Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: John Aloisi

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The World Game resumes its series on the Socceroos stars of yesteryear who left their mark on football in Australia. Striker John Aloisi forged a top career that took him to some of the world's most famous grounds yet he yearned for more chances to play alongside 'world class' striker Mark Viduka.

Socceroos World Cup hero John Aloisi said that he wished he had more opportunities to play alongside fellow striker Mark Viduka during his international career that spanned 11 years because given more time the two would have formed a lethal partnership.

In March 1997, Aloisi - now 44 - embarked on a distinguished journey with the Socceroos that would earn him 55 caps, 27 goals and worldwide recognition.

Yet his tally of caps would have been greater if his career peak that came around the 2006 FIFA World Cup campaign did not coincide with that of Viduka, who is widely regarded as Australia's greatest natural striker.

Aloisi and Viduka started together for Australia on only a few occasions - mainly during the Terry Venables era in the second half of the 1990s - and during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup.

The only Australian to play in England's Premier League, Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga said he and Viduka could have caused more of their special brand of mayhem in the penalty box if given more chances to forge a proper partnership.

Aloisi however said he does not consider himself unlucky that Viduka was always seen as a regular starter whenever he was available.

"Look, I have to say that Viduka is the best striker Australia has ever produced, maybe the best ever player," Aloisi said magnanimously.

"It was a pleasure for me to be at the Australian Institute of Sport with Mark because he is a great person apart from a world class forward.

"I feel there were some important occasions when we could have played together with the national team and done a good job. It's a pity we did not play more games together. However, having said that, I did not feel unfortunate to be in the Socceroos' set-up at the same period as Mark because I just saw it as a privilege to share a changing room with him."

Aloisi, who relinquished his position as Brisbane Roar coach in December, spoke candidly to TWG about his long career.

What are you doing now?

"I still live in Brisbane and at the moment I'm doing television work with Optus Sport. I'm lucky because I am still able to talk about my passion, which is football.

"But eventually I want to get back into coaching in the A-League. And of course, my ambition is to go back to Europe and coach there."

You did not hang around for too long in Australia after making your debut with Adelaide City. After just one season in the NSL you were off to Belgium.

"I made my NSL debut for Adelaide at 15 before going to the AIS for eight months. I then went back to Adelaide before going directly to Standard Liege for a trial. They liked me and signed me up."

The bold move could easily have backfired though because you were just a 16-year-old rookie trying to make your mark in the cut-throat world of professional football.

"Of course it could have backfired. I was very young and it was very difficult to leave my family but I believed in my ability even at that stage and I was adamant the experience would be good for my development as a player and a person.

"It was always my dream to play in Europe. I grew up watching Serie A on SBS and I always told myself that one day I would like to be part of that."

Your career really took off during your two-year stint with Antwerp, right?

"Yes. After six months at Standard, Antwerp decided to buy me and I scored on my debut. I spent two and a half productive years at Antwerp. The Belgian league was not among the best in Europe but quite strong. I would not say I was a regular but I was always part of the first team squad. I remember one of my first games was against Paul Okon who was playing for Brugge."

Then in 1995 came your big move to Cremonese. Were you overawed by the prospect of playing in Serie A which at the time was the cream of European football?

"It did not take me long to find out that life as a striker in Italy can be very hard, particularly if you're a foreigner. At my age, playing for a battling club that was rather defensive presented several problems because all the pressure fell on the attacking players. Cremonese did not score too many goals and we got relegated.

"On a positive note I got to play against some of the world's finest defenders like AC Milan's Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini."

Your three years with Coventry City boosted your reputation as an accomplished finisher but your stay in the Midlands was hampered by the first serious injury of your career.

"I had a bad hamstring injury that was coming from a problem with my knee, which I did know about. I was out for almost a season but luckily I found a good Dutch physio who helped me recover.

"It was a pity that I was injured for so long because whenever I did play I scored goals. Unfortunately, when I finally found my straps Coventry were struggling and eventually got relegated and since I did not really want to play in the Championship after having played there with Portsmouth I signed for Osasuna in Spain."

Your four seasons at Osasuna would have to be dearest to your heart, particularly 2002-03 when your eight goals helped the team finish in mid-table, ahead of Atletico Madrid.

"Osasuna were the club I enjoyed playing for the most. At first it was just survival for us but then we started to do well and became a mid-table team.

"My last game for the club was the 2005 Copa del Rey final against Betis at the Calderon in Madrid. I remember coming on as a substitute and scoring an equaliser eight minutes from time but Betis got up in extra-time to win 2-1. That season and the following one with Alaves were the best period of my club career in terms of playing well and fully understanding the game. I will always have fond memories of my four years in Pamplona."

Having spent nine seasons in Italy's, England's and Spain's top flight, what can you tell us about the culture and mentality of these massive football countries?

"In Italy, it is all about winning. They didn't care how they won as long as they won. Their preparation for a match was immaculate, down to the minutest detail. They watched what you ate and what you wore. They also advised you never to have wet hair when you went out so as not to catch a cold. This is a true story: one time just before a game I was reprimanded in front of the whole group by coach Gigi Simoni for wearing the team uniform with short socks when I should have worn long ones like everybody else. It was very much the Italian way and you had to follow it.

