Bert’s Battlers: Rejects driving Socceroos’ Cup dream

FOR anyone seeking inspiration in life after being told "you're not good enough", look no further than this rag-tag bunch of Socceroos.

If a team was made up of players who have been rejected, Socceroos - by virtue of fewer professional clubs than most countries and ad hoc recruiting - would dominate.

Australia's team of rejects: the battlers powering our World Cup bid. Main pic: Andrew Nabbout. Top: Tom Rogic, Middle: Aziz Behich. Bottom: James Meredith.
Australia's team of rejects: the battlers powering our World Cup bid. Main pic: Andrew Nabbout. Top: Tom Rogic, Middle: Aziz Behich. Bottom: James Meredith.

Andrew Nabbout, Aziz Behich, Mile Jedinak, Tom Rogic, Tim Cahill, Massimo Luongo, Jackson Irvine, Mathew Leckie and James Meredith headline the unfancied Aussies who've landed on the grandest of global stages after being snubbed.

The cynics will be among the 200 million global TV audience as the Socceroos take on star-studded France in front of 45,000 at Kazan Arena on Saturday night.

Turkey-based Aziz Behich will start at left-back and could be the direct opponent of Kylian Mbappe, the world's second most expensive player.

Yet eight years ago Behich was axed by Melbourne Victory after missing a grand final sitter, conceding he may be a state league player now if Melbourne City (then Heart) didn't join the A-League, signing him after a trial.

"It's actually a good question because before Heart came in I was in the VPL (now NPL) back then,'' Behich said.

"I did hit rock bottom because I was binned by Victory. If I let that get to me then, I probably wouldn't be here today as a professional footballer, let alone the Socceroos.

Aziz Behich (L) hit rock bottom early in his career. Now preparing for a World Cup. Picture: Toby Zerna
Aziz Behich (L) hit rock bottom early in his career. Now preparing for a World Cup. Picture: Toby Zerna

"It was a rough period, getting binned and having to take a step back. Melbourne Heart, City now, will always be special. I don't think any other A-League club would've looked at me at the time.

"There's probably a lot of Aziz Behich's in the (state leagues).

"Careers can be based on split second decisions. One coach sees something in you, there's your chance. If not, you have to move on. Mile (Jedinak) is the prime example."

Nabbout was rejected - not once or twice, but four times. Green Gully Under 14s, Melbourne Victory, Central Coast trial. Then, Malaysia second division.

"I've been knocked back a fair few times, especially in my pro career,'' Nabbout said.

Andrew Nabbout has felt the axe more times than he wants to remember.
Andrew Nabbout has felt the axe more times than he wants to remember.

"The hardest one was Malaysia, because I was doing well and I knew I shouldn't have been sacked. That stung. Victory I had a feeling throughout the year because I wasn't playing. It's a business.

"When I was 11 or 12 at Green Gully I was told I wasn't good enough, not fit enough. It was hard to take, especially at that age. I lost a lot of weight going into Keilor Park to play in the Super League.

"But the rejections are what's got me here. I haven't had an easy ride, but no-one has really."

Elsewhere, Cahill, Luongo, Irvine and Meredith were all forced to bypass Australia's domestic competition and trial in the UK. They all eventually made it.

Jedinak and Leckie were deemed not good enough to sign for their hometown teams in Sydney and Melbourne in the early years of the A-League, before finally given chances with Central Coast and Adelaide United respectively.



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