Focussed, driven, intense, understated. All phrases that can be applied to both the on and off-field persona of Australia midfielder Mile Jedinak. In many ways the manner in which Jedinak goes about his business in the centre of the park reflects the new-look Socceroo team, which is seemingly operating at maximum capacity because of single-minded teamwork rather than raw star power.
Coach Holger Osieck has successfully guided Australia through a challenging period of transition after little more than a year at the helm. Australia fielded the second oldest squad at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, and while the evolution is ongoing, the process has been surprisingly smooth. Gone are the likes of Scott Chipperfield and Craig Moore, while Mark Bresciano and Vince Grella have yet to feature during Osieck’s reign. Even mainstays such as Harry Kewell, Jason Culina and Brett Emerton have had extended absences for a variety of reasons. Filling the void have been a succession of youngsters, and others that have been on the fringes of the national team for a while such as Matt McKay, Matthew Spiranovic and Jedinak.
In 19 matches under Osieck Australia have suffered just two defeats, one being the AFC Asian Cup final in which Japan needed extra time before breaking the Socceroos’ resilience. Now with three wins from as many starts in their Brazil 2014 campaign, Australia can secure an early progression to the fourth and final stage of Asian qualifying with a victory in either Oman or Thailand over the coming week, ahead of next February’s final group match against Saudi Arabia.
“We want to go through the qualification phase with maximum points and keep building on our performances,” Jedinak told FIFA.com. “The campaign has started off well. We were a bit sluggish in the first game against Thailand, but I think the match in Saudi showed the spirit we have in the team.
“Do we still have room to grow?” poses Jedinak rhetorically while sitting in the palatial confines of a Sydney hotel lobby, a crossfield pass away from the city’s famous harbour. “Absolutely, we are not the finished product by any means. But things are undoubtedly heading in the right direction.”
Long road to the top
Should Australia progress to the next stage as expected, they will still have to secure a top-two finish in a five-nation group to book passage to Brazil. For Jedinak, appearing at South Africa 2010 was the culmination of a remarkable four-year cycle. While the Socceroos were carving up new ground on their way to the Round of 16 at Germany 2006, Jedinak was playing semi-professional football in suburban Sydney.
Jedinak’s international adventure began with an impressive showing at the 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup. There followed stints in Australia’s former National Soccer League and in Croatia, before 18 months away from the professional environment. Yet less than two years after his A-League debut, Jedinak donned the Socceroo jersey for the first time and his career has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
Jedinak departed Central Coast Mariners for Turkey where he spent two and half seasons with firstly, Genclerbirligi, and then a productive loan spell with Antalyaspor. “Turkey definitely helped my game,” Jedinak said with a tone of genuine fondness. “I was playing with and against some quality players.”
This season he has exchanged the Turkish Super Lig for the hurly-burly of the English Championship and south London club Crystal Palace. The presence of former Socceroo, and one of Jedinak’s self-confessed childhood heroes, assistant coach Tony Popovic, undoubtedly helping the settling-in process at Selhurst Park.
Popovic, who featured at Germany 2006, was considered one of the ‘golden generation’ of players who have now all but departed the international scene. An elder statesman amongst the Socceroos ‘generation next’ is Jedinak, who believes the future is bright.
“The fresh faces that have come in have been great for the team,” says Jedinak. “Holger has done well in giving the younger players game time at the right time. It has made for a positive outlook within the squad. A few of the older guys have maybe gone up an extra gear [as a result].”
And can the team keep getting incrementally better? “Why not?” Jedinak said answering a question with a question. “We are a work in progress. We demand high standards from each other. We want the best out of each other; we push each other to the maximum. I think that will continue and with that will come more assured and better football.”
The new-look Australia team may be missing some of the luminaries of recent times past, yet the output often seems greater than the sum of its parts. A first-ever victory against Germany earlier this year - the only loss on home soil for Joachim Low’s men since South Africa 2010 - a case in point.
“I think we have a great belief in ourselves,” says Jedinak. “We are not the biggest names in the world and we know that, but we know what we can do as a team. If we play to our strengths we will have a go at anyone. I just think it’s a great mentality that we have in the national team. We never say die and we back ourselves.”