Three years ago Tarek Elrich came close to pledging his future to Lebanon, now he’s on the verge of representing Australia against the world champions.
The in-form 28-year-old Adelaide United man was a surprise selection in Ange Postecoglou’s squad to take on Germany and FYR Macedonia in friendlies later this month.
Elrich admits the phone call came as a complete shock to him, as he washed his car on Monday afternoon with housemate Cameron Watson.
In fact, given 18 months ago Elrich was clubless after a disappointing spell at Western Sydney Wanderers, the full-back’s roller-coaster of a career has taken a positive turn in recent times.
“If you asked me a year and a half ago, 'would you like to play for the national team?' I would’ve just been happy to play for a team in the A-League,” Elrich told FourFourTwo.
“To be rewarded with the call to represent my country has made me over the moon.
“It’s great news. I’m still trying to get over it to be honest.”
Postecoglou said he was impressed with Elrich’s form, highlighting his versatility in a number of defensive positions but also his ability to get forward.
With Australia’s right-back depth limited and incumbent Ivan Franjic still not back playing for Torpedo Moscow after a hip injury, Elrich could remarkably be next in line to face Germany.
However, three years ago he might have been lost to the Socceroos, exploring a possible career with the country of his parents’ birth, Lebanon.
Back then, Elrich had all but given up on a Socceroos career - having been left on the bench in an Asian Cup qualifier in January 2009 - while he was off contract at Newcastle Jets in 2012. He was at a crossroads.
“I was on the outer with Newcastle and I didn’t have much interest in me from other clubs, so I was thinking what am I going to do,” Elrich recalled.
“I spoke to a few people who were trying to help me out and we tried to explore the avenue of getting some international exposure with the Lebanon national team.
“They were always after me. I accepted the invitation to go over there and see how things were run. But they weren’t run too well.
“I was meant to train with them for eight to 10 sessions in two weeks.
“I ended up only playing one non-official friendly game and then after that left.”
Elrich cited the lack of professionalism in Lebanon as a major factor in his decision not to pursue a career with their national team.
He recalled arriving late to his first day at Lebanon training because his driver had forgotten to pick him up.
“I spoke to Mum and Dad and said 'I don’t think this is right, I don’t feel like I’m doing the right thing',” Elrich said.
“It’s my background, it’s where my parents were born and raised, so I’ve got a lot of respect for that, but it wasn’t right.”
Elrich returned to Australia where he earned a contract with Western Sydney which didn’t work out.
He would get another opportunity when his former Newcastle team-mate and current Adelaide youth team coach Angelo Costanzo recommended him to Reds assistant Mike Valkanis and then-football director Michael Petrillo, who had been charged with finding an Australian right-back.
“They took the punt,” an ever-grateful Elrich said.
“Josep (Gombau) told Valkanis it would be on his neck if it was a failure, but credit to Josep he told Valkanis and Petrillo it was a great decision.”
Bouncing back at Adelaide after a difficult period with hometown club Western Sydney, where he was released after only one season, also provided Elrich with plenty of satisfaction.
“The way things had gone with my previous club and some of the things people were saying about me, this is good reward,” Elrich said.