Socceroos defender Milos Degenek tucked the great Mohamed Salah into his back pocket in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, yet is no guarantee to start in this month’s friendly internationals against Korea Republic and Lebanon.
Still on a high from Red Star Belgrade’s shock 2-0 victory over Liverpool, the 24-year-old centre-back happily accepts the dichotomy as he chases a 19th cap for his country, insisting that coach Graham Arnold will base his selection decisions simply on what’s best for the team.
Degenek was an unused substitute in October’s 4-0 win in Kuwait and didn’t feature, even off the bench, at the FIFA World Cup.
But his stocks have never been higher after a defensive masterclass extinguished the threat of Salah in Belgrade.
He has no recriminations over the scenario that faces him, and wants only what benefits the collective.
“I stand behind the boss’ choices and I back him 100 per cent every choice he makes,” Degenek said.
“I believe all the boys who played against Kuwait and at the World Cup deserved to play and maybe I wasn’t up to scratch at that time, maybe I wasn’t performing quite well.
“Obviously, at the World Cup it was Bert (van Marwijk’s) choice.
“While I don’t always agree with everybody, and thought maybe I should have at least played one game in Russia, that’s the way football goes.
“Coaches make their calls and we are all professionals and move on.
“I am 100 per cent there for the Socceroos and always will be. I believe in what Graham Arnold is doing.
“We had a great game against Kuwait and I believe the boys did well. I’ve learned in football that you can never change a winning team.”
Should Arnold take that view then he will persist with the central defensive partnership of Trent Sainsbury and Mark Milligan against Korea Republic next Saturday in Brisbane and Lebanon in Sydney three days later.
Whatever happens, Degenek’s rise is indisputable, as evidenced by his composed and combative performance against Jurgen Klopp’s men.
“I think I am developing and progressing as a footballer and getting better all the time,” Degenek added.
“I’ve become more of a complete player but I am still very young for a central defender and there’s a very long way to go. There’s a lot of football for me to play and a lot for me to do.
“Obviously the performance (against Salah) gave me a bit of a lift and gives me hope that I can move on with my career to bigger and better things.
“It showed me I can mix it with the best. Salah is a phenomenal player, one of the best in the world at the moment.
“I think I played quite well and it’s not easy to mark somebody of his quality ... you need concentration, hard work and discipline.
“But I made it hard for him to play against me. He’s a player that if you give him a bit of room he makes you pay for it, and I worked very hard not to give him that space.”
Degenek said it was “one of the biggest wins” in his club career as Red Star blew a group featuring heavyweights Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli wide open.
“It’s massive to have battled through qualifying rounds to get to where we are now,” he added.
“People thought this group would be a battle between three clubs but we’ve managed to mix it up a bit now, and are giving teams something to think about.
“It’s not easy for teams to come to Belgrade and play. The atmosphere here is unreal. You don’t get anything like it anywhere else in the world.
“Liverpool might have underestimated us, especially after winning 4-0 at Anfield.
“They probably thought it would be an easy win and when you go into a game thinking that way a lot of things can change.
“It can be very difficult to get yourself out of that hole and out of that state of mind.”
Whilst Degenek’s debut season at the club he idolised as a young boy is taking on dream-like proportions, his ambition is boundless.
“Every player dreams of reaching the highest possible level and that’s no disrespect to where I am at the moment because with this club I have achieved things I could only have dreamed of as a boy,” he said.
“It’s my childhood club and I will always love this club above any other. But you always want to test yourself and see how high you can go.
“I hope these Champions League games push me forward to some areas of the world where people take a look and perhaps take notice of what I'm doing.”