Do you believe in second chances? Michael McGlinchey does, and with good reason. A one-time 'boy wonder' who snubbed Manchester United and became Celtic's youngest-ever debutant at 15, he found himself thrown on the football scrapheap earlier this year. Now the 22-year-old is fighting his way back with Australia's Central Coast Mariners, and stands within 90 minutes of going with New Zealand to the FIFA World Cup™.
This too constitutes a second chance for McGlinchey because, unusually, he has already played at a FIFA finals, with another country. Although born in Wellington, where his Scottish father was playing for a local club at the time, the midfielder left for Glasgow with his parents when he was just nine months old. Remarkably, in fact, next month's AFC/OFC qualifying play-off will be only the second time he has visited the city of his birth, and the first was just last month, when the Mariners travelled to face Wellington Phoenix.
Given the 12,000 miles that stood between McGlinchey and New Zealand, and the fact he was raised in Glasgow, it was no great surprise that the highly-rated youngster initially opted for Scotland when international recognition beckoned. Yet despite being tipped for greatness in the media and starring as the Scots U-19s reached the European final, he fell out of favour after criticising coach Archie Gemmill's defensive tactics at the subsequent FIFA U-20 World Cup. When McGlinchey was released by Celtic earlier this year, it seemed like a classic tale of promise unfulfilled. Fortunately, New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert, a long-time admirer, saw things differently.
"It's so weird how it all worked out," McGlinchey toldFIFA.com. "I was actually stepping off the plane to go on trial with the Mariners three months ago when Ricki called me to ask me if I would be interested in playing for New Zealand. At that stage I didn't even have a club and didn't know if the trial would work out, so to have someone showing that kind of faith in you was fantastic. I'm very appreciative that he kept coming back for me.
I can't get it out of my head. Every spare second I get, I'm thinking about the play-off. It's the biggest game of my career.
"Ricki had tried to get me involved with the New Zealand senior team just before I went to the U-20 World Cup, but at that time I was totally focused on going to Canada and playing for Scotland. But I'm delighted the way things have worked out now and the boys have been made me feel a big part of things right away. They've slaughtered me for my Scottish accent of course, but it's all good fun and I'm really enjoying being a part of things."
McGlinchey, who is excelling in the A-League, has already proved an outstanding addition. The goalless first leg draw against Bahrain was just his second All Whites appearance, but so impressive was his performance that he is considered likely to start the return on 14 November. Yet although the midfielder has no hesitation in labelling Wellington showdown "the biggest match of my career", he admits that he is still getting to grips with the notion of a 'homecoming'.
He said: "It's funny that the game's in Wellington because, to be honest, I still can't get used to the fact that this is the city where I was born. I left when I was a baby, lived in Glasgow my whole life, and had never been back to New Zealand until last month. But honestly, and I'm not just saying this, I found that I felt really at home there. With Australia, although I'm loving it, I do feel that I'm living abroad. For whatever reason, probably because people in New Zealand, and the weather and the landscape, are very similar to Scotland, it was different in Wellington. I just felt like I was at home."
Not that McGlinchey will have the time, or indeed the inclination, to appreciate the emotional significance of returning to his birthplace. With New Zealand 90 minutes away from their first FIFA World Cup appearance since 1982, his entire focus is on making history and becoming just the second player, after Togo's Kuami Agboh, to appear at a FIFA U-20 World Cup for one nation and the senior equivalent for another. "I can't get it out of my head," he admitted. "Every spare second I get, I'm thinking about the play-off. It's the biggest game of my career, there's no doubt about that, and I think all the boys are the same. But the good thing is that it's an excitement more than a nervousness. We're all really confident.
"It's 27 years since New Zealand last made it to a World Cup, so we know how important this is for the country. Before the Bahrain game, Ricki showed some video clips of the team qualifying for the '82 finals and the excitement that followed. It just made you want to be a part of something like it. I just hope we rise to the occasion because it's unbelievable to be this close to a World Cup."
For McGlinchey, whose rise from the ashes has been the stuff of fairy tales, 'unbelievable' probably just about sums up the past few months. Now, like any good fairy tale, all his needs is a happy ending.