Former Premier League star Michael Bridges is enjoying a new lease of life in the A-League having been named the first international captain of the Newcastle Jets. Bridges was a key figure in the short-lived blazing star that was the young and dynamic Leeds United team of early this century. The team finished in the upper echelons of the Premier League on several occasions and also reached the semi-finals of both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup.
The Yorkshire club had a host of Australian players in their ranks at the time, most notably Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, and now Bridges is experiencing a new Australian connection in the latter stages of his career.
Numerous injury problems contributed to a largely disrupted career with the athletically built striker featuring for a host of clubs in his native land. After spending a loan spell with Sydney FC in 2007, the former England youth international returned to Australia last year linking up with the city named after his home-town in England. It proved such a successful transition that Bridges is now looking to build a new football career and life in Australia as he tells FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: How have you settled in your new home in Newcastle?
Michael Bridges: I have settled really well. I think the more settled you are the better you perform on the park. The more you settle into an area and enjoy it the more you embrace it. I have really enjoyed it and am looking forward to a successful season.
Does Newcastle in Australia remind you of Newcastle back in England in any way?
It certainly does with some of the names at least: Dudley, Hexham, Jesmond to name just a few. When I arrived I was thinking ‘have I got off at the wrong stop!’ Though when I did a tour of the city there is nothing in comparison to back home with beaches, people surfing, amazing golf courses, yet still it felt like home.
Is this your first stint captaining a team?
I captained Carlisle United once before when our main captain was out through injury. But it is a great honour. I have the experience and I think that was one of the key factors in the decision with also Ljubo Milicevic involved as well as vice-captain.
The country needs experience, but also youth to fly the Socceroos flag in the future.
You first played in the A-League three years ago. Do you feel there is any on-field change in that time?
On the field I have noticed that teams are a lot tougher overall. There are a lot of players coming in that really want to make an impression. It is good because the more players that come with ambition the stronger the league gets. There is also more teams in the league which is a great thing. There is a fantastic youth policy now in some areas, and that is what you need. The country needs experience, but also youth to fly the Socceroos flag in the future.
You played alongside quite a few Australian players in your time at Leeds United. What was that period like for you?
We had great times. There was myself Harry Kewell, Jacob Burns, Mark Viduka, Danny Milosevic the goalkeeper, we had Paul Okon. We had a very, very close knit family at Leeds United, hence the success on and off the field. Harry was a big factor in me coming to the Jets. He followed up to see if I could come to the Jets last season and the rest is history.
Are there any one or two particular highlights that stand out from your time at Leeds?
Both the semi-finals in the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. To actually be part of the team when we beat Liverpool 4-3 at Elland Road with Mark Viduka scoring all four goals, that stands out in my mind. Personally, it would be the hat-trick against Southampton not long after my big transfer.
Do you have any plans after this season?
I have a two year contract with the Jets. Obviously we want to go as far as we can this season. It would be the biggest honour to lift the trophy. I have a two year contract and after that we will see what happens. I would love to stay at the Jets. If not I am planning to settle here and do some coaching or something in the community.
Finally, were you loyalties divided during South Africa 2010 being an Englishmen in Australia?
To be honest after Australia’s first game against Germany I was giving the boys at the club a lot of stick. Then Germany came up against England and destroyed us! Needless to say when I arrived in the dressing room there was a lot of banter. England didn’t perform and it was a bit embarrassing to be over when that happened, but really I was supporting both teams.