The World Game resumes its monthly series on Socceroos stars who left their mark on football in Australia. Ace striker Archie Thompson says he could have agreed to play for New Zealand before national coach Frank Farina locked him in for the green and gold.
Socceroos striker Archie Thompson revealed he was close to becoming an international player for New Zealand before national coach Frank Farina locked him in for Australia by giving him his first cap.
Waikato-born Thompson, who went on to play 54 times for his adopted country, caught the eye of All Whites coach Ken Dugdale while playing for Carlton in the National Soccer League just before the turn of the century.
But Dugdale's plans to enlist Thompson were scuppered when the striker was picked for the green and gold.
"Yeah, I could have played for New Zealand," Thompson, who is now 42, said.
"I was approached by New Zealand to play for the All Whites around 2000.
"I think Socceroos coach Frank Farina got wind of the Kiwis' intentions and gave me my first cap against Colombia in Bogota 2001.
"I came on as a substitute at the start of the second half and, of course, as soon as I stepped on to the pitch I became a Socceroo for life.
"Without that, I could have said 'yes' to New Zealand."
New Zealand's loss was Australia's gain because Thompson was able to forge an international career that spanned 13 years.
Thompson, who was an unused squad member in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, was happy to share some of the most important points of his career.
What are you doing now?
"I am very much involved in football with Fox Sports. It took a couple of years for me to transition from a player to my present role but now I'm enjoying the media side of football, watching the games and seeing young players come through."
After making a name for yourself with Carlton and Marconi in the NSL, you went away in 2001 and spent four seasons with Lierse in Belgium. What was that like?
"It was obviously a step up from playing in the NSL and a great experience. It was a different environment and culture and a lot more professional. I also found a higher intensity because everyone who came from a different continent was trying to make headway in Europe. It was a real eye-opener for me and I learned a lot about professional football."
Just before you went to Lierse you made world headlines by scoring 13 times for Australia in an OFC Nations Cup match against American Samoa. Did that record tally, which still stands, make life difficult for you in Europe?
"Look, it was difficult because after scoring all those goals and setting a world record I was expected to score every weekend. I expected that of myself, too. But that never happened and it took a little while for people to get over their expectations. Having said that, I enjoyed my time in Belgium."
You joined Melbourne Victory when the A-League was launched in 2005. What sold it to you?
"My ex-partner at the time was expecting our second child and we felt it was the right time to come back to Australia. Hearing from coach Ernie Merrick and official Gary Cole about the club's ambitions and learning of the kind of people who were backing the club, it seemed like the right fit. Personally I felt I was taking a step back but when I think about it now it was probably one of the best moves I've ever made. I was part of something very fresh and exciting. I had huge success early on and built a great career.
"I reckon if I stayed in Europe I would not be the household name I am now, when you think of domestic football. Several Socceroos went to Europe, did very well and returned home but nobody really knows who they are."
You will always be remembered for the five goals you scored against Adelaide United in the 2007 grand final. If that was the highlight of your A-League career, which was the next one?
"That was a special night because it was our first championship and five goals in a grand final was pretty much unheard of. But to be honest I had lots of highlights and special moments. Winning our second championship in 2009 was also special as were the last-minute winner I scored in the derby against Melbourne Heart just before Christmas in 2012 and the 3-3 draw we earned against Central Coast with nine men."
You were lucky to play in front of some extraordinary midfielders like Fred and Carlos Hernandez. Who was the better footballer?
"They were different players but similar in a way. Fred probably was silkier and smoother on the ball and really creative. I could say the same about Carlos but he was more powerful with his passing and shooting. Fred probably worked a bit harder but Carlos scored some unbelievable goals."
Which was the finest Victory side you played in and why?
"It would have to be the 2015 championship-winning team when we beat Sydney FC 3-0 in the grand final. Unfortunately, I did not have too many minutes in the finals."
Which was the best goal you ever scored?
"Probably the chip in the last minute that enabled us to beat Heart 2-1. I enjoyed that very much."
And the biggest fluke?
"Man, I never scored flukes. I meant every single goal."
Did you notice any change in the way strikers are expected to operate from the first A-League season?
"Today strikers work a lot harder. Take Jamie Maclaren as an example. He is constantly pressing defenders yet still has the strength to make runs and get into scoring positions. There is probably more pressure on the ball than when I was playing, particularly in the early days of the A-League."
You must have bitter memories of the 2010 grand final against Sydney FC because you suffered a major knee injury that needed a reconstruction and probably kept you out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
"I don't know. It probably did. Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek, God bless his soul, did not have too many fond things to say about A-League players, but I felt like my ability would have made me part of the 2010 squad, especially since I was involved in the qualifiers. But I did my knee and the rest is history."
Was that the low point of your career?
"Yes, that probably was the toughest time in my career because it was the first serious injury I had, it happened in the grand final and I was out for a year and possibly missed the World Cup."
Turning to the Socceroos, tell us about the winning goal you scored in a tight match against Iraq in 2014 World Cup qualifying.
"That was the best and most important goal I've scored for the Socceroos. We were not in form in the group and it was a match we needed to win. I remember coming on as a late substitute. We were a goal down and after Tim Cahill drew us level I found the net with a header. A 2-1 win got us back on track."
You must be eternally grateful to the late Frank Arok, who 'discovered' you at Gippsland in 1996.
"Frank was a beautiful man who inspired a lot of people. What happened is I went for a trial for Gippsland. Arok was coach and he liked what he saw and gave me a contract."
You played under Dutchmen Guus Hiddink and Verbeek. The media loved Hiddink but was it too harsh on Verbeek?
"Probably. When Verbeek took over we had a totally different qualification path. Under Guus all we had to do was win one major playoff while under Pim we had to go through Asia with a lot more matches. So Guus did not have all the obstacles Pim had to overcome. I think Pim did an amazing job but the media is always going to be harsh."
If you could change anything in your career, what would that be?
"I'm pretty grateful for what I've done but I feel I could have been more professional in terms of looking after myself. I reckon I could have offered 20 per cent more if I were more professional over the years. I could have looked after my body and recovered a bit better. I did not do the things other players did. Basically my focus was not 100 per cent on football half the time. I love football but I had other passions and if you want to play at a certain level you've got to be breathing and sleeping football all the time.
ARCHIE THOMPSON FACTFILE
1996-99: Gippsland Falcons
2005-06: Melbourne Victory, PSV
2006-16: Melbourne Victory
2001-13: Australia (54 matches)
OFC Nations Cup 2004; A-League 2007, 2009, 2015 (Melbourne Victory)