Garuccio’s rise caught everyone by surprise - even himself

Ben Garuccio in action for Hearts Source: AAP

Ben Garuccio had barely adjusted to the fact that he was wearing a Socceroos tracksuit when Graham Arnold walked into the room during the recent training camp in Turkey.

There, the new boss addressed the players, and made his ambitions crystal clear.

“He told us that he wants us to be 'the best Socceroos group of all time'. When I heard that, I thought: 'Well, why can't we do that?' That’s a coach you want to play for,” Garuccio said.

“I think everyone who was in the training camp is on board with that goal. Straight away, he instilled a special mentality in the group. 

While the 23-year old wasn’t named in this latest camp, currently taking place in the UAE, he is clearly in the running to be the left-back at the AFC Asian Cup and when the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign kicks off. 

But he’s still getting around the fact that he was even involved in last month's camp. It’s not something he planned to happen so soon after his dream move to Scottish club Hearts. 

“While I haven't had that first match, being in camp alone is something I'll never take for granted. It was one of my long-term goals and, to be honest, it's come a little earlier than I expected. It was amazing to be in their company. You'd give anything to be part of it again,” he said. 

“Club football is great, of course, but when you're out there fighting for your friends, your family and 25 million people who are behind you. 

“I felt that way playing for Australia's Under-20's and the 23's and I'm just so hungry to break into the senior team, make my mark and represent the nation.” 

After years of struggling to find a left-back capable of replacing Scott Chipperfield and David Carney, the Socceroos now look flush with options – from incumbent Aziz Behich to Brad Smith and Alex Gersbach. Garuccio is firmly in that conversation, too. 

And having made the leap from the A-League after six years – four at Melbourne City and two at hometown club Adelaide United – Garuccio now finds himself in the cut and thrust of Scottish football. 

“The game here has a reputation for tackles and challenges flying in everywhere, but it's not like that at all. Don't confuse the speed of the game with physicality, which is what some people do,” he said.

“Sure, it's got that edge to it – and there are some strong challenges – but it's a stereotype. Look at some of the teams and the players who've come from other countries and joined clubs like Celtic, Ranges, Hearts, Hibernian and Aberdeen. They've got world class technique. 

"I have a feeling that most people who might say have never come over and seen a game live.” 

Indeed, Garuccio sees Scottish football as a considerable step up from A-League. And he believes the cut-throat nature plays a major role in driving standards. 

“There's a some similarities, but there's way more speed and physicality here. In Australia, you generally get some time on the ball. Here, you don't get a free second,” he said.

"They're running at you before you've even received the ball. Your decision-making and awareness has to be absolutely spot on. 

“You can feel that's the by-product of needing to survive, especially among the smaller clubs. They're fighting to stay in the top division and their players are fighting for their livelihood. They are literally running for every ball. It's as if their lives depend upon winning that challenge. There's too much riding on every game. 

“Honestly, I believe that's the direct influence of having promotion and relegation. That's a mentality that's very different to Australia - losing doesn't have the potentially dire consequences that it does here.” 

But if there’s one thing Garuccio does miss about home, unsurprisingly, it’s the quality of his beloved caffeine hit. 

“People over here take coffee for granted a bit – but that's probably because they've never been to Melbourne,” he said.

“One of the first things I did when I landed was to scope out the coffee scene. It's growing in Scotland, bit by bit.

"I've found a shop called Costello's, which is right near my place, which is my daily go-to. That's as close as I've found to an Australian coffee.”