded the Premier League for the A-League when you chose to leave Blackburn Rovers for Sydney FC in 2011. How come?

"I always wanted to come back home and finish my career in Sydney which is my home town and where I have friends and family.

"Like any footballer, you are always looking for new challenges and I had spent 10 years in the Premier League and I tell you that can take its toll, physically and mentally. I just needed a change but I did not want to come back in a terrible physical state so it worked out well. Playing for Sydney freshened me up."

After spending 13 seasons in Europe, you surely must have a favourite stadium and a team you loved playing against.

"Our home stadium at Feyenoord was one of the best stadiums I have played in. The supporters at De Kuip in Rotterdam were among the most fanatical in Europe. The atmosphere was always fantastic whenever we played at home and of course our derby games against Ajax either at home or in Amsterdam were always something special. They were games which I will never forget."

You must hate yellow cards. In 2002 a yellow in Feyenoord's UEFA Cup semi-final against Inter Milan kept you out of the final against Borussia Dortmund and four years later you missed Australia's FIFA World Cup round of 16 clash with Italy due to two yellow cards you received in the group match against Croatia.

"I had played every game leading up to the UEFA Cup final and it was devastating not to be able to play in the one-off match at home, which we won 3-2. Although I did not play, I thought it was an amazing day. At least I got a medal.

"I was not by any means a dirty player but I tended to pick up yellow and red cards at the wrong time of my career. This is not to say that I would have made a difference against Italy in 2006 but I always wonder if I did play the outcome might have been different."

You were part of the 'Golden Generation' that thrilled the nation during the 2006 World Cup. What made that team tick?

"The important factor that made that team so strong was that we were all playing regularly at the highest level. I think that was the main difference to what we have today. We all had lots of experience on the international stage as well. We knew how to win matches without playing well."

Which was your best game for Australia?

"There is no particular game that springs to mind to be honest but the best football I played over a period of time was around the 2006 World Cup when I was in peak physical condition."

I suppose it goes without saying that the finest moment of your career must be the 2005 playoff against Uruguay in Sydney.

"Of course. That was the most memorable night of my entire career. I was always a big Socceroos fan growing up in Sydney and after so many years of near misses Australia actually had made the World Cup right in my home town ... and I was part of the team. It could not have been scripted any better."

What do you think of the current Socceroos?

"Individually we have some very good players, particularly Mooy.

"As we have seen in the past year there are many new faces involved in the Socceroos team and it takes time to know the man you are playing alongside.

"Going back to my time we were able to keep most of the players for most of our games. We knew each other's games back to front.

"So if we can cement down a regular starting 11 we would be better off."

So are we going to make it to Russia?

"I hope so because for Australian football's sake the Socceroos need to qualify on a regular basis.

"So fingers crossed we'll get the job done. I know the boys are passionate and will do everything they can to make sure they qualify for Russia."

Coach Ange Postecoglou has had a few digs at the football media recently. Is the media doing its job in terms of the Socceroos?

"The media has been a little critical of the Socceroos lately from what I've seen but that's part and parcel of our game.

"Whether your are playing here or in Europe if you're not performing well you have to be open for criticism. That's just the way it is."

Which are the best players you have played with and against in your club and international career?

"At national level it must be Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, who are two standouts. At club level I played alongside Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole in England and in Holland I was privileged to have such great players as Pierre Van Hooijdonk, Shinji Ono and Robin Van Persie as team-mates.

"The best I played against would have to be Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo ... but there is a long list."

One last question: which is the foreign player you admire most at the moment?

"The way Ronaldo goes about playing his football is admirable. He continues to improve very year and score goals on a regular basis. He is phenomenal."

BRETT EMERTON FACTFILE

Club career:
1996-2000: Sydney Olympic
2000-2003: Feyenoord
2003-2011: Blackburn Rovers
2011-2014: Sydney FC

International career:
1998-2012: Australia 95 matches

Honours:
Feyenoord: UEFA Cup 2002