Richard Garcia has declared himself impressed and surprised by the quality of the A-League after his first taste of the competition in the Melbourne derby.
The midfielder, who spent two years in the Premier league with Hull City before it was relegated back to the Championship in 2011, showed several flashes of his quality in Melbourne Heart’s 2-1 season-opening win over Melbourne Victory – and insists there is much more to come from him.
Last season, Victory’s Harry Kewell revealed his shock at the quality of the sometimes-maligned local competition, and Garcia – back in Australia after a 13-year odyssey which took him to West Ham United, Colchester and Hull City – is similarly taken aback.
'It’s played at a good tempo and I am very impressed by what I have seen so far," he said.
'I have been surprised by the standard here also. A lot of people have made out that the A-League is not as technical as a lot of other places but I think it’s a much stronger competition than it is given credit for.
'The players around me at Heart are really good technically and I have to say what I have seen so far across the competition has exceeded my expectations.
'The quickness of the passing is a little slower here compared to England, but as for the physical side that’s pretty much the same.
'Playing in front of 42,000 in the derby and winning was the perfect way to ease back into life here and I feel I can only get better.
'I need a bit more sharpness in my game but I am pleased with how it has gone so far. The more I play the happier I will be.
'I have not come here to rest on my laurels, I want to make a big impression at this club and lead from the front."
An attacking midfielder, or even striker, during his years at Colchester and Hull, the 31-year-old has been converted into a holding midfielder by Heart coach John Aloisi.
'I am playing a lot deeper than I am used to. It’s something different but I can handle it and I am enjoying the role.
'I won’t get forward as much as I used to. I don’t want to take that out of my game but I have to be a bit wary and may try my luck a bit more from long range, rather than making those runs into the box which are a usual apart of my game."
'Goals have always been there for me in my game and I’ll be doing my best to make sure it stays that way."
Off the national team scene since pulling out on the eve of the 2011 Asian Cup with a debilitating knee injury, Garcia is out to avoid being dubbed an "ex-Socceroo" as he bids to force his way back into contention for a national team he represented at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
He has accumulated 14 caps since his debut in 2008, and was devastated at missing his flight to Qatar in January 2011 when injury struck playing for Hull.
'If I am playing well for Heart then it could put me back on the radar for the national team. I certainly have ambitions to play for the Socceroos again and I want to help the boys try and make the World Cup," he said.
'I got injured just before the Asian Cup; it was the day before I was about to leave and it was a bitter blow. I haven’t been involved since and it’s been a frustrating time for me. But I will be plough on until I hopefully fight my way back into the squad.
'The team is in a transitional stage but I am sure the players who have come in will improve with time."
Heart is seeking to continue its good start when Wellington Phoenix – 2-0 conqueror of Sydney FC at the weekend – is the visitor to AAM Stadium on Sunday.
But Garcia warned: 'In this competition everybody beats everybody and you never take anything for granted. One win means nothing; you have to back it up.
'Consistency is the key and that’s the big challenge for us."