Sasa Ognenovski’s 2014 World Cup stocks may have risen since his switch to Sydney FC but he has defended his time in Qatar insisting it was an invaluable experience where he faced the likes of Raul and Djibril Cisse.
The 34-year-old World Cup hopeful inked a one-year contract extension with Sydney this week, having joined the Sky Blues in February after spending 18 months in Qatar with Umm Salal.
His time in Qatar was cut short after the turn of the year upon the arrival of Turkish boss Bulent Uygun who wanted to shake up the squad.
The Melbourne-born defender had planned on returning to Australia at season’s end anyway, allowing the two parties to reach an amicable early settlement.
Ognenovski hasn’t played for Australia since September’s 6-0 thrashing against Brazil. There was a perception at the time that the standard of Qatari club football led to Ognenovski's inability to handle the Brazilian attackers in Brasilia leading to the defender being overlooked by Ange Postecoglou in his two friendly squads.
His return home has appeared to revive his World Cup aspirations, but Ognenovski told FourFourTwo he looked back on his time in Qatar positively.
“You’re coming up against players like Raul, Djibril Cisse, Nene, Dagano week-in week-out. There’s plenty of quality,” Ognenovski reflected.
“The standard in Qatar is quite good especially in a defensive role, because all the Qatari teams have foreigners up front, mostly fresh out of Europe, the French Ligue 1 or Spain.
“They get the big names there because they can pay them. For me, every game was a good test because I was coming face to face with decent players. I look back on my experience positively.”
Ognenovski revealed the typical behaviour of Qatari clubs was to “chop and change” their foreigners with regularity.
He said the fact he’d lasted 18 months under four different coaches and earned a contract extension after initially signing a one-year deal showed he had performed, but eventually reached a settlement with Umm Salal after falling out of favour under Uygun.
“Over there, the four foreigners in the team are called the professionals. When the team wins, all the team plays well, but when the team loses, it’s the professionals’ fault,” he said.
“You’ve got to wrap your head around that. It’s a pretty big challenge because they do expect a lot from their foreigners.
“You come in, if you don’t do the job, they move you on pretty quickly. They can afford to pay you out and they move on to the next players.”
Ognenovski arrived at Sydney FC amid turmoil, with talk of player unrest after Nick Carle and Matt Thompson were banished to train with the youth squad by coach Frank Farina following a poor run of results.
The club’s fortunes have improved since the 2010 AFC Player of the Year’s debut, with the Sky Blues claiming 10 points during his six games in sky blue to boost their finals hopes.
Ognenovski’s impact has also boosted his own World Cup aspirations under the watchful eye of Postecoglou.
“I played in 90 per cent of the qualifiers to get the team to the World Cup and hopefully that stands for something,” Ognenovski said.
“But if my form isn’t good enough or my fitness isn’t good enough, then I don’t deserve to be in the team. But in saying that, if my form holds up, I’m hopeful I’ll be in the team.”
Reflecting on his own form, Ognenovski admitted providing defensive cohesion for Sydney was a lure to joining the club and felt he’d made a good impact.
“Defensively we’re not as leaky as in the past,” he said.
“I try to keep everyone close together and in some sort of structure so we’re harder to break down. The players are doing their job which helps.”comments