In the modern international game, finding a suitable candidate for the left full-back role can prove challenging. For Australia, it is a task that has been particularly demanding. For the best part of a decade, the Socceroos have tried a variety of options - dating back to 2006 FIFA World Cup™ star Scott Chipperfield - without ever fully settling on a player perfectly suited to the position. There were stints for the likes of David Carney and Matt McKay, but they - as was Chipperfield - were all converts to the role. However, the days of stop-gap measures seems to have finally passed with the successful introduction of a tailor-made left-footed full-back in Brad Smith.
The 22-year-old has accrued nine caps since debuting in 2014, and is now the incumbent as Australia head into the third and final stage of Asian 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying. The Socceroos will tackle Iraq in Perth on Thursday, and United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi five days later, before further outings against Japan, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. The ultimate goal is qualification for the World Cup – a feat the Socceroos are aiming to achieve for the fourth successive time.
Smith will, of course, hope to don the Green and Gold on that unique stage in two year’s time, but his journey could have been very different. Though born in Sydney, Smith, who has English parents, represented England at youth level. Even his arrival in England had a dose of chance about it, after being spotted playing for a local Australian representative team while touring the United Kingdom. He subsequently signed for Liverpool and Smith was soon on his way.
“Doing those kind of tours and playing against the big teams, you never know what can happen,” Smith told FIFA.com with no little understatement. And he is now engaged to be married to his Liverpool-born high school sweetheart. The serendipitous nature of that initial move to England continues to resonate.
Smith, like so many of his national team predecessors, was once playing much further up the field. He went to Liverpool as a striker and moved to left back in the Liverpool academy team, where he now has five years experience in the role.
Highly mobile and athletic, Smith is very much the archetypal modern full-back. He is capable of supporting the attack while covering his defensive duties, and that role very much complements the attacking ethos of Socceroos’ coach Ange Postecoglou.“It is quite similar to my club role,” said Smith of his position in the Australian team. “I have license to go forward and join the attack. It is a good position for me and I’m enjoying it.
“Liverpool and the Socceroos actually play very similar,” said Smith earlier in the year. “They like to press very hard and the tempo is always fast. That’s how the manager is at the club and then I come into the Socceroos and the manager is the same, so it’s easy for me to fit in.”
Smith recently made the move to England’s south coast to join fellow Premier League side Bournemouth, though he could yet return to Anfield due to a buy-back clause. He debuted for the Reds in 2014, turning out on ten occasions in a breakthrough campaign last season. “It was a great season for me and it is helped me push on. It has helped me out a lot in terms of what I want to do going forward.”
Smith made his international debut just after the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and was not selected for the AFC Asian Cup victory on home soil six months later. But now there is the lure of two possible trips to Russia, starting with next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup.
Smith, who faces competition for spots from highly-regarded youngster Alex Gersbach after his move from Sydney FC to Rosenborg earlier this year, and also from Jason Davidson who was the incumbent at Brazil 2014, is taking nothing for granted. “It is a great tournament to be in, with some big teams,” he said. “But the first aim is to try and get the job done in the [World Cup] qualifiers first, and then we can look forward to the [Confederations] cup then.
“It is a different [Socceroos] team to when I first started,” said Smith. “The team is really working well at the moment, and gelling. The way we want to play and the intent is there. We are in a good stage, but we just need to keep pushing on and working hard. The boss has shown us what we wants, about his philosophy and it is working well.”
The bright lights of the world stage couldn’t be any further from where it all started for Smith as a raw teenager. “When I first went to England and was aged about 14-15, I went to Everton and got Timmy [Cahill] to sign a shirt for me, which I still have. I don’t think he knows or would remember,” laughs Smith. “It is weird to think about it now.”
What a beautifully rounded story it will be if Smith manages to fire in a cross for the seemingly ageless Cahill to score in the World Cup in two year's time. Don't rule it out. This, after all, is a player whose career has a habit of making the unexpected happen.