Mark Birighitti is in the ‘right mindspace’ to lead the Newcastle Jets to their first finals appearance in five years despite an off-season which included a failed European move and missing the final World Cup cut.
The 23-year-old is determined to win back the Jets number one shirt after falling out of favour for the final four A-League games of last season following a form slump.
Birighitti’s form dipped at the same time as speculation mounted about his future, after he flew to Germany in March to meet with Bayer Leverkusen officials, all but sealing a move to the club.
However, the Bundesliga switch collapsed in June, in the wake of the sacking of Leverkusen boss Sami Hyypia. The transfer breakdown happened only days after Birighitti left the Socceroos squad in Brazil after missing the final 23-man cut.
The twin disappointments might have broken a lesser man, but speaking to FourFourTwo ahead of the Jets’ Member Season Launch on Saturday, Birighitti said he was better for the experience.
“I’m feeling very positive about this season,” Birighitti said.
“Going over to the World Cup in Brazil and being picked in the All Stars to play Juventus, I’ve come out of these experiences a totally different person.
“I’m in the right mindspace at the moment.
“I don’t want to harp on it too much. The (Leverkusen) coach got sacked and that destroyed things for me, but this is football. It’s about how well you recover from these setbacks.
“If Europe comes up, it comes up. I’ve got good people looking after me, I’ve got a good agent and my family is behind me. I’m on the right path.
“Yes I want to end up in Europe one day, but I’m still young and now I’m focused on helping the Jets play finals football.”
While Birighitti’s proposed European move failed to materialise, his former Jets team-mate Josh Brillante sealed a switch to Fiorentina.
Brillante, who also missed Australia’s final World Cup cut, has since made his Serie A starting debut.
Birighitti didn’t want to be drawn into comparisons, but said he still harbours strong ambitions to play in one of Europe’s best leagues.
“Every young footballer I speak to has an ambition to play at the highest level possible,” the shot-stopper said.
“I was lucky to experience that when I went to Bayer Leverkusen. Unfortunately it didn’t end up working out, which was pretty disappointing.
“Europe is definitely in the back of the my mind but at the moment I want to take each week as it comes. I’m a Newcastle Jets player, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.”
Birighitti is likely to be one of the few constants in the Jets’ starting XI from last term, with wholesale personnel changes made by new coach Phil Stubbins during the off-season.
Brillante, along with top scorer Adam Taggart, Ruben Zadkovich, Craig Goodwin, Zenon Caravella, James Brown, Connor Chapman and Josh Mitchell have departed.
The Jets have added a rich South American attacking flavour in Marcos Flores, Jeronimo Neumann and Edson Montano. Jonny Steele and Adrian Madaschi have also arrived.
Newcastle’s recent pre-season results, which included 4-2 and 4-0 defeats to Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar respectively in last month’s Townsville Football Cup, suggest the group is still not yet cohesive.
Birighitti, though, was bullish about their chances of ending the club’s long wait to play finals football.
“One hundred per cent (we can make finals),” he said. “We’ve got a good group.
“A few results in pre-season haven’t gone our way (but) we’ve definitely got enough quality in the team to do well in this league. We’re a team other sides are going to find hard to beat.
“We’ve made a lot of signings, added a lot of class players. It’s good to see we’re gelling in training, sometimes it doesn’t gel but this is the complete opposite.”
And Birighitti put the responsibility squarely on the playing group’s shoulders for the 2014-15 season.
“It’s been four years since we made the top six,” he said.
“There’s no excuses. We’ve got all the players and all the resources we need. It’s on us, we need to perform.”
Newcastle will hold their Member Season Launch on Saturday at Magic Park in Broadmeadow from 2pm, before the Jets play Wellington Phoenix at 4pm.