In the era of celebrity footballers, Bresciano is Australia's quiet hero. The veteran shuns the limelight and never watches replays of his own games. On the eve of the Asian Cup triumph, and his recent international retirement, the Green and Gold legend sat down with Australian FourFourTwo for a rare interview.
The goal celebration says it all… no knee skidding bare-chested hoonery or thumbing the name on the back of the shirt. No mouth-gaping, fist-pumping sprint towards the away end to suck-in the swell of aggro cascading from the rival stands.
This is Spartacus, Mark Bresciano style – clenched fists, rod-straight back, chin raised – the steely glare towards the home bench. Unmoving, composed, imperious – until that moment when he is upended by delirious teammates and dumped on the turf.
In a game steeped in look-at-me celebrity, the Australian has forged a unique place through the sheer force of his skill and longevity: three consecutive World Cups, a stellar Serie A career and now a second Asian Cup campaign.
Yet, on the eve of November’s 2-1 friendly loss to Japan in Osaka the midfield general, 35 this month, is feeling more energised than weary. When he says he has a few more good years left in his legs, few would quibble.
Of his Germany 2006 contemporaries only two others have eluded the march of time or the axe of regeneration wielded by Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou: Australia’s all-time greatest goal scorer Tim Cahill and Melbourne Victory skipper Mark Milligan. The trio are the final link to the Golden Generation assembled by Dutch tactician Guus Hiddink.
The dressing room is a vastly different beast these days since the former Serie A star made his Socceroos debut off the bench in 2001 during a shock 1-0 win against reigning World and European Cup champions, France.
“A lot of faces have changed,” the Al-Gharafa midfielder tells FourFourTwo. “It’s a brand new side. After being part of it for so long and seeing all different players now come in, I feel like the new one in the team.”
There are mixed emotions over the whirlwind sweeping through the Socceroos, but the overwhelming impression is positive.
“A lot of the (new Socceroos) played in the national youth teams together or at club level so they know each other,” he says.
“It’s good. It’s brought back that buzz again to the team, which we needed, and the hope that this new generation can be as successful. I’m just proud to be part of the team for so long, that’s the highlight of my career, to be able to serve my country for as long as I have.”
Postecoglou, so unrepentant in jettisoning the old to make way for the new, seems in no hurry to bring the curtain down on Bresciano’s international career.
The set piece specialist took an extended break from the national team after the 2010 World Cup but was back in the mix for last year’s global showpiece in Brazil.
In the run-up to the tournament though, he was slapped with a four month ban for club transfer irregularities. It could have been the death knell for Bresciano’s third World Cup bid but the Aussie coach stood by his player.
“When I first got the news, it was the first thing I was worried about because obviously it was the lead up months to the World Cup,” says Bresciano. “I thought all my dreams could be shattered because of some incident I wasn’t even really involved in.
“But speaking to the coach, from day one he just supported me and told me that as long as I get back after my suspension playing, he’ll consider me for the team.
“Hearing that from the head coach put me a little bit more at ease. Those four months went quicker than I expected. I had the support also from the whole national team.”
Prior to the final squad announcement Bresciano was still recovering from a back problem and again Postecoglou held his nerve. As fit veteran defender Luke Wilkshire and other players were sent packing from Vitoria, Bresciano remained, sitting out days of training as he was eased back to fitness.
“If I’ve taken one punt it’s with Bresh,” an unapologetic Postecoglou told the media. “He is a punt worth taking.”
Never was a punt such a sure bet. In the timeline of Socceroo great escapes and unlikely triumphs the name Bresciano looms large. His delightfully lofted ball to striker Josh Kennedy provided the key moment that sealed Australia’s flight to Brazil and a third straight World Cup.
In a World Cup qualifier for South Africa 2010, an improbable stoppage time winner against Bahrain spared Aussie blushes.
And in 2005 he levelled the two-legged play-off with Uruguay at 1-1, sending the Socceroos into a penalty shoot-out that ended 32 years in the World Cup wilderness… creating, in the process, one of Australia’s greatest sporting moments.
In the legend of that night the names John Aloisi – who scored the winning penalty – and Mark Schwarzer – who made two vital saves – ring out loudest.
But lifelong friend and former Socceroo midfield enforcer, Vince Grella, sees the historic night in front of 82,000 fans at Olympic Stadium in terms of Bresciano’s heroic 34th minute strike.
“He played under pain killing injections and sacrificed probably two or three months after that goal being out on the sidelines because he was prepared to put his body on the line for the country,” Grella says.
“I think sometimes people like to jump onto cliches about players and their privileges and sometimes the amount of money that they make.