"In England, it was more about enjoying yourself at training and during games. The tactical side was not all that important. The message I got was 'ok let's go out there and play'. I loved English football because as a striker you get a lot of scoring chances. And if you're fighting and giving everything, the supporters are happy, regardless of the result.

"In Spain, it was a mixture of the mentality in Italy and England. You had to win but the style of football also had to be entertaining. Winning ugly does not do much for Spanish fans. I liked their style of play and of course the professionalism of their preparation was of the highest order but not as obsessive as that of the Italians. I really enjoyed playing and going to training because I felt I was learning all the time as a player."

The mid-noughties must have been special for you on the Socceroos front. You scored four goals at the Confederations Cup in June 2005, converted the decisive penalty in the World Cup shootout against Uruguay five months later and found the net in the 3-1 win over Japan in the 2006 finals.

"I was on top of my game in that period. Your career goes for about 15 years and if you're lucky maybe 20 but you're not always at your peak and at that time I was at my best and very confident of scoring against any team I came up against. It was the best feeling I ever had."

You will probably be best remembered for that penalty against Uruguay and the explosion of joy that it sparked. Do you feel that your exploits in some of Europe's biggest leagues might be forgotten?

"In sport in general, people remember moments and I was lucky to be part of one of Australian football's greatest moments. It was a memorable experience that was shared by players, fans and just about every sports follower in the country because we had not qualified for the World Cup for 32 years.

"I know what I was able to achieve in my career. When you play football you do not play for the plaudits but to win for yourself, for your teammates and for your teams so if people fail to recognise where I have played and what I have achieved that does not affect me."

From a technical point of view which was the best goal you ever scored?

"There was a goal I scored for Osasuna against Malaga in February 2005. I had my back to goal in the 18-yard box and the ball got played to my chest. I controlled it with my chest and without letting the ball hit the deck I volleyed it with my right foot - which is my weaker foot - and it flew and dipped over the goalkeeper and into the net. It was a goal you dream of and I just could not believe it. I recently found a video of the goal on the internet and it brought back a beautiful memory. The goal did not matter in the end because we got soundly beaten."

Strikers depend on service. If you had a choice who would be the playmaker you would have loved to play with?

"I had a good understanding with Josip Skoko with the Socceroos. The four goals I scored in the Confeds Cup came mostly from his vision and his ability to know when I'm making a run. I wish I could have played a lot more games with him.

"When I was younger I did not mind running into space to receive the ball but later on in my career I preferred it to feet, for obvious reasons. I also loved playing with guys who could cross the ball well into the box. For example, playing with true champions like Luis Figo would have been fantastic because he had the ability to beat a man one-on-one and his delivery was spot-on. He set up so many goals for Fernando Morientes and Raul Gonzales at Real Madrid."

Which was the ground you loved playing at and the one you found most intimidating?

"Forget its history, when you walk into the Bernabeu in Madrid and actually notice how high and steep the stands are you are instantly impressed. I played there about five times. The most intimidating ground would have to be Seville's Sanchez-Pizjuan. Every time we played there we felt the locals were out to kill us. The atmosphere was always very hostile."

The last few years of your career in Australia did not pan out as well as you would have liked, although you ended up winning the A-League with Sydney FC. What was the problem?

"I was not at my best physically because I had a nagging knee injury that caught up with me in the end. I felt I could get through it and contribute but it was difficult although in my first season with the Mariners we won the premiership and made the grand final. My second season at Sydney FC was not great but we won the premiership-championship double the following season.

"I missed the grand final due to a hamstring injury I picked up the previous weekend. I felt I had played my part in the team's success but not to the extent I wanted because my movement was restricted."

Do you feel that the media and the fans expected too much from you, being a member of the 'golden generation' and all that?

"I can understand the expectations. At the time fans thought I should have delivered more and I wish I could have. I accept that because when you play you must expect praise and criticism, particularly if you are a striker. It is something I have come to understand."

Which was your career highlight?

"Without doubt, playing in the World Cup. It was huge, easily the best experience of my career."

Finally, who are the best players you have played with and against at club and national level?

"Big striker Savo Milosevic and I combined very well at Osasuna and how could I go past Harry Kewell in the green and gold? He was unbelievable especially when he played wide. At his best he was unplayable.

"The greatest players I have played against were Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane and Barcelona's Ronaldinho, with whom I had the privilege of crossing paths at club and national level."

JOHN ALOISI FACTFILE

Club career
1991-1992: Adelaide City
1992-1993: Standard Liege
1993-1995: Antwerp
1995-1997: Cremonese
1997-1998: Portsmouth
1998-2001: Coventry City
2001-2005: Osasuna
2005-2007: Alaves
2007-2008: Central Coast Mariners
2008-2010: Sydney FC
2010-2011: Melbourne Heart

International career
1997-2008: Australia (55 matches)

Honours
Adelaide City: NSL championship 1992; Sydney FC: A-League championship 2009-2010.