The fairytale that is Western Sydney Wanderers’ coronation as Asian champions barely two years since the club first kicked a ball in anger has quickly become one of the football tales of 2014. And while the club’s unlikely feat has grabbed the headlines, Wanderers’ unassuming defender Matt Spiranovic has achieved his own personal fairytale.
A little over a year ago Spiranovic was recovering from a run of injuries away from the spotlight at Qatar’s Al Arabi. The career of one of the long-touted great prospects of Australian football seemed to be foundering on the rocks. However, fast forward to the present day and Spiranovic’s recent achievements read like a scarcely-believable Boy’s Own fable.
Within the space of six months the tall, technically-gifted central defender has played at the FIFA World Cup™, won the AFC Champions League and is now poised to feature at the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014. To top it off, January offers a unique opportunity to play in a continental championship on home soil, when the AFC Asian Cup is hosted Down Under.
“I look back on the past 12 months as a great journey,” Spiranovic tells FIFA.com. “Not only for myself, but for the Wanderers.” Spiranovic turned in three impressive appearances for Australia at Brazil 2014, and now a meeting with Mexico’s Cruz Azul awaits in Morocco next month, with a match-up against Real Madrid the rich prize lying in store for the victor.
I look back on the past 12 months as a great journey.
Spiranovic has perhaps more reason than most to cherish success. A run of injuries has hindered a career that began in earnest with a move to Nurnberg in 2007 as a raw but talented 17-year-old, and included a stint at J.League powerhouse Urawa Red Diamonds before the move to Qatar. However, partly due to a nagging ankle injury, Spiranovic’s career stagnated in Qatar with first-team appearances infrequent, while 2013 was the only calendar year in which he failed to enjoy a Socceroo call-up since debuting in 2008.
Something had to change. That circuit-breaker came with a move to the Wanderers just over 12 months ago. With the club barely a year old, it was a leap of faith for Spiranovic.
“Having spoken to (Wanderers coach) Tony Popovic and knowing his goals and ambitions, I felt the move could give me a fresh start,” Spiranovic said. “The motivation had never been higher for me, as I knew what it would mean to go to a World Cup.
“I wanted to get myself back to regular football and good football. I knew if I could do that I would give myself a good chance of playing at the World Cup.”
Spiranovic grew up in Geelong, a sleepy Victorian city a stone’s throw from some of Australia’s famed surf spots. It was, however, the round ball that was Spiranovic’s constant childhood companion. Indeed, football is very much part of the family DNA, and younger sister Laura played in Australia’s W-League. “Coming from a Croatian background I was always surrounded by football through my uncles and father,” Spiranovic said. “I guess it was inevitable I would be kicking a football around from a young age.”
The journey from Geelong to Morocco is just part of Spiranovic’s odyssey. At just 26 there is undoubtedly plenty more of his narrative yet to be written. And having endured the hardships that professional football can sometimes offer, Spiranovic is eager to make the most of every occasion, including next month in Morocco. “A fantastic opportunity awaits us in Morocco,” he says. “It is reward for all the work we have put in, to face some of the best clubs in the world.
“It would be fantastic to play Real Madrid, but first we have to focus on the first game. There are plenty in the squad that are definitely fans of Real Madrid. If we were able to step into the same pitch as Real Madrid it would be a dream come true for a lot of the boys.”