“They quickly forget what some of the players have done, especially in that era, when they were playing at such a high level.
“For them to keep coming back and forwards for the national team was in no way going to give them any advantages apart from put our country on the map.”
Bresciano may not be prolific – 13 goals in 81 national team appearances – but his strikes are rarely less than audacious. The legs may not be as fast but the architect’s mind, the close ball skills, are still sharp.
Retired Socceroo Mile Sterjovski remembers an October night in 2006 at Allianz Stadium when “Bresh” scored one of the national team’s all-time greatest goals in the Asian Cup qualifier against an under-strength Bahrain.
“That game actually sticks in my mind,” Sterjovski says. “(Scott) Chipperfield hit a long ball to me and then I hit it across first time to Bresh and he scored with this spectacular scissor.”
Sterjovski, a fellow graduate of the Australian Institute of Sport, believes Bresciano has earned more credit than he’s been given.
“He probably deserves a lot more recognition. There’s a few people that like the media a lot more and put themselves out there a lot more – but Bresh is a very quiet guy, you know.
“Even in camps he wasn’t very outspoken but you know he deserves a lot of recognition for what he’s done for the game in Australia.
“He’s inspired a lot of young players coming through and he’s continuing to do that as well. I’m sure he’s a great mentor to the players in the current Socceroos squad.
“To me he’s an ultimate professional. He takes the game seriously. He really looks after himself and he’s always been that way.
“Ever since I can remember he’s always had a good attitude toward football and being a professional and I think that’s why he’s played at such a high level for such a long time.”
For the most part Bresciano has left the commentary to others: “I haven’t ever re-watched any of my games.
He was two-footed, skilful and causing problems for the opposition in every game
“When you come to think about it - even scoring goals for the national team - you’ve sort of got to switch off. You go back to your club and you just focus on every-week football and your games at your club.
“Probably at the end of my career, when I have time to myself I’ll watch the games.”
Two goals still stick in his mind, not for their importance, but the sheer exhilaration of their execution: the scissor-kick against Bahrain and an unstoppable volley from outside the box in a 3-1 humbling by Scotland in 2012.
“I’ve caught some of those goals on TV highlights,” he says. “You might look back and think – ‘Geez that wasn’t bad!’ or ‘Look at that technique!’ or something like that – then you move on.”
No one is surprised by Bresciano’s longevity, least of all former AIS assistant coach Steve O’Connor who spied the mullet-haired teenager at the national schoolboys’ championships in Geelong almost two decades ago.
“We were trying to identify players to come into the AIS program and Bresh was playing,” O’Connor recalls of the player from Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs.
“No one really knew much about him. He played under the radar a little bit at the time. It was certainly the first time I’d seen him and you could tell immediately he had potential.
“He was two-footed, skilful and causing problems for the opposition in every game he played - attributes, I guess I was looking for in an AIS player.
“He had good engines and worked hard throughout the tournament. Certainly he stood out, even then.”
The young Bresciano began to make a name for himself, touring the UK in 1996 with the Australian Schoolboys squad and scoring five goals in an unsuccessful U17 World Cup qualifying campaign the following year.
At the AIS, O’Connor remembers a quiet diligent lad who was “easy to look after” – someone who even as a youngster had set the bar high.
“Once I saw the level he was at I knew there was a good chance he’d go and play overseas,” O’Connor says. “It became clear after three or four months this was a good one.”
At the age of 19 Bresciano fulfilled a childhood dream, joining Grella in the Serie B. Both of Italian heritage, they met through opposing rep sides, journeyed through the AIS together, then Carlton in the NSL before reuniting at Empoli.
It was the start of a 12-year career in Italy that took him to the Italian topflight with Parma (where he again played alongside Grella), Palermo and Lazio.
Scoring 10 goals in his third year at Empoli to help the club win promotion to the Serie A remains a highlight.
“As a kid my biggest dream was always to play football in the Serie A,” he says. “Honestly, though, I never thought I would go as far as I did.
“Growing up I would be woken early in the morning to watch the Serie A and when I finally made it I wanted to make my mark.
“If I was going to play in the Serie A I wanted to become the most successful Australian footballer to ever play in the Serie A.”
Looking back now it seems surprising how close he came to throwing it all in.
“I was very close to packing my bags in that first year at Empoli,” he says. “I just wasn’t enjoying it as much as I thought. That was the toughest time in my career.
“I think it’s tough for any player to go to a new country. It’s a new style of football, you find yourself probably not playing as often as you would like. So ideas come to your head and you think to yourself ‘am I wasting my time, should I go back home?’
