Australia full-back Jason Davidson might be one of the younger and more inexperienced players in next month’s rarefied FIFA World Cup™ atmosphere. Few, however, will surpass the 22-year-old for sheer resilience and internal fortitude.
Davidson’s back-story is a classic tale of taking the hard road to success. A reserved but friendly disposition provides little evidence of Davidson’s ability to endure hardship. An unforgiving and largely isolating three-year period at a strict private high school in Tokyo toughened up the Melbourne-born youngster. It may have been a harsh experience at the time for the teenager, but the dividends are now being yielded.
After school at just 18, he moved to Portugal and spent two years at Pacos de Ferreira without the benefit of a support network. So too, his international debut a few years later would have broken a lesser character. Just three minutes into his first match in the Green and Gold he inadvertently, yet spectacularly, directed a header into his own net. Yet fast forward to the present day and Davidson is a key component of the Socceroos’ new breed under the forward-thinking Ange Postecoglou.
Courage and strength
Davidson, who now calls Dutch Eredivisie club Heracles Almelo home, is favoured to slot in at left-back when Australia take the field in Brazil. It has been a troublesome position for the Socceroos since the retirement of Scott Chipperfield in 2010, but Postecoglou was unusually fulsome in his praise after Davidson’s maiden appearance on home soil last November against Costa Rica.
“It is a difficult position for many teams in the world,” Davidson told FIFA.com. “But Ange has given us all a level of confidence. He keeps our confidence high and keeps us trying to play some pretty football.
“It (Brazil 2014) is a once in lifetime opportunity. In football you never know what is around the corner. Obviously it was always a dream and target to play in the World Cup so I’m grateful things have fallen into place.”
I speak every day to my dad even when I’m overseas. He has experienced and lived this life so it would be stupid of me not to listen and take his advice.
While his move to Portugal as a teenager was isolating, it was nothing compared to his previous experience in Tokyo. When Davidson first arrived as a 14-year-old he was forced to shave his head for being a minute late to football training. Given the rest of team had to follow suit, the youngster took a full 18 months to fit in socially. “It was hell,” Davidson recalls.
Portugal too may have been challenging but Davidson had learned the value of sticking to a mission. “As a youngster there are a lot of distractions, including off the pitch. I had to learn Portuguese and not many people spoke English. At the start it was quite difficult, but I kept pushing and pushing and maintained that Aussie spirit.”
Like father, like son
Growing up Jason benefited from some serious school yard credibility courtesy of father Alan who enjoyed a decorated international and club career. There have been a handful of father and son combinations play for Australia, but none of those involved come close to matching Alan’s glittering resume. Davidson senior was a permanent member of the Australia line-up during the 1980s playing in three World Cup campaigns at full-back, and more recently was included in the Socceroos’ all-time XI.
Jason, who says he is just old enough to have dim memories of his father playing, is very clear on his career mentors. “I’m very close to both parents,” he says. “I speak every day to my dad even when I’m overseas. He has experienced and lived this life so it would be stupid of me not to listen and take his advice. We have a plan which I’m trying to execute. To work hard and hopefully become successful.”
Davidson senior, whose mother was Japanese, turned out for Nottingham Forest in the mid 1980s, becoming one of the first Australians in the modern era to play in Europe. Yet it was Jason’s mother that initially encouraged him to play football. “My dad wanted me to go to school, because he knew how hard and lonely it can be as a footballer,” Davidson said. “But at a certain age he saw I was serious as a footballer and he coached a lot of my junior teams. We worked together almost every day.”
Somewhat unusually Davidson went through around half a dozen clubs as a junior. “My dad’s philosophy was that I should always change teams so that I never felt settled and was always challenged.”
So after so much time together do they share similar football attributes? “I think maybe I am a bit more of an attacking defender,” Davidson says before adding they share a spirited on-field nature “he drove that into me at a young age, and I think it is a good attribute to have.”