A heartfelt thank you for a great career
“One by one…
Only the good die young…
They always fly too close to the sun…
And life goes on –
Queen’s posthumous dedication to the late great Freddie Mercury was a fantastic tribute. Life does indeed go on. But the good are damn hard to replace.
Another of the Golden Generation has bitten the dust, succumbing to a crippling back injury and calling time on a magnificent career. Unable to move and turn with the sharpness of yesteryear, Brett Emerton’s decision to pull up stumps sadly makes sense. So let’s celebrate a great career.
The final time we got a glimpse of his prodigious talent was the 94th minute of the home match against visiting Wellington Phoenix. With Sydney conceding a late, late equaliser, Emerton held the ball up deep in extra time, drew in two defenders and released a marauding Seb Ryall, whose cross gave Ranko Despotovic his first goal for the club and broke Kiwi hearts.
Mirroring his entire career, Emerton didn’t settle for a draw that night. From his early days as a tearaway winger for Sydney Olympic to the somewhat more measured flanker at Feyernoord, to the battle-hardened pro in the cauldron of the EPL, his game was all about attack and not settling for second best.
Beginning as a fresh-faced winger in 1998, he frustrated for the Socceroos in those early days, often finding cul-de-sacs and dead ends out on the right – smart leftbacks closed down space and his lung busting runs resulted in little end product. Nowhere was that more evident than in Montevideo in 2001. But the boy was learning fast.
Two years on he was an accomplished performer, playing a starring role in our 3-1 defeat of England at Upton Park in 2003. A regular at Blackburn and among the first on the Socceroo team sheet, he was also among the fittest players in the league – no mean feat in the English top flight.
As the year 2005 rolled around – Year Zero for some - new coach Guus Hiddink had made some tough decisions at the back, punting Kevin Muscat and dropping Stan Lazaridis to the bench.
Emerton was moved to rightback while Scott Chipperfield replaced Lazaridis on the left. There would be no Green and Gold wingers but the converted fullbacks had to attack.
It is history now that Emerton would go on to thrive in the wingback role, forcing Uruguay attackers Varela and Morales to turn and track back time and again. His contribution to that night at Homebush in November 2005 must never be underestimated.
Emerton starred at the World Cup in Germany, but it is perhaps telling that his greatest impact came by virtue of his absence. Collecting an 87th minute second yellow against Croatia, he would go on to miss the historic Round 16 match against Italy.
Would Fabio Grosso have made that run had Emerton been there to mark him? Would Emo have had the defensive smarts to perhaps bring him down outside the box? Instead, Mark Bresciano pulled out of the challenge and we all know what happened next. I believe Emo would have got it right.
He played right through the next World Cup campaign, scoring in the qualifiers and playing in all three matches in South Africa. At club level, he remained rock-solid for Blackburn and by this stage was a firm fan favourite at Ewood Park.
Emerton’s physical decline coincided with the rise and rise of Robbie Kruse and by 2012 he was no longer indispensable for the National Team. He was still involved in the set up but by was that stage past his prime. By 2013 he was deemed surplus to Socceroo requirements but was still called upon to captain an inexperienced Australian side at the EAFF East Asian Cup.
Emerton’s return to Australia in 2011 took place with little fanfare, somewhat overshadowed by the Harry Kewell media circus. His signing did get people talking but Emerton never sought the limelight into which he was now thrust.
Not many knew that to play in that magnificent season opener at Etihad in October 2011, the star signing would drag himself off the sick bed to play eighty-three minutes in his Sydney debut with flu and running a fever. At season’s end the fans found out that he had carried an ankle injury throughout the campaign, typically keeping it quiet before going under the knife in April.
His final eighteen months as a football professional were a struggle as his ageing body placed limits on what he could do, but his commitment to training and in matches could never be questioned, still giving 100% of his, now reduced, physical capability.
It is a sad indictment on human nature that a section of the public is incapable of grasping the obvious when it comes to ageing players – no matter the size of the player’s name and salary, a big name Socceroo returning home to end his career in the A-League will never be the player he was in his prime.
We will still see the player’s quality at times but his inevitable physical decline will reduce the number of those moments that the fans will get to see. And these moments will happen at a slower pace.
Ours not a league that can attract the best Socceroos in their prime, so we have to make do with a final glimpse of our greats instead.
Kewell, Zelic, Okon, Moore, Bosnich, Tiatto, Tony and Aurelio Vidmar, Aloisi, Skoko and Neill were no longer at their best by the time they had graced the A-League with their presence.
But is the league richer for their return?
Brett Emerton was content to go about his footballing business while Kewell, Cahill and Del Piero basked in the limelight to his relief. He became a Socceroo legend off the back of his achievements rather than by “building a media profile”.
A humble man and a throwback to an era when athletes competed hard but fairly, shook hands and went home to their families, Emerton never courted publicity or appeared in the social pages. Cast in the mould of fine Australian sportsmen and women who let their deeds to the talking – Landy, Gould, Rosewall, Goolagong, Freeman, Rafter, Geale – Emerton embodied the qualities we love to see in our Aussie champions.
Humility. Courage. Sportsmanship. No airs and graces and a touch of modesty. And a total dedication to one’s craft without losing sight of the big picture.
Brett Emerton, you were a massive part of the greatest Socceroo team of all time. You may have been happy to leave the limelight to others but I, for one, can’t let you go without this tribute.
Thank you for a magnificent career.
Australia salutes you.