“But obviously playing with Vince Grella helped. Having a teammate and best friend when you are over the other side of the world – I think that helped me more than it helped Vince.”
Bresciano stuck it out and in 2002 was signed by Parma for a then-record €7 million transfer fee for an Australian player.
The following season, despite a series of injuries he helped Parma to a UEFA Cup place. A year later he continued his upward trajectory, scoring eight goals from 33 appearances, more than any other Serie A midfielder.
A four-year contract with Palermo followed the 2006 World Cup but a riot in the Sicilian derby against Catania in February 2007 was a tipping point.
On the pitch and overcome by teargas as violence erupted around him, it was the “most terrifying” moment of his life.
“It was a pretty bad – there was a policeman that died during that game in the riots,” he said.
“That put me off Italian football in general, and that’s when I decided I wanted a change, I wanted to experience new things.”
He began looking for a new challenge and captured the interest of English Premier League club Manchester City, led by Sven- Goran Eriksson.
The clubs settled on a £5 million transfer fee. But just days after he started training with City the deal broke down and the Aussie found himself back in Italy.
“I’m a strong believer in God so I think it was all fate – it just wasn’t meant to be,” Bresciano says. “I was there for 10 days and it was basically a done deal after I signed my personal contract but things fell through.
“But, you know, I’ve never sat down and wondered what could have happened. I’ve just gone along with my life and career and never really looked back.
“I just saw that as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. In saying that I have a lot of ambition – I still am ambitious. And I think that’s very important for anyone who wants to be successful.
“You’ve still got to have all those characteristics that can get you to the top.”
In July 2010 Bresciano signed for Lazio but the itch to try something different remained and the following year he headed to the Middle East, putting pen to paper first for UAE Pro-League side Al- Nasr before transferring to Qatar-based Al-Gharafa in 2012.
He is the best to ever play for Australia or to come out of the country
The father of two adds: “I loved my time in Italy, I really enjoyed it, and every opportunity I get I want to go back to Italy for holidays and catch up with friends there.
“But I wanted a change, also for my family, and we thought ‘why don’t we try the Middle East?’ – mainly for the reason of experiencing a different culture and also to look at extending my career.
“So far, so good. My kids and wife really enjoy it. And I just think personally for me as a footballer, I think I made the right decision at the right time.
“It came at a point in my career where I needed a change and having that change I think has done me well – I think I can play a lot more years in the Middle East.”
More recently he has been linked with the A-League, in particular Manchester City owned outfit Melbourne City, but he is reluctant to fan the flames.
“I think at the moment it’s just talk,” Bresciano says. “I could consider it but that’s a decision to make with my family. I’ve dragged them around the whole world and they’ve been so supportive. I think I’ve come to a point in my career where I will ask them what’s the best thing for us to do as a family.”
January’s Asian Cup on home soil might seem the perfect point to end a celebrated international career but Bresciano admits he’s given little thought to retirement.
“Honestly I can’t answer that question,” he says when quizzed about life after football.
“I don’ even know. I’m focused to try and do as well as I can in this Asian Cup and I think after the tournament I’ll have to speak to the coaching staff and see what intentions they have for me.
“I feel like I can still play a couple more years. Physically I still feel in shape and mentally I’m not ready to retire.”
Whatever the future holds eventually, he says, they will resettle in Melbourne.
“Even after football, I think it will probably still be about football. I haven’t decided in what capacity but I’ve lived my life from a very young age focused on the game and I think I can say I’ve got a little bit of knowledge to give back.”
In 2012, more than 15,000 public votes and a panel of past and present players, administrators and media locked in the nation’s best XI Socceroos of all time.
Among Bresciano’s contemporaries to join Harry Kewell (named Australia’s greatest ever footballer) in the line-up were Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, Craig Moore, Mark Viduka and Tim Cahill.
There was no room for Bresh. But ask Grella – now settled in Italy – where his mate stands in the pantheon of Aussie greats and there is no doubt in his mind.
“You’re asking the wrong person because I obviously have a bit of a bias towards Mark,” he says. “I try to be as objective as possible and normally I get pulled up on my comments.
“I actually think he is the best to ever play for Australia or to come out of the country. But when it comes from me I think it doesn’t have the right value that it actually should have. Everybody knows how close we are.
“But being objective and looking at the career that he had and what he’s done for the country and what he’s still doing…”
He trails off before adding he’s hard pressed to name any Aussie player, past or present, as compelling as Bresh in full-flight.
“And if you ask most of the junior players inside the team who they would like to have on their shoulder I have no doubt that out of 10 players, nine and a half of them would say Mark Bresciano,” he adds.
“There’s no doubt about that.”