Michael Zullo has revealed his frustration at being forced to bide his time on the bench in the Netherlands after conquering the injury that threatened his playing future.
The defender nominated by Holger Osieck as the long-term solution to Australia’s problem position at left-back has made just a couple of fleeting cameos for high-riding Eredivisie outfit Utrecht this season, while fellow Aussies Tommy Oar and Adam Sarota flourish in the first team.
But the former Brisbane Roar winger-turned-left-back and sometime midfielder at Utrecht has vowed to force his way into contention for club and country.
Zullo, who has nine caps, was last month singled out by Osieck as the man to fill the void at left-back, with David Carney falling out of favour and now clubless and Matt McKay drafted in as a stop-gap solution.
He knows the opportunity is there to be grasped but must first win his spot back in a Utrecht side in hot form this season.
Finally free of the pelvic problems that have dogged him for the best part of two years, the 24 year-old is out to make up for lost time.
“It’s a difficult situation right now in that the team is doing well, which is great, but a by-product of that is that breaking back in his proving difficult," he insisted.
“Last season when I was a first XI player during the first half of the season we were struggling, now it’s turned around and I am not there to be a part of it, which is very frustrating.
“I know that when the chance does come I will grab it and I know I am good enough to do well at this level.
“I also believe I can do well for my country again but I don’t expect to get picked if I not playing for my club. That’s just not realistic and you could never complain about that.
“At this stage of my career I want to be playing regularly. When you sit on the bench long-term it can affect you mentally and take away a bit of your confidence, and I am trying really hard not to let that happen to me.
“I see myself as a first XI player and you can’t get used to sitting on the bench, especially with the opportunity to again stake a claim for the national team is there to be taken.”
Zullo aggrevated the injury - which required building up his core strength to finally conquer – last season by pushing his body past the pain barrier playing for both Utrecht and Australia.
“I was getting a lot of pain in the pelvic area and that was down to not having the core strength I need to play at this level,” he explained.
“It was a strange injury and was causing a whole heap of problems around my mid-section.
“I was having doubts about my body and it hasn’t been easy to get over this.
“It’s been troubling me since my last season at Brisbane Roar but I kept playing and playing because I didn’t want to lose my spot in Brisbane or when I moved to Utrecht – and that made it worse ultimately.
“I kept coming back too early and it just never went away.
“I just kept hobbling on and it finally came to the point where I needed to take time out to get it right and I believe I have finally done that.
“The key has been strengthening exercises. It’s taken a lot of time but - fingers crossed - I have finally beaten it.
“For me, it was the difference between playing at 65 per cent and 100 per cent and I was surprised I was able to keep going as long as I did before it finally reached a head.
“This is the final year of my contract at Utrecht and it’s been vitally important to me to get on top of this and get myself fit again and have a shot at some game time.”
Zullo left the home comforts of Australia for one reason only: to push his claims for the national team.
“That was my real motivation,” he said.
“Playing for Australia means so much to me and it’s important now I just knuckle down at Utrecht and do well when I do get the opportunity.
“My career goal is to play at the World Cup and that remains as strong as ever.
“Football is a lot about luck and I just need a little bit now to get going again.
“I don’t see myself leaving before the end of the season.
“I know anything can happen but I want to stay and fight for a spot.”
Socceroos coach Holger Osieck believes veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer has a key role to play in their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.