Aziz Behich has a triple incentive this season as he seeks to further his claims for an Australia call-up, fuel his dream of playing overseas and spur Melbourne Heart’s A-League challenge.
The highly rated left back – already a veteran of 54 A-League games at the age of just 21 – is being scrutinised by Turkish Super Lig giant Besiktas, and it was only 'timing and logistical issues’ that prevented him trialling for the club back in August.
But Behich, who together with teammate Michael Marrone on the other flank forms arguably the most impressive fullback pairing in the A-League – insists his sole focus this week, at least, is Friday’s night’s Melbourne derby against Victory at Etihad Stadium.
'Of course it’s my dream to play at the very highest level in my career and moving overseas will hopefully be a part of that someday," said Behich.
'But that’s all down the track, hopefully. Right now all I can really think about is Friday and getting our season off the perfect start in what is a massive match for both clubs."
Of the seven derbies to date, Heart has the slight edge winning two, losing one with three draws.
It was unbeaten against Victory last season but it’s a journey into the unknown for both sides with a raft of new personnel in both camps and a burning desire to steal the spotlight from NSW where the arrivals of Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono have captured all the pre-season headlines.
'It’s been a long pre-season and we just want to get out there now and what better way than a derby match," said Behich.
'We are not worried about the NSW clubs having all the publicity; we are just worried about ourselves and making our own statement.
'We know it’s a big job ahead on Friday but we believe we can take the three points, even though Victory is always going to be a class act.
'That’s what makes it such a big occasion. Our games are always close and Friday night will be no exception.
'We’ve been working on defensive shape and although we’ve had a big turnover of players, the new boys have adapted well and I think we can hit the ground running."
In what will be new coach John Aloisi’s big-match debut in the dugout, Behich insists that the transition between the style of former mentor John van’t Schip and the ex-Socceroos striker has been seamless.
'John hasn’t tried to change a lot. The club has a way of playing in place. There are a few tactical things and we’ll hopefully be playing the same attractive style we’ve tried to play ever since the club arrived in the A-League."
Of the speculation surrounding a possible move to the land of his roots, Behich insisted: 'For now, I am staying at the Heart. I’m not looking too much at anything else. Whatever happens in the future happens.
'I re-signed with Heart last season and I am happy at what is a great club with great people but of course it’s a dream play in Europe. It’s just a question of taking it step by step.
'This is my third A-League season and if I keep improving I don’t see why I can’t make that move at some stage."
Behich’s agent, Melbourne-based Dragan Jetvic, says of the Olyroos defender: 'Besiktas will keep monitoring him and while the opportunity for him to trial was there, the timing and logistics weren’t quite right."
Black Eagles chairman Fikret Orman, whose club is already home to Australian defender Ersan Gulum, said two months ago: "We are currently involved with Aziz Behich; he is a young player and one we have been scouting closely.
Behich, who is also eligible to play for Turkey, is in the running along with teammate Marrone to force his way into an A-league-based Socceroos team to compete in December’s qualifying tournament for next year’s East Asian Cup.
'Playing for the Socceroos has always been a goal of mine, it’s something I’ve written down and hopefully if I have another good season I might be within a sniff," Behich said.
The Socceroos will face qualifying competition from Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong and North Korea in Hong Kong from December 1-9.
If successful it will join Japan, South Korea and North Korea in the main draw.