Opinion

It's time for Irvine to put his stamp on the Socceroos

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There are certain intersections in every player’s career that shapes how their time in the game plays out. Jackson Irvine is at one right now.

Irvine is 27 and has had a solid career, better than most.

He could easily play out the final five or six years at a decent level and retire comfortably, having been to multiple World Cups and Asian Cups, with over 50 Socceroos caps to his name. 

He’s also one of the smartest players to have pulled on an Australian shirt. Thoughtful, well-spoken and with interests that extend far beyond football, he is destined to live a most interesting life when his career is done. 

But I think there’s more for him to achieve whilst he's still playing. Lots more. If he genuinely wants it, and is prepared to push the limits, greatness may be there for the taking. 

Mile Jedinak’s departure from the Socceroos has left a gaping hole in midfield that is his to fill.

And it’s Jedinak who created the blueprint Irvine should follow. Besides, it wasn’t until the ex-captain was 29 that he became a true first-choice Socceroo, let alone captain. 

Critically, Jedinak found the right club at the right time and that’s the test Irvine is facing right now.

Leaving Hull City seems a mystery, with neither the club nor the player totally clear about why his deal wasn't extended. Either way, he’s been a free agent since June. 

But I don’t think it’s the worst thing. If he needed a moment to recharge the batteries, this is it. 

Irvine made 110 league appearances in three years at Hull, following on from barnstorming spells at Burton Albion and Ross County.

All up, he’s played nearly 250 games in the Scottish Premiership and the English Championship, playing week in, week out since 2013. That's a lot of football.

My understanding is that Irvine has shied away from a big-money move to the Middle East and China and instead is seeking a move within Europe. That’s a big tick. 

At his next club, he should aim to take his game to the next level. He must evolve into a dominant midfielder as much as a team player or a consistent contributor – both of which he already is. 

It was that transition in Jedinak’s game which turned him from a squaddie to Captain Socceroo. 

Irvine may not yet be as imposing but he is the same height and may even have an edge in some attributes, like passing and ground covered.

As recently as last year, former Hull great Peter Swan said Irvine’s “forward runs remind me a lot of Frank Lampard during his prime.” Some compliment. 

“Having a player like Irvine in your team is invaluable and he has a lot of desirable attributes,” Swan continued.

“His height stands him out from the rest of his midfield rivals. He also has a lot of energy, good work-rate and can be useful at both ends of the pitch.” 

No doubting any of that. But it still feels like Irvine’s development isn’t complete – and that’s why this next move is so crucial. Perhaps even career-defining. 

He has one big thing on his side: his agent.

Jedinak’s international predecessor was Vince Grella, the very man Irvine has chosen to represent him. Supremely well connected in Italy and England, Grella will be looking far and wide for a suitable home. 

And Grella will surely know that his client’s best days are still ahead of him. Part of that is probably working out what role Irvine can phase into during the next part of his career. 

He’s been a box-to-box, central, attacking and defensive midfielder at various times, the kind of versatility that managers love.

But I suspect, like Jedinak, he’ll become a better player when he settles on a singular role and makes it his own. 

Looking at the national team, he’s jostling with Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic and Massimo Luongo for a position, and some might find it hard to find a space for him.

But given the lack of a genuine defensive midfielder, I can’t help but feel he could make that role his own. 

Still, the first decision is his next destination. Get it right and there’s no reason that in the coming years he can’t become everything that club and this country needs him to be.