FFT's 20 Under-20: The Aussie with Champions League experience already
While 2016 may be described as Alex Gersbach’s breakthrough season, the next 12 months will be more about breaking in – to both his club and his country’s first team.
If the rising star can do that, 2017 has the potential to be an even bigger year for the teenaged Australian.
To win the Championship in my first season in Norway was something I’ll take with me for the rest of my career
In his debut season in Europe, 19-year-old Gersbach featured in 23 games for a Rosenborg side that conquered the Norwegian League and won the domestic Cup.
When it came to the national team, Gersbach also earned his first cap for the Socceroos in a friendly series against Greece back in June.
It wasn’t all highs as the beginning of the year started off disappointingly for the young defender, with Australia's under-23 team failing to qualify for Rio 2016, dashing his dream of competing at the Olympics.
That disappointment was short-lived, however, as upon his return to Australia, Gersbach made the move from A-League side Sydney FC to Norwegian Champions Rosenberg in the January transfer window.
On March 19, 2016 Gersbach broke into the starting line-up and made his professional European debut for the Scandinavian giants in a 1-0 home win against Strømsgodset IF.
Some Aussies who make the move overseas struggle to break into the first team, but Gersbach found his first season abroad to be a rewarding experience.
“It’s tough as an 18-year-old dropping everything and moving to Europe to play football," he reflected.
“The first year was good. I got a lot of game time and I worked my way into the team and obviously I got some success along the way as well which was very special.”
Looking back on his previous 12 months, Gersbach identified the title-clinching moment as a career highlight.
“To play that game against Molde in their city and to officially win the league there was pretty exciting,” he said.
“We were down 1-0 and we came back and scored three goals in the second half and that was a real celebration and a great way to mathematically secure us the league.
“Then at our last home game of the season we were presented with the trophy so that was also pretty special. To win the Championship in my first season in Norway was something I’ll take with me for the rest of my career.”
After being involved in a number of Socceroos camps, Gersbach earned his first national cap in June during two friendly games against Greece.
In his 10-minute cameo, the teenager delivered a perfect corner to Tim Cahill who headed it home, but the goal was disallowed.
Unperturbed, he soon set-up Mathew Leckie for the match-winning strike.
To make my (Socceroos) debut in my home city of Sydney in front of my family and friends was really special
As national team bows go it was almost perfect.
“It was a good feeling to get the assist,” he said. “My Socceroos debut was an amazing feeling and an amazing moment.
“To make my debut in my home city of Sydney against Greece – of course with my grandparents and my mother being Greek and playing in front of my family and friends in Sydney – it was really special. I’ll always remember it.”
Gersbach then headed back to Norway where he got a taste of European Champions League football. The Norwegians were in the third round of qualifying for a potential spot in the group stage, but tragedy struck.
“Against Apoel in Cyprus we were moments away from making it into the Champions League playoff, but they scored three goals in injury time and sent us out of the Champions League” he said.
“That was the low point and not qualifying for the Europa League after that was a real disappointment.”
Looking ahead to 2017, Gersbach says his second season in Europe is all about performing on a consistent basis.
I’ve only got two caps in those friendlies. I just have to play well with my club and prove that I’m good enough for the Socceroos
“Hopefully I’ll cement my spot early,” he said. “I need to improve upon my performances and prove that I am worthy of a starting spot.
"I want to be playing regularly week in week out and not only doing that but playing well. That is my main goal.”
Regular game time will no doubt put Gersbach in the frame for national team selection once more.
The schedule over the next 12 months is one of the busiest on record for Australia and there will be no lack of motivation to fight for a spot in Ange Postecoglou’s first 11.
“2017 is massive,” he said. “It’s really big year for the Socceroos, we’ve got the World Cup qualifiers and we are halfway through the group now. We have games at home and we’ll have the fans behind us and hopefully we can make it to Russia 2018.
“There is also the Confederations Cup in the middle of year in Russia. I’ve been with the national team now for a year but I’ve only got two caps in those friendlies.
“I just have to play well with my club and prove that I’m good enough for the Socceroos